After twelve years nearly everyone who knows me knows the story of Sam. It begins “Sam, Sam, the Happy Hound was almost dead when he was found.” But Sam wasn’t very happy when Bert found him in the woods and it would be a while before anyone thought he would live. “Death Camp Dog” is how a friend of mine described him and this was a week after Sam had been taken in and fed every day. Sam went from thirteen pounds to twenty-eight pounds in two weeks. Oh, and the thirteen was after three days of getting three meals a day. Sam was a wreck.
Sam spent quite a while in a state of semi-shock when all he wanted to do was eat, drink water, sleep by his food bowl, and go outside to let his bodily functions take their course. He wasn’t interested in love, play, interaction, exploration, or for that matter, anything else that lured him away from food. It was food Sam wanted most and I shoveled it to him as fast as he could eat it. Sam looked worse than he was and he looked a fright. After a month of feeding, love and affection, and with nothing else going wrong in his life, Sam peeked out of his shell. But that dog still looked damn bad. It would be months before Sam filled out entirely.
When I first saw Sam I wasn’t entirely sure what it was I was looking at. It certainly didn’t look like a dog. After the vet declared Sam to be part Black Lab and part Greyhound, I was stunned. Sam? You mean to tell me this is going to be a big dog? No way! But Sam topped the scales less than a year later at seventy-five pounds. He was never a big bodied dog but rather lean, tall, and long. Sam was my first speed merchant. Head down, necked stretched out, legs spinning, and oh my god that dog was fast. Bert never had a chance in the open against Sam’s speed and all he could hope for in a game of fetch was piracy.
There is an old story of a man who had a little boy that had a bad temper. He told the lad to go hammer a nail into the fence every time he got mad instead of taking it out on someone else. The boy did as he was bid and soon the fence was full of nails. The child settled down shortly afterwards and the man told him, “Now, go pull the nails out of the fence!’ and the boy did this, too. But the little boy noticed the fence was full of holes and he wondered aloud what was to become of the fence because of the holes. The man told him, “This is what you have done to people with your actions and words, in forgiving you they may pull the nails out of the fence but there will always be a hole there.”
Bert found a three month old puppy who was barely weaned. Sam was damaged beyond my ken in this sort of thing because I have never been around anyone who abused animals to this extent. Sam had been beaten, starved, and he had been abandoned. I did not think the first three months of Sam’s life would haunt him forever but they have and they still do. Sam sees the world in cases of black and white, good and evil, life and death, and there are no grey areas at all. His reaction to me getting a cat several years ago was to try to kill the cat because that was all he knew. When I tried to train him not to kill the cat I realized that scolding Sam sharply frightened him so terribly as to traumatize him. Rather than change his behavior Sam would simply lie down and whimper as if he were being beaten. Training Sam was not only difficult but in some cases nearly impossible. Worse, after I brought Lucas home three years ago, Sam tried to kill him too, and had my hand not been in the way, Lucas would have been killed outright. Sam put two teeth into my left thumb; one to the bone and one clear through. He was aiming for Lucas’ neck. Recently, he chomped Lillith by her neck but Sam is diminished. A dozen years weighs heavily on him and Lillith gashed him good for his attack. Sam is reactive in some cases and I cannot tell when this is going to happen. Fortunately, other than accidently, Sam has never bitten a human being.
Sam is better. Sam is a lot better. He no longer wakes up yelping as he once did. He doesn’t hide in the closet like he did for a while. He makes friends with people and he is a love sponge. Sam seems to play well with others, at least until he doesn’t, but his days of play draw now to an end. He watches the younger dogs play and he’ll get into the fray very rarely. Both Lillith and Lucas allow this, treating Sam very kindly and they never knock him down. Lucas has twice, that I know of, stood between Lillith and Sam when Sam growled at her and tried to stand over her. Despite Sam’s snarling Lucas just looked at him, ears up, tail up, but not aggressive. Lucas is a gentle giant and his time on the road is not the burden that Sam carries.
I never thought Bert would make it to twelve but I’m willing to bet Sam makes it to next year at least. Ever it may bring, Sam survives. He finds life where others have died. He has held on when others might have let go. Sam was called to lie at Death’s feet and Sam curled up his lips and growled a threat that was heard.
Really, there was a moment like this; Bert stood over Sam and there was Sam looking at a full grown, eighty pound in the prime of life Alpha Dog that was part Husky and part Chow. Bert reached down to snuffle the poor dying puppy and Sam raised his head, curled his lips to expose white gums, and he snarled a death threat at Bert. That was my first sign there might be a really large heart in those skin and bones body.
Life, my friends, can be saved from damage and death, but only with love. There is much we can do and much we have done. There are holes in that fence beyond reckoning and beyond repair, however. Take what the road gives you and patch it as well as your talent and love allows and know that no matter how small the good you may do might be, the evil you undo is greater.