The post below originally appeared here on June 9, 2013, the day we said goodbye to Pooh.  I’m re-posting it today because this afternoon, we’ll send Sasha – Pooh’s sister – to the Rainbow Bridge where the other loyal, loving four-legged family members of my past are waiting… 

The really sad thing is that Sasha isn’t sick. But her body is riddled with arthritis in every joint, and bone spurs run the length of her spine. We’ve been doing our best to mitigate the pain. Now that she’s on large doses of morphine and is still hurting, I know it’s time to set her free.

Alison & Sasha

I’ll miss my Sasha, but will forever retain the wonderful memories of our 13 years together…

Pooh Bear was diagnosed with osteosarcoma  last month. The doctor said that all we could really do is keep her as comfortable, pain-free and happy for as long as possible, that we’d know when it’s time.

When I picked my daughter Alison up from school that day, I told her the Pooh was sick.  When we got home, Pooh was lying down by the front door in one of her favorite spots, and Alison got her blanket and laid down with her.

Alison and Pooh

Alison was too young to remember when we had to put Sandy down.  But that memory still stabs at my heart.  The feeling when I saw Pooh’s x-ray was tragically  familiar.  It’s something that we, pet owners and animal lovers, unfortunately experience. With the love, we also experience the loss.

 As I’ve been pondering Pooh’s mortality, I can’t help but think back about all of my pups, and how they each represented a different stage in my life.

 We got my first dog when I was about 10 years old. Pixie was a beautiful Maltese- and although we all loved her, she and my dad had a very special closeness.


We still lived in New York, in an apartment in Bayside, Queens. The home movie that was a family favorite from our first night with Pixie shows her playing with my dad’s teasing foot, then squatting (though you couldn’t tell, as she was so tiny), leaving a round wet spot on the green carpeting. Enter Mom to clean it up.

 Pixie got very sick soon after we brought her home. I remember some far-fetched story about her being brought here from England, or some such nonsense. The truth was probably that she was born in a puppy mill – long before we ever knew the evils of such places or the sad facts about buying puppies from a pet store.

 Thankfully, she recovered, and soon after– in 1971, our family moved to Florida!

 We moved from our NYC apartment into a big house, with the second hole of a golf course just behind our back yard. Pixie owned the place. Although she couldn’t have weighed more than 4 pounds, she’d go up to dogs 20 times her weight and push them around. Her favorite spot was sitting on the “island” between our circular driveway and the sidewalk in front of the house.

 I don’t recall when we made the decision to get a second dog, but we did. Pebbles, another Maltese, was bigger than Pixie – though that’s not saying much, just as rambunctious and sweet.



Pixie & Pebbles (with Pixie’s favorite toy- a slipper)


 But Pixie was still my dad’s favorite.

 In the fall of 1977, I went away to college. The University of South Florida in Tampa was a 4.5 hour drive – and after a few years, I brought Cinnamon home.



Nicole and Cinnamon at a Halloween Party in Tampa (USF)


Cinnamon was a Sheltie. She was beautiful, and so shy. I bought her from the breeder – but she was already around six months old. Someone had owned her before I did, and they obviously mistreated her, as she was so afraid of people.

 If I had friends over, I’d have to tell them to ignore her. Eventually, she’d venture out of hiding to check them out. Sometimes, she’d even come close. But if a stranger looked at her, she’d bolt.

Nicole’s mom Pat Sandler with Pebbles and Cinnamon


 In 1979, my mom died. She had battled leukemia for years, but it was a brain hemorrhage that took her.

 My mother had called me to let me know that she was in the hospital. She said one of her legs had just given out from under her, and the doctor wanted to run some tests. When I called later that night to check in on her, my father answered the phone and told me she was sleeping. But I could have sworn I heard her voice in the background.

 The next day, she lost consciousness, and my father told me I needed to come home.

 I drove down to Hollywood with Cinnamon. My older sister, Marci, arrived with her Samoyed, Kimba, and the four dogs had fun while we learned that my mother had been declared brain dead on October 23.

Pebbles, Cinnamon and Kimba


After another 24 hours, we took her off life support. Patricia Sue Brown Sandler died October 24, 1979. She was only 47.

 My mother’s was my first real experience with death. The loss was devastating. I still miss her, every single day.

 Although my sisters and I shed many tears, my father really held it together – at least he did in front of us.

 I went back to college, and life went on.

 Until it didn’t.

 A couple of years later, my father came home from work to find Pixie, lying in her favorite spot under the big tree on the island in front of the house between the driveway and the sidewalk. She had fallen asleep there and died.

 My sister Mindy called to tell me, also letting me know that my father had completely lost it. I think all of his pent-up emotions after dealing with my mother’s death came to the surface with the loss of this little, precious dog who he loved so much.

 Although I wasn’t there, the news of Pixie’s death hit me hard too. She was, after all, my first dog, and I loved her so much.

 After college and a brief detour to Daytona Beach, I moved to New York City! I got a basement apartment in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens. Unfortunately, my very skittish Cinnamon couldn’t handle all the people!

 I had a waterbed at the time, and she would squeeze underneath the headboard and hide from the feet that passed by the window! I was unable to reach her back there, but she’d wake me in the middle of the night to take her out when there wasn’t anyone around.

 When I went back to Florida the next time, Cinnamon went with me, and stayed. She and Pebbles became best buddies, and lived there with my younger sister, Mindy, and my father.

 Pebbles was getting old, and had developed a cardiac cough. I happened to be home for a visit when, one night, Pebbles’ coughing got really bad. Mindy drove while I held on to her as we raced to the emergency animal hospital.

That was the first time I experienced the death of one of my dogs in person. Pebbles didn’t make it. Again, that devastating loss.

 I got the call a year or so later that Cinnamon had succumbed to the same thing that took Pebbles.

 I was living in New York City and working in morning radio, so the responsibility of a dog was not an option. But I really missed that unconditional love.

 I spent the next 10 years as a dog-less human.

 In 1987, I moved to Los Angeles, bopping from apartment to apartment. In 1996, I bought my first house! I had promised myself that when I had a house, I’d get a dog. And that I did!

Sandy at Nicole’s first house – Laurel Canyon


I believed that I’d know my dog when I saw him or her. All over Los Angeles on weekends, you can find dog rescue groups with some of their animals available for adoption at sidewalk events.

 One day while with my friend Sheryl, we walked through one of these groups. At the very end was the most beautiful dog I’d ever seen – to me, anyway. “Sanjie” as they called her was lying down quietly as all the other dogs were barking up a storm. When I knelt down to pet her, she smiled at me (seriously!), and began licking my hand. I knew I had found her.

 I filled out a ton of paperwork, and they told me they’d call me. It was almost a week later, after I put out an APB on the radio, that they finally called and brought her to the house for a home visit. They really make you jump through hoops to adopt a dog.

 I learned her whole story. Sandy, as I re-named her, appeared to be a mix of Golden Retriever, Chow, Akita and Shar-Pei. Apparently, her eyelashes had become ingrown and infected, and her eyes were swollen shut. What ever piece of shit excuse for a person had her dumped her in a ditch and left her to die.

 This group rescued her, got her surgery that removed her eyelashes, nursed her back to health, and put her up for adoption. She appeared to be about a year old.

 Sandy was my baby! She was with me through so very much.

Nicole and Sandy


Sandy wasn’t the easiest dog. She had separation anxiety and did some damage to the house in her attempt to find me, including breaking the glass and jumping through the window!

About a year after I bought my house and adopted Sandy, my radio station (KSCA – the last radio station owned by Gene Autry and his wife Jackie) was sold. I took a job writing for a radio/music industry trade magazine, The Album Network – but it really wasn’t for me, so I left after six months.

After working weekends for a while at San Diego’s 91X, I was hired to co-host the morning show there. So, I put my house in Laurel Canyon on the market, and moved south.

Until I found a place to live, the radio station put me up in an extended stay complex. The first or second morning, I got a call from the office telling me that Sandy was there! They thought I must have left the door open. I knew I didn’t.

So they brought her back and made sure the door was closed.

A few minutes later, she reappeared! This time, the person who had called me decided to wait outside to see how she was getting out.

The door, though locked, had a lever handle instead of door knob. And when you pulled the lever down from inside, it unlocked the door. Sandy had mastered it, and kept returning to the office to hang with the people there!



I soon found a house that I rented that was just a few blocks away from a park. I’d come home from work in the afternoon and take Sandy to the park just around the time that a preschool had a group of kids playing there.

 The kids and Sandy developed a great friendship, and there were many days that five or six little kids would be hanging all over her while she just smiled and occasionally rewarded them with kisses.

 After moving back to LA, I began the process of adopting my daughter from Kazakhstan. It was a long, often discouraging experience – and Sandy was with me every step of the way.

The radio station that I moved back to LA for was called Channel 103.1. Our studio was in Santa Monica, five blocks from the beach, in a small suite of offices above a hearing aid store. We had a very small staff there, as the sales staff and upper management were in Burbank. Sandy would come to work with me most days, and became well known to the listeners and artists who would come in to perform on the air.

Nicole with Tom Petty, PD Keith Cunningham, WB’s Nancy Klugman and Sandy!


She was a big dog, and I could tell that she was in some pain – though we never could figure out what it was. It seemed that she had back or neck problems, but the vet could never figure out what was wrong.

Finally, I left for Kazakhstan to adopt my daughter. My friend Melissa and her dog, Drake, stayed at the house with Sandy for the month I was gone.

When I returned home with Alison, she and Sandy fell in love.

Alison and Sandy meet for the first time! Dec 20, 2000

Alison shared her Cheerios with Sandy


Alison had a living giant teddy bear, and Sandy had her own little girl who loved to share her cheerios with her, and even let Alison climb on her back!

One day, just a few months later, after the band Old 97’s performed on the air at the radio station, we took our usual place in front of the logo on the wall for a picture. But instead of joining in as she usually did, Sandy stood in a corner facing the wall.

I knew something was wrong so we stopped at the vets office on our way home. The vet took Sandy from me and, after what seemed like an eternity, returned to tell me she had gone blind. After a number of tests didn’t come up with the cause, they did an MRI which showed a tumor eating away one side of her jaw.

I had no choice but to put her down. I realized that she stayed with me until I could bring Alison home. Once she knew I had my daughter, she knew I would be ok.

A vet who knew us from the radio offered to come to the house to put Sandy down. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. The pain was unbearable.

I swore I’d never get a dog again because I couldn’t go through that pain again.

But then I’d look at Alison missing Sandy, and knew that I didn’t want my daughter to grow up without a dog.

A couple of months later, I began looking through the photo listings at One picture caught my eye. A dog was smiling back at me, just as Sandy had. The rescue group that had listed her was called “Dogs from Heaven”.   How’s that for a message?

But there was no contact information for that rescue group! For days I’d go back to Petfinder to see if they’d updated the listing, without luck.

But I saw another dog I couldn’t get out of my mind. She was listed as a Golden Retriever mix, and was in a “high kill” shelter in East LA . I called there to ask about her, and was told she was still there – but not for long. They said if she wasn’t adopted soon, she’d be euthanized.

It was a Saturday, so Alison and I drove out there to see a beautiful, reddish Golden-Chow mix with the softest velvety-suede feeling fur and eyes that bore right through me. She seemed to be about six months old, and something told me that she was meant to go home with us.

Pooh Bear   May 2001


So, we adopted Pooh Bear. Being a city shelter, they would spay and microchip her on Monday, and I could pick her up on Tuesday.

That night I got back on the Petfinder site and, sure enough, there was a phone number for the Dogs from Heaven rescue group with the picture of the smiling dog that looked like Sandy. I had to call.

The woman who answered told me that they called that dog – a Golden Retriever-Chow mix – Goldie, and that she was as sweet as could be. They said she was about six months old, and was rescued from the same high-kill shelter that we had just adopted Pooh from.

Alison and I drove to where she was being fostered the next day, and took her home with us, eventually deciding to name her Sasha!

Alison and Sasha meeting for the first time! May 5, 2001


I certainly didn’t intend to adopt two dogs! But when we brought Pooh home on Tuesday, Sasha and Pooh acted like long-lost friends. I figured I’d put one of them up for adoption, but never did.

On our first vet visit with the two of them, the doctor remarked about how they were the same mix and the same age, and when I told him they came out of the same shelter just days apart, he said he thought they might be litter mates.

The other weird thing is that Pooh actually looked like Sandy in person, but Sasha didn’t!

Not too long after Sasha and Pooh became part of our family, my radio station was sold. We moved from LA to Taos, NM at the end of 2001, where Pooh loved to run through the desert. Yes, just like Sandy, Pooh was an escape artist – though she would run and run and run, and eventually always come home.

Taos wasn’t for me, so we all moved back to South Florida, where I grew up.

Alison with Sasha and Pooh- Florida 2003


After about six months, I got a job offer I couldn’t refuse – to program a very cool radio station just outside of Boston.

We wound up living in Salem, NH – just over the Massachusetts border. Pooh loved lying outside in the snow…. but it was soon back to the heat.

Eighteen months later, we moved back to Florida, and have been here ever since.

Sasha & Pooh

And today, twelve years after these two pups came into our lives, Pooh left.

She held on for a long time, but it got to the point where she couldn’t get up to go outside. The pain was just too much.

And although I’m in so much pain today, I can’t imagine the last 12 years without her and Sasha – or the rest of my life without a furry, four-legged (or 2 or 3) member of our family.

I love you Pooh Bear. I know that you’re at the Rainbow Bridge with Sandy and Pixie and Pebbles and Cinnamon, and my mom … and I can’t imagine my life without you in it.

And now Sasha will join you there later today. I’ll love you all, always. 

And an update…. about two weeks after Sasha left us, Alison and I went to the Broward County Animal Adoption center and found Jaxson…