To tell the tale of Sam, Sam, The Happy Hound, you have to know about Bert first, because without Bert there would be no Sam. Bert was waiting for me in a dog pound in Dothan Alabama, and as soon as we saw each other it was love at first sight. Bert was a fuzzy three month old mutt with a splotchy tongue and a black spot on his tail. He pushed the other puppy away so I could reach down and pick him up, and I did. This was not going to be an easy dog, I knew that from the beginning, and the woman who was doing the paperwork discovered Bert had a hernia. “You can pick out another one, if you want” she said, but Bert was my dog. You do not trade in those you love; you take what you get when love is what you’ve got.
Bert was a demonic puppy. He ate a chair. He dug holes in the yard worthy of World War One Bunkers. The chair he ate he also drug off the porch, across the yard, and into his favorite sunny spot. Bert also liked human flesh. He would nip, and nip hard, exposed areas of the human body and they run away before he could be punished for it. When I moved out here in the woods I assumed it would be okay for Bert to be a free ranging dog. Bert would return from his adventures in the woods soaking wet and exhausted. He chased deer and swam in the pond. Bert was in heaven, and running himself ragged, and beginning to calm down, just a wee bit.
About two weeks after we moved out here, Bert came limping home with lower right leg sticking out at a very sickening angle. The vet let me pay in installments, but I was very broke to begin with at that time, and Bert had just made things worse. I had to keep him penned up in a small kennel and that was like trying to bottle water from an open fire hydrant. Bert didn’t like the kennel, and he didn’t like the cast on his leg. I figured with the cast on his leg, it was safe to let Bert out for some exercise, but I was wrong. Bert would hold his broken leg up in the air like he was giving a Nazi salute and run like the wind. He tried to leap onto the front porch one day, missed, and slammed into the top step. The wooden steps still bear the scars from that one, and I was surprised Bert didn’t totally wreck his already broken leg. I was going to have to fence in the yard, and that meant more money. It was money I simply did not have.
July the Fourth fell in the middle of the week in 2001, but I was taking some time off. Bert’s cast was off, but he was still demonic, and I had to walk him on a leash to take the edge off him. We were walking near my neighbor’s fenceline, just west of the house, when Bert really lost it. Rabbits and deer were two of his favorite things on earth, but this was different. Usually I could get him to calm down after a few minutes, but this time it was different. Whatever was in the woods was something that really got Bert’s attention and he was not letting me pull him away from it. I saw a small black shape in the brush, and finally drug Bert back into the house so I could take a look at it.
My neighbor’s fence runs north and South along my property, but he also has another to separate the woods from the planted pines. This is your standard woven wire fence, mind you, and that’s important, because it will give you a sense of size. The tiny creature crawled away from me, through the holes in the fence, and after I crossed over the fence twice, it simply stopped trying to escape. Honestly, I didn’t know what the hell it was when I first saw it.
I’ve been around dogs all my life, but I had never seen anything like this at all. It had a patchy black coat that was crossed with open wounds and bare spots. But there wasn’t anything but that coat. There was no meat inside of the coat, and the dull hair covered a framework of a skeleton and nothing else. I had never seen any animal in my life that was so close to starvation. The tiny black puppy rolled over on his back and closed his eyes. Whatever I planned to do to him could not match the hell he had already survived.
I went back to the house to discover Bert was looking out of the window with an intensity I had never seen in him. He danced around me in pure ecstasy, “Where’s the puppy? Where’s the puppy? Dad! Where’s the puppy, Dad?” Honestly, if Bert had not been so totally happy I might have gotten my rifle and ended the little dog’s life. There is a point in starvation where there is no rescue. There is a point of no return, and if this dog had not reached that point, I had no idea where it might be. But Bert…
I had a cat at that time, Abbi Gale The Cat From Hell, and I took a large plastic bowl and filled it with cat food. There was no danger of the puppy running away. His life was now measured in minutes, not hours or days or years. The blistering July heat of South Georgia was bad enough, but to be nearly dead from starvation and out in the woods in that heat was a death sentence. He was right where I left him. I held out the bowl, and the first signs of real life returned.
I had to take small handfuls of cat food and feed the little puppy because he choked on it when he ate right out of the bowl. He couldn’t slow down. After a few minutes I realized he needed water, too. His eyes never left the bowl as I lifted him up. I could carry him in one hand. There was no mass to him at all. When I picked Lucas up last Summer I could tell he was half grown because of his weight. There was real muscle on Luke’s body. This animal might as well be some stuffed toy.
I spilled out a handful of cat food on the porch and went inside to get some water. Bert was doing the Doggie Happy Dance. I got a water bowl and an old blanket for the puppy to lie on, for however long he lived, and went back outside. He was gone. Just that fats he had eaten all the cat food and left. I went back inside, got the food bowl and rattled it when I went outside. The little black dog came out from under the porch like an old shadow. Every bone in his body poked through.
I gave him water, and he lapped it up eagerly. I wasn’t aware he had a tail until I looked. It was tucked tightly between his legs and I wondered if he had ever wagged it. There were sores and open wounds all over his body. Half the fleas in Brooks County covered his belly, and the other half had given up on getting a good meal off him. His gums were nearly white. This was as bad as it got, and I was still uncertain if he would live. I decided to let his system digest the food I had given him before I fed him anymore. I let Bert out to see how he would react to the nearly dead puppy.
There he was this scrawny and nearly dead animal, so feeble he could barely stand. Out came Bert, eighteen months old, in the throes of demonic puppyhood, seventy pounds of live wire life. Bert’s ears were up, his tail up and wagging, and he deigned to snuffle the piece of fur that lay on the blanket, shivering. They little puppy rose to his feet, bared his teeth at Bert and he growled. Growled! Bert looked at me as if to say, “Dad, we have to keep him!”
But the little dog from the woods was not out of the woods yet.