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A golden heart remembered
jessica brown column
Jessica Taylor.

This is a story of friendship, a story of love, of heartbreak, of a dog that brought a bunch of sassy ladies across the country together and changed our lives.

When my Golden Retriever, Bailey, passed over Rainbow Bridge in the summer of 2015, I locked myself away from the world. I couldn’t look at another Golden Retriever. I couldn’t say the word “dog.” I was inconsolable for months, entering a depressive state that I feared I could never climb my way out of.

While scrolling through Facebook months later, I saw this group called “Simba and Friends” with lots of friendly folks sharing pictures of their precious pooches. Without thinking I joined. I wanted to smile again and see happy dogs living their happy lives.

And then I came across Sawyer, the most magnificent Golden Retriever I had ever seen in my entire life. His kind face and soft brown eyes captivated me. His smile and his perfectly fluffy fur – he was like a teddy bear. I followed his story and hung on every word his Mama, Nancy, wrote. They were members of Paws for People, a therapy dog group in Pennsylvania where they live, and they traveled to libraries and senior centers and hospitals to touch thousands of lives.

Soon, the ladies in “Simba and Friends” began talking more regularly. A constant stream of text messages and private messages online has flowed for a couple years now. There’s Julia in Oklahoma, Jana in Utah, Nancy in Pennsylvania, Stephanie in Hawaii, Audrey in Ohio, Andrea in Connecticut and Kimberly and me in Georgia. We all span the nation, brought together by our love of dogs and sending love and laughter to each other through the ups and downs of our worlds like 21st century Steel Magnolias.

When Nancy announced the news her sweet Sawyer had cancer, our hearts sank collectively. Across America our hearts became one and we rallied to do whatever we could to help Nancy and Sawyer.

But the logistics of organizing ladies in different time zones almost seemed like herding cats. Would everyone be willing to lend a helping hand? What time of day should we all plan to be online to discuss our plans? How would this work when we’re all so far away?

Everyone pitched in. It didn’t matter what time of day or night, we were all there. We stayed up late or woke up early to make sure we could all be there to brainstorm ideas. I decided to design shirts to sell to raise money for his cancer treatment. They bought shirts and spread the word. Kimberly made bracelets that we all bought and distributed. Julia’s family made a quilt to be auctioned off. Nancy sold her paintings. All the while, we all prayed together and shared in the triumphs of battles won and cried at the battles lost.

On June 20, 2018, days after Sawyer celebrated his ninth birthday, he lost his battle to cancer. Nancy and Rick held their special boy for the last time, peacefully saying goodbye to their miracle boy.

Our hearts were shattered all at once at the news. More tears have been shed in the past few days than I can recount. Sawyer truly was magic on earth, touching the lives of thousands with his selflessness and love. I never got the chance to meet him in person, nor did the rest of our ladies across the nation. We didn’t need to meet him in person to know that he was a magical dog. We didn’t have to live next door to Nancy to know how good he was. We could feel it radiate across the World Wide Web through his pictures, his videos and his story.

Some might say “he’s just a dog” but for anyone who has ever loved and lost a dog knows that’s just not true. He was more than a dog, and he did more for all of our lives than most people. He touched our souls and left a mark on us that will never go away.

He made us laugh and smile with his antics at the Rock Bottom Ridge. He inspired us to be better people, to put goodness back into the world and to make it a better place.

Words can’t accurately describe Sawyer’s impact on us. He inspired me to help any animal in need. He inspired me to volunteer my time at a local animal shelter, photographing all the dogs to spread online to find them good homes. He’s inspired me to be a kinder human being, keeping in mind that everyone is going through something and even just smiling can make someone’s day a little brighter.

Sawyer was a light in this world, and his immortal legacy lives on in all of us who were touched by his magic. As long as we put goodness back into the world, his light will always shine bright.

He has forged friendships across thousands of miles and I can’t thank him enough for all that he has given me: for helping to bring me out of the darkness and into the light, for bringing me a close knit group of friends, for making me a better citizen of earth.

Through tears of happiness and tears of sadness, Sawyer brought us ladies closer together than ever before. He gave me a family of strong women I’ve never officially met, a sisterhood I never knew I needed and a sisterhood I will always love. We will continue to honor his kind soul by spreading love, happiness and faith back into our world, never allowing his immortal light to vanish.

In Loving Memory and Honor of Sawyer Shurkoff

June 7, 2009 - June 20, 2018

sawyer shurkoff
Sawyer Shurkoff. - photo by For the Dawson County News

Jessica Brown is the features and education reporter for the Dawson County News. Her columns will appear periodically.