I have been meaning to write this blog post for the last 40 days, but I just haven’t had the heart. I’m actually not sure I do now. If I publish this, you’ll know I somehow found the words.
You see, I had this dog. He was more than a dog really. He was a friend, a companion, a narcissist, a comedian, and he understood English better than the average first grader. (Non dog people have mocked me for saying this, but to a person, all who have spent more than an hour with him have repented and apologized for judging me. Yes, Scott and Amber, I’m talking about you.) My mother, who is not typically taken with indulging my whims, will back me up. That boy straight up understood everything we were saying. And it made life with him a regular laugh riot.
Sammy came to us on January 29, 2009 and literally knew upon first meeting me that I was his and he was mine and that we were meant to be. I knew it, too. I actually knew it the first time I saw him on Petfinder, although the needy look he somehow mustered for his photo was all an act, as I would quickly learn. His rescuer, Marti, also knew that he and I were meant to be, as she did something she never does. She held onto him for me while I was saying a long and hard good-bye to his predecessor, the addled but adorable Ribsfeld Walker Little, known to his friends and family simply as Ribsy. I am so grateful to Marti for making that exception, and what started as a phone call about a dog has blossomed into a friendship that spans more than eight years. (And has added three more dogs to our family.)
The first time ever I saw that face…
And so it was that several weeks after Ribsy died, I found myself in possession of a black and silver schnoodle with an attitude that outweighed him by at least ten pounds. We had been in the back seat of my car for a grand total of ten seconds on the ride home before he flopped over onto his back in my lap and put his dainty paw in my hand. I was in love. He was training his newest staff member. Within 24 hours my “no dogs on the bed” rule had been scrapped and my white medallion quilt was covered in a fine sheen of schnoodle hair. (He never did get the memo that he was a non-shedding breed.) He took up residence in my recliner and then reluctantly decided there was room for me in there, as well.
He was an odd little guy. For the longest time after he was home, he had a nightly habit we called “the airing of grievances” wherein he would come into the doorway of my office, plop himself down and then begin a monologue which was always entertaining, but never understandable. People who have loved schnauzers would recognize this as the song of his people. I used to try to look sympathetic and understanding, but usually ended up laughing. He didn’t appreciate being laughed at. He did appreciate a good dog biscuit, though, and acquired a rather impressive collection which he kept in various locations around the house. Our first clue that he wasn’t “typical” was when we caught him maneuvering heart-shaped Valentine biscuits into all the corners of my parent’s living room, and lining the bone-shaped ones up along the trim in my house.
Sammy loved life and everyone and everything in it. He was a very verbal dog, and had a special bark for close friends and family. I could actually tell when my mom or Mindy was at the door because he told me with a shrieking joy that, if amplified, would surely have shattered my extensive Mason jar collection. And all the light bulbs in the house. (This is the primary reason I never bought him that Barbie microphone he kept asking for at Christmas.)
He was also fiercely protective of his mama. On one particular night when I was having guests over for dinner, a male friend jokingly moved toward me like he was going to choke me. My docile and overly friendly (to the point that I wondered if he had some reactive attachment issues) dog suddenly turned into a snarling, vicious beast who launched himself at said friend with a ferocity he never displayed again. Had this friend not been lightning quick, he might have lost the ability to father children. True story. I have witnesses.
When Sammy had been home for about six weeks, I got him a dog. He seemed lonely, and spent most of his days on the couch sighing dramatically while I tried to work. After a rough adjustment period, he decided that he liked having a brother, and spent the next eight years driving Baxter crazy. (I should note that Baxter seems to be the only family member not grieving in the wake of Sammy’s death. And even we who mourn cannot blame him. He put up with a lot. He may write a book some day when he’s done with his extensive therapy.)
I think all dogs can read moods and are pretty good at making their people feel better when they are sad. Sammy was a pro. I told myself that he was gifted with empathy, but I knew him well enough to know that it was probably 20% empathy and 80% that he straight up loved to lick the salt off my face when I cried. Either way, it worked for both of us. I felt loved, he got a snack. Everyone felt better.
There is a natural tendency, in death, to sugar coat a person’s life and gloss over their faults. I try to be real in all of my blog posts, so I will, in the interest of full disclosure, admit that Sammy was as naughty as he was funny. He had a habit of getting into things he knew he shouldn’t. And that could kill him. Often. My mom was convinced that he had a death wish and I was thwarting it. I couldn’t not… I loved him the way normal people love their actual children.
One summer, while I was on a DQ run between my summer camps, he got into a tub of caramel dip and emptied it. When I returned home he met me at the door and very clearly indicated that Baxter, who was joyfully licking the last remnants from the tub, had been the perpetrator. I might have believed him if he hadn’t had a glob of caramel the size of a golf ball stuck in the fur above his right eye. That was my first call to the ASPCA poison control hotline, but certainly not my last. It was also the night I learned that peroxide induces vomiting in dogs. To this day I have an industrial supply in my closet. It was not the last time Sammy would need it. He had compulsions. And little to no impulse control.
Once while my parents were dog sitting, he purloined a peanut butter and jelly sandwich off their dining room table. Which was way over his head. He had to pull out a chair to do it. He partially pushed it back in when he was done. Sammy was not a normal dog by any stretch. And he never abandoned his love of table surfing.
Even amid the post-China mess it was obvious something wasn’t where it belonged…
In fact, I spent a decent chunk of change bringing him back from the brink of death. There was the chowing down of the contents of a poisoned mouse nest in 2012 that almost ended his earthly existence. One gigantic emergency vet bill, a two day hospital stay and a lot of IV drug intervention later, he was as good as new. I don’t regret a penny I spent. He earned every one as my Head of Household Security, personal therapist, and friend.
We spent nearly eight years together, The Sammy and I, along with Baxter. As the years wore on I would add two human children to the family, and Sammy welcomed each one and became instrumental in keeping them in line and out of trouble. He loved those girls and they loved him.
Then in May of last year, out of the blue, he suffered a violent seizure in the middle of the night. I handled it with my usual aplomb. (And by that I mean I called my mom in a panic and insisted that she race to my house because Sammy was clearly dying and therefore I probably would, too. She came, as she always does, because she is just that awesome.) It turned out Sammy was dying, but not that night, and we didn’t realize it for a number of months, which is probably a very good thing.
The last eight months of his life were a blur of seizures, changing medications, horrible side effects on one in particular, and yet more medication changes. Between seizures he was his normal, perky self, and I counted every day with him as a blessing and a bonus. I kept what was, quite possibly, the most detailed seizure diary a dog has ever had. (No one can accuse me of not being thorough.) I learned that full moons, thunder storms, loud noises and strong smells triggered the seizures. Marti, always there with advice and comfort, taught me to hold him behind his head while applying an ice pack to his back to shorten their duration. It worked. And it made me feel better.
At some point after summer was over, I realized that the thing I had worked very hard to convince myself wasn’t a thing was, in fact, A Thing. Sammy had a brain tumor, and he wasn’t going to live out the long and full life I had planned for him. Thankfully I had learned from losing Ribsy that it’s best to take things one day at a time and to find the joy and humor in each day instead of, I don’t know, randomly bursting into tears five to seven times a day. (Poor Ribsy.) And so I coped. We coped. And in our case, this meant I learned to clean up tinkle like a freaking pro. If mopping up urine is ever made into an Olympic sport, don’t even bother to enter the trials. I am going to win. I will beat you all. I will stand atop that podium. (Again, I have witnesses.) I also learned to appreciate poop art. I’m still getting grief about a particular Facebook post. I will not apologize!
Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas it became all too apparent that Sammy’s time was limited but that his brain tumor wasn’t going to make the decision an easy one for me. And so I wrestled with the reality that so many others who love dogs have had to. Sammy kindly managed to make it through Christmas, something I had prayed he would, for my girls’ sake, but shortly thereafter things went downhill fast. Toward the end he lost more and more of himself, and I knew it was time when I found him in my bathroom, waiting at the shower door. As Ribsy had neared his end eight years earlier, I found him in there a lot. (I remain convinced, to this day, that my shower is actually a portal to Narnia, and that only dogs are aware of this fact.)
I said good-bye to my friend on January 6th. As it turns out, it didn’t kill me, and I’m grateful. I grieved hard and then put on my mommy pants and walked my girls through their good-byes. Clara took it about as well as I did. (Not well at all.) Annelise was very matter-of-fact, but she is still processing and often asks me when he’s coming back.
Sammy is buried between my parents house and mine, in a hole my dad quietly dug while the ground was still soft this fall. He also made a nice wooden grave marker. I haven’t quite had whatever it takes to visit the grave, yet. I’ve tried to do “grieving light” and was doing super well until it hit me again about two days ago. Anyone who has loved a dog will understand. Anyone who hasn’t won’t. And that’s okay.
I have a theory that dogs are angels with fur, sent by God to give we humans some things we need that only dogs can give. I am grateful that He sent Sammy to me when I needed him. I guess Sammy was done teaching me what he was supposed to. I’m grateful that, for now anyway, Baxter still has wisdom he needs to impart to his mama and sisters. And I’m beyond thankful for that nearly eight years with Sammy that took me from single lady with dogs to someone who gets to be called “Mom” by two beautiful girls.
I won’t argue theology with non-dog people, but I am convinced that I will see my Sammy again some day. I think he’s probably hanging out with my aunt Wendy and our friend Brother Paul, relishing the fact that in heaven dogs can eat All the Things and not worry about being force fed peroxide. If you believe differently, please feel free to keep such thoughts to yourself.