Farewell, Sammy

With the possible exception of a few human beings, dogs are the finest creatures on the planet. Having a dog makes life much better, so losing a dog makes life much worse.

I’ve shared my life with lots of different dogs, and every time I’ve lost one I’ve cried like a toddler. I’m crying as I write this, because I just lost the best dog I ever had, Sammy.


Before Sammy we had Jenny, a rescue Black Lab we adopted when she was about a year old. She had a sweet disposition, but obviously had been abused. We never hit her, of course, but if you made quick movements around her she’d flinch, always.

Jenny was diagnosed with cancer, and given only a few weeks to live. My father-in-law, Art, went to a supermarket where someone was giving out black lab puppies. They were a compromised litter from a breeder. An unknown dog had broken into the kennel and impregnated Sam’s mom, so she gave birth to a litter of mutts. We never knew for sure what mix of breeds he was. He was obviously Black Lab, but we think he had some Golden Retriever. Some people said he looked like a Flat Coat Retriever.

It would have been cruel to introduce a new puppy into the house during Jenny’s last days. Sam was Art’s dog for the month or so before Jenny made her final visit to the vet.

From day one, it was obvious that Sammy had more style and personality than most other dogs. He had boundless energy, and loved to run, especially to play fetch. One of his favorite activities was getting the morning paper. We’d look at him, say, “Paper?” and he’d run to the door, eager to get it for us. Several times we postponed canceling the paper (consistent delivery is well beyond the capabilities of the Times Union) just so Sam could have the pleasure of retrieving it.

He was a big dog, a hundred and ten pounds of mutt, and was aggressively friendly. He sometimes scared strangers, wanting to jump up and lick their faces, but most people immediately took a liking to him. He had several dog-friends in the neighborhood, and loved playing with them.

sam in the snow_small

He was so good-natured it was impossible to discipline him. You’d try giving him the stern Bad Dog Lecture, and he’d stare at you wagging his tail, delighted you were paying attention to him.

He had a strange reaction to riding in a car. While most dogs love it, sticking their head out the window, he dealt with it with resignation, laying down in the back seat and not paying any attention to what was going on outside. We never could figure out why.

His favorite thing was sticks. Big sticks, little sticks, but especially big sticks. The bigger the better. I once cut down a twelve-foot sapling in the yard, and gave it to him. He pranced around with it like he had just conquered the world. Whenever we went for walks he had to have a stick in his mouth. We referred to them as his walking sticks.

There is a paved path near our house, a very long stretch that used to be railroad tracks. It was his favorite place for walks, and when the weather was nice we took him there nearly every day. He loved the water, and the woods off the path provided him with streams to prance in. Another part of the path is lined with ditches that fill with water after rainstorms. He would get on one end of the ditch, run-splash to the other end, then turn around and run back, drenching himself in the process. We had a cupboard full of old bath towels that were “Sammy towels,” used to dry him when we returned home.

Strolling casually down the path while enjoying a fine cigar and watching Sam blast through every pool and puddle was a sublime pleasure. I don’t know which of us enjoyed it more.

He was well-known in the neighborhood, and in our whole village. We’d take him for walks through the village and everyone had to say hello to him. People we didn’t even know somehow knew him and would greet him by name.

He loved neckerchiefs. When we put a fresh one on him he’d prance around with a “Hey, Look At Me” attitude.

And he had a sense of humor. If he did something that made you laugh, he’d immediately do it again.

About a year ago, he started having leg problems. Our vet, Dr. Desiree Thibeault (a wonderful woman who has kept our various pets healthy for the past twenty years) said it was a problem with the joints in his hind legs not being connected quite right. We had to curtail his running, and be very careful with him. Since running was his thing, it wasn’t easy, but over time his leg got better.

About a month ago he got very weak and despondent. So weak he couldn’t walk. My wife, Nona, sewed a stretcher for him and we took him to the vet. The vet said he was bleeding internally, probably from a ruptured growth on his spleen, and his weakness was due to a very low red blood cell count. She kept him for a couple of days, then sent him home with meds and instructions to help nurse him back to health.

His recovery was slow, but after about two weeks he was getting better. We celebrated Thanksgiving early, and when we had a house full of people last Sunday he was almost perky.

And then he went downhill. Walking because more difficult for him with each passing day. The vet had told us to feed him liver, lightly cooked, as a source of iron. I have never cooked anything so disgusting – it was like frying a slug, and stunk up the whole house. When he first came home from the vet, he loved it, but as he got sicker, he refused it. He had no interest in the dry dog food he’d been eating for years, so I made him different things to try to get him to eat. Greasy cheeseburgers. Scrambled eggs with ham and cheese. turkey left-overs.  Sometimes he’d eat, but more often he’d just turn away from the plate.

I’ll spare you the details of his last couple of days. Describing them would be gross and unpleasant and unnecessary. Suffice it to say we knew he was bleeding internally again. Yesterday it became apparent he was never going to get any better, so this morning we put a fresh neckerchief on him and took him for his final visit to the vet.

Thank you, Art, for picking out Sam for us. Thank you Desiree, for taking care of him for ten years. Thanks to all my friends and neighbors who made him the prince of the neighborhood.

And thank you Sam, for all the love and laughter and pure delight you gave us for a decade. I’ve owned good dogs, and great dogs, but you were the Best Dog I’ve ever had, and probably the last dog I’ll ever have. I’ve cried for every dog I’ve lost, but I’ve been crying longer and harder for you than I ever have before.

Farewell, my dear friend. You made our lives so much better, and so much more fun.

I will miss you forever.


2 Comment(s)

  1. I’m so sorry, Dave. Sammy was a beautiful boy. They leave us far too soon.

    Joy | Dec 7, 2014 | Reply

  2. This brought a tear to my eye.

    Josh | Dec 13, 2014 | Reply

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