Fairytale Friendship: Mini horse mourns the loss of her dog sister
It’s a story so beautiful it inspired three gorgeous picture books, My Name Is Sugar, The Sugar Shack, and the forthcoming Sugar’s Journey Home. It’s the unlikely tale of miniature horse Sugar and boxer-mastiff mix Charger, two rescued pets who became inseparable best friends and beloved community volunteers. Along with their owners, Stacy and John Snyder, Sugar and Charger were frequent visitors to the Rancho Santa Fe Library and other local organizations, where they brought joy and comfort to all, especially San Diego’s children. Since 2016 when the Snyders put these two animals together into one family, they educated and amused all who met them via storytelling and hands-on experiences.
Unfortunately in August, Charger lost her battle with cancer. It was just as Covid restrictions eased and just when she and Sugar were able to start visiting with kids again. Charger was able to make one last visit to the Rancho Santa Fe Library at the end of July.
“Our hearts are so saddened by Charger’s passing,” said Nora Kaiser, library youth services manager. “The kids love having the animals in the library with them…. They completely light up when Stacy lets them pet Charger and brush Sugar’s mane and teeth. We are really going to miss her.”
Stacy notes that the timing of the loss has been particularly hard. “It is so sad,” she said, “because for a year and a half we couldn’t read our picture books to kids because of Covid, and that’s comparable to 10 years out of a dog’s life. Charger did her first reading after the Covid reopening at the Rancho Santa Fe Library on July 30, and it happened to be her last.”
Charlie in Charger’s Pawsteps
The community at large reacted to the loss of Charger with support and kindness. Sugar and Charger’s thousands of devoted Instagram followers showered the pup with praise after her passing. One wrote, “Charger is a guardian angel now watching over everyone and keeping them all safe.” And another wrote that Sugar and Charger are “such bright lights of love.” Stacy acknowledges that perhaps Sugar is taking the loss the hardest, but says a new puppy in the family, eight-month-old Charlie, is helping cheer everyone up with kisses and companionship.
Today, Sugar is 22 years old and since horses can live to be about 40, the hope is that Charlie will be able to play in Charger’s pawsteps. Stacy says that by early 2022 Sugar and Charlie will be back to community work, enriching lives of children and anyone they meet, demonstrating how those who are different can get along, and how compassion can heal wounds.
“Sugar is sad, but when we knew Charger was not well, we adopted Charlie,” Stacy said. “While she was alive, Charger trained Charlie to be an amazing dog. She potty trained her and taught her to be calm with no jumping up. Most importantly, she taught Charlie how to be around Sugar, which has become a lovely relationship. Charlie has totally helped with Sugar’s sadness.”
Kindness, Adoption and Love
The unusual saga of Sugar and Charger started as the tale of a growing family. After their own daughters were out on their own, the Snyders adopted Charger as a puppy from Helen Woodward Animal Center. Charger was happy, but when she was eight years old, the family felt she needed a companion. Sugar had been fostered by Heart & Hands Animal Rescue in Ramona, but little was known about her background, just that she was skittish and needed a family to care for her. Stacy had grown up with horses so she liked the idea of providing a homeless horse with a loving and safe place to live. She decided to try pairing Sugar and Charger to see if they could bond. Sugar was 17 years old at the time and Stacy was a little skeptical. After all, a horse and a dog might not be compatible in nature. But that decision, to put Sugar and Charger together, proved to be an excellent choice. They flourished together.
Like most stories, the narrative of Sugar and Charger and Charlie is more complicated and nuanced than it appears. Stacy herself is a big reason for their success. She’s a retired special education teacher with a soft heart for animals and anyone in need. Her decision to pair a horse and a dog was a bolt of inspiration driven by her life philosophy.
“I feel it is so important for children to become connected with nature,” she said. “Especially with the constant distractions from the internet. Being with animals creates peace and calm. You learn so much from their behavior and how they interact with each other.” The interaction between the horse and her dog friends is nothing if not extraordinary. They don’t speak the same language, but they communicate with each other and with humans they meet.
The camaraderie between the horse and the dogs, like the books about them, addresses animal abandonment, the ability to overcome adversity, and the value of perseverance, kindness, adoption and love, says Stacy. As a devoted animal rescuer, she encourages all to adopt animals and donate to humane nonprofits. An important line in the book My Name Is Sugar explains how the rescued family pets also rescued each other: “Charger found the friend she had been hoping for, and Sugar found the friend she had always been looking for.” The three colorful books were written by Stacy and illustrated by Anne Johnson. They are available from BN.com and Amazon and profits from sales go to animal charities.
Kaiser, the youth librarian, credits Stacy as a key part of the duo’s success. “Stacy has such a calm and warm demeanor, and it reflects onto the kids’ behavior while they are with her. She keeps them engaged while reading her beautifully illustrated books and talks about the relationship between Sugar and Charger,” she said.
And although the story took an unhappy turn when Charger died, it’s a story that’s far from over. Soon, Sugar and Charlie will be back on duty, inspiring all who encounter them. And Charger will be watching from beyond the rainbow bridge, cheering for her two besties to carry on their mission of love and kindness. Charger knew and now Charlie does too, that a cold nose and a warm snuggle go a long way soothe the human spirit.
Stacy encourages anyone who loves animals to donate to rescue and humane organizations. She cites Rancho Coastal Humane Society, Helen Woodward Animal Center, Hearts & Hands Animal Rescue, Lions Tigers & Bears, and others.
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