Brian Myers knew he was in trouble when he fell to the floor. He had no feeling on his left side and couldn’t stand up in the crawl space between his bed and the wall.
“It was really frightening — I couldn’t get up and I didn’t realize at that moment that I’d had a stroke,” he said. “My cellphone was on the dresser about 15 feet away, but there was no way I could get to it.”
Seconds later, Myers, 59, felt something wet and rough on his face. His dog’s tongue.
Sadie, the 100-pound German shepherd he had rescued in September from an animal shelter near his Teaneck, N.J., home, was standing above him with a look of concern on her face, he said.
“She kept licking me and crying, so I reached my right hand up to pet her, then I grabbed her collar,” recalled Myers, who had gone to bed just two hours before he fell on the evening of Jan. 16.
He was stunned by what happened next, he said.
Sadie backed up and began pulling Myers inch by inch out of the crawl space, and then wiggled toward his dresser.
“She was not trained as a service dog, but she was in distress over what was happening and she could tell that I was in trouble,” he said. “I don’t know how she did it, but she knew.”
Five minutes later, he was in front of his dresser and was able to reach up about three feet with his right arm and retrieve his cellphone to call for help, Myers said.
At Englewood Health hospital that night, Myers was given an MRI that revealed he’d suffered a stroke. Doctors told him it was likely that his four-legged companion had saved his life.
“It was the best decision I’d ever made, to adopt her,” said Myers, who came home last month and has much of his mobility back, thanks to physical therapy. “I really feel it was meant to be.”
Another serious illness led him to adopt Sadie — a dog nobody else seemed to want — at the Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge in Oakland, N.J.
Myers is retired and lives alone. He felt lonesome and scared after he came down with COVID-19 early on during the pandemic last March, he said.
“I decided it would be a good idea to get a dog after all the time I’d sat in my house by myself,” said Myers. “I’d had a rescue dog before, but I had to put him down a couple of years ago. I was ready for another one.”
About six months after he’d recovered from the coronavirus, a friend who is familiar with the Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge emailed him a photo of Sadie and he was immediately intrigued, Myers said. The shelter had identified Sadie as “hard to place” because of her aggressive behavior.
Myers made an appointment, and on the appointed day, Sadie was brought outside to the sanctuary’s play area.
The refuge often accepts dogs like Sadie that are rejected by other shelters because they can’t get adopted due to behavior issues, said Megan Brinster, Ramapo-Bergen’s executive director. Staff workers and volunteers train the animals in hopes of making them more adoptable.
Sadie exhibited aggression toward men, and visitors to the refuge were often intimidated by her large size and loud bark, Brinster said.
The 6-year-old German shepherd wasn’t a good fit for most homes, and she’d been sent away by three animal shelters because of her behavior before she ended up at the no-kill sanctuary last June, she added.
“She’s very protective and anxious in a kennel situation,” Brinster said. “When she doesn’t want someone in her space, she’ll make herself look big and start barking. But after Brian put in his application, we thought, ‘Let’s give them a chance.’ “
Within minutes of meeting, Sadie and Myers were playing fetch with a ball and he was able to take her out for a walk, Brinster said.
“It was an inspiring thing to watch — they were this amazing match,” she said. “It was clear they were ready to go.”
“When I first saw Sadie, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s one big dog,’ ” Myers recalled. “I believe that her size is one of the reasons they had a problem placing her.”
When the adoption papers were finalized, he loaded her into the back seat of his car and drove directly to a pet store to buy a big bag of dog food, some chew bones, a squeaky toy and a dog bed.
“I kept looking in the rearview mirror and saying, ‘Wow, what a big girl!’ ” he said.
Shortly after Myers let Sadie inside the house, she stood on her hind legs, put her paws on his shoulders and licked his face, he said.
“I knew that I wanted to make the rest of her years happy ones,” he said.
On their first night together, Myers discovered that Sadie’s idea of happiness involved ditching the new dog bed and taking over his own.
“She’d start out on the pillow next to mine, then end up sleeping at the foot of the bed,” he said. “It became her routine. I thought, ‘After all she’s been through, who am I to deny her the pleasure of sleeping in a bed?’ “
In December, when Myers came down with COVID-19 a second time (doctors told him that he’d been exposed to a new variant), he said Sadie stayed by his side in bed until he felt better.
Weeks later, he stood up in the night to walk to the restroom and his legs buckled. Myers’ doctor later told him that his stroke was brought on by blood clots due to COVID-19, he said.
When he was released from a rehab center on Feb. 9, his brother brought Sadie for a reunion in the parking lot.
“He’d been watching Sadie while I was gone and I had to keep reminding him, ‘She’s my dog — she’s going home with me,’ ” Myers said.
In the parking lot that day, he wept as Sadie jumped into his lap and smothered him with sloppy kisses, he recalled.
“She knocked my glasses off and kept licking my face,” he said. “And all I could do was just hug her close and say, ‘I love you.’ “