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January 21, 2009

A dog's life

Sugar Welp, beloved daughter of a mutt mother and a Heinz 57 father, died Jan. 9 after a brief illness. She was 14 people-years old.

An accomplished sleeper, eater and privates-sniffer, Sugar was also proficient at making her voice heard by some of our nation’s finest postal carriers. Her ashes were scattered in a private ceremony at a secret frolicking spot by a favorite bend in the creek deep in the great forest.

Widely admired for her charm, enthusiasm and ability to drag her butt across the ground without dropping eye contact, Sugar was perhaps proudest of her achievements as a hunter. Having spent her formative years as a gatherer (specializing in Cheerios and Tater Tots), she took up hunting during an impromptu lesson from her stepbrother Jake one sunny day on the banks of a farm pond in Shelby County.

Known for his skill at flushing out squirrels and trapping raccoons in barn rafters, Jake had grown frustrated with Sugar’s lack of interest in the art of the kill. But Sugar got in the game that day when she trotted over a rise and stumbled upon a rabbit. Taking Jake’s patient demonstrations to heart — and proving her mettle as an athlete — she snatched the fleeing bunny in her jaws and ran for 30 feet, when, with a look of stunned surprise, she dropped the shocked creature and began licking its furry face. Amazed that Sugar had failed to sink in her teeth, the bunny gleefully scampered off. Whereupon Jake swooped in, chewed the bunny’s head and spine into roughly 80 pieces, and swallowed it whole.

Despite such episodes, Sugar remained non-judgmental and friendly to all sentient beings, and that includes those nasty little rat terriers down the street who probably make even PETA members and Jain monks rethink their dedication to ending suffering for all animals. Her compassion extended to middle-school boys who find it hilarious to offer green M&Ms that turn out to be wasabi peas. In fact, her utter guilelessness and unmatched tolerance are models for everyone to emulate, including but not limited to dogs, humans and newspaper columnists.

Take, for example, her unwillingness to judge an all-white dog named Ebony, who (probably irked by nothing more than her namer’s sense of irony) once bit Sugar. Sugar, named for her own white fur but also for her infinite sweetness, forgave Ebony on the spot. Similarly, she instantly forgave a human companion who once accidentally rolled over her ear with his rocking chair. In fact, she was so eager to show her unconditional love that she sprang up, yanking off a chunk of the pinned ear, spraying blood all over the living room. And still, even in pain: love. Messy but moving.

Along with compassion, Sugar also knew a thing or two about just being alive. A fan of Ecclesiastes, Pete Seger and Roger McGuinn (and, curiously, once her eyesight and hearing started to go, a dabbler in Japanese post-punk psychedelia), she always knew when it was time to sleep, time to chase honeybees, time to bark longingly at a passing cloud, time to wag her tail for no reason, time to nap, time to frolic, time to sit and think, time to smile, time to pant, time to dig in the dirt and time to die.

When she caught those bees in her mouth as a puppy, their stings left hilarious bumps on her confused face. Many years later, lymphosarcoma put seriously unfunny lumps on her lymph nodes. Along the way, she cheerfully endured rabies vaccinations, noisy vacuum cleaners, humiliating backyard brushings, St. Francis “blessing of the animals” feast days, three moves, Rugrats, SpongeBob and that atrocious, horrible era when “Who Let the Dogs Out” was popular. She also put up with countless bowls of kibble while sumptuous feasts lay on the table overhead. She kept her humans grounded and their perimeter secure. And her tail wagged through it all.

Sugar was preceded in death by her stepsibling cats Puddinhead and Cleo, potbellied pigs Clover and Angelica, and Jake, whom many believed to be a dog. Expressions of sympathy may be made by petting a puppy.