Bert stood at the window for most of the night. I couldn’t sleep either. I would get up to find Bert staring out at the little puppy. Bert’s ears were up, tail up, wagging, waiting, and wondering. I wanted to bring the puppy in, but he was covered with fleas. I was afraid the shock of being brought inside and the shock of water might be too much for him. Other than his trying to stand Bert down with his tiny growl I had no real reason to believe he would live to see the sun rise again. I had hand fed him cat food, a little at a time, every hour on the hour. He never slowed down, never stopped wanting more, and I truly though he was too far gone. Bert stood guard, silently, not whining, not trying to talk me into letting him out, and waiting.
“Needs a naming, Stil…”
If I named the little dog and he died during the night, I would be more heartbroken. I mull over a few names, rejected outright the one most people would drag up later; Ernie. There would be no Bert and Ernie. A friend of mine and I had been discussing Mark Twain, and the name Twain sounded good, but I decided Sam, as in Samuel Clements would be better. The little dying dog, if he did die, would die as Sam. If he lived…
Bert was still at post the next morning. I shooed him away from the door and took a small bowl of food out to…Sam was gone. I shook the bowl so it rattled and out from under the porch he came. Sam scarfed down the entire bowl of food and looked for more. I picked him up with one hand, and carried him inside for the first time. He fit nicely in the kitchen sink and I washed him over and over again. Hundreds, maybe thousands of fleas were left in the sink when we were finished. It looked like someone dumped a box of black pepper in the sink. I could have dried him with a paper towel there was so little of Sam left, and when he was dry, I put him on the floor and let Bert snuffle him.
Bert seemed to realize something was wrong, horribly wrong with Sam. A happy- go- lucky mutt who destroyed everything in his path didn’t so much as put a paw on Sam. He backed away when Sam advanced and didn’t try to protect his food bowl as Sam dove into it. I pulled him away because I was afraid he’d break his puppy teeth on real dog food. I gave him his own bowl, and this time left it nearly full. Sam devoured everything in it, and looked for more. I gave him some water, and let him explore the house a little. Sam staggered over to the vent in the floor and looked down at it. Cool air blew his ears ever so lightly, and Sam, who had spend who knows how long alone in the July heat, lay down on the vent, and went to sleep. Bert stood there ears up, tail high and wagging, and watched over Sam.
How did that feel, I wonder? Sam went from starving to being well fed. He went from July heat to a nice cool artificial breeze. Sam went from harboring thousand of biting insects to having none of the little bastards feasting on him. Sam was taken in out of the woods and given a place to sleep. His tiny body didn’t fully cover the ten by six vent.
I took Sam to the vet the following Monday, and getting Sam into a truck wasn’t easy, even in his state. But once at the vet’s office, Sam discovered something wonderful, and that was women. There was two women in the waiting room and they all but adopted Sam as their own. The receptionist burst into tears when she saw him. I wonder what kind of dog he was. He was a little long for a terrier, but I was thinking he might be part rat terrier and part something else. I wasn’t ready for what happened next.
“He’s what?” I was stunned.
“He’s definitely got some greyhound in him,” the vet told me, “and some black lab, maybe something else, but he’ll never be a really big dog after…” He didn’t have to say it.
Sam weighted in at thirteen pounds that day. I took him back in two weeks later and he tipped the scales at twenty-eight. Slowly but surely, Sam was returning from the edge. The first week or so he couldn’t so much as walk very far, but after a month, he began ambushing Bert on a regular basis, and Bert, much to my surprise, was incredibly gentle with Sam. Bert would lie on the floor and growl at Sam as Sam romped all over him, but made no move at all to defend himself other than rolling over from one side to the other. He let Sam pill on his ears and lips, too. After one particularly rough session, Bert leapt up on the sofa and looked at me as if to say, “I was NEVER that bad…was I?” Bert’s lips were so red and swollen I nicknamed him, Bertalina Jolie.
Sam hid in the closet for a while, and it took some patience to get him to react to any situation with anything than terror. I would get into the closet with him, and hold him, and wait until he was asleep before I left. Sam had nightmares for a very long time, and would wake up yelping. Yet through all of this, through all the hell Sam was put through, Sam was a happy hound. Every meal was Christmas. Each new day was a gift. Every kind word was heaven to Sam. I could tell when Sam woke up in the morning because I could hear his tail thumping on the floor. “Happy to be alive” is the phrase, I believe.
That was nine years ago this week. In those nine years I had seen the darker side of abuse. There are scars and wounds that never heal, ever. Sam will never be hale and whole. Sam will never be totally cured of what happened to him. But every meal is Christmas, each new day is a gift and every kind word is still heaven to Sam. No one I have ever met appreciates life more than Sam. Despite it all, Sam is a truly happy dog. I have learned much from Sam, Sam, the Happy Hound.