September 17, 2008
A love letter to Sam
My dog, Samantha, is almost 16 years old. She is a brown mixed breed with enough of something in her to make her look like something other than a mutt. So, when people ask me, "What is she?" I used to say "She is a dog." Somewhere along the line that started sounding really obnoxious and didn't garner knowing laughs, but instead crooked smiles that clearly said, "You are an impudent ass hole, aren't you?"
So, now when people ask, "What is she?" I say, "She is an American Brown Dog."
I brought her to the vet yesterday for her yearly shots and also so he could do something about her skin and fur. It seems that my American Brown dog might be part snake because she seems to be molting...all over the house. Mind you, this is not just a fur issue. I half expect to wake up one morning and find half her tail on the floor.
I also suspected that Dr. Chapman, the vet, would suggest it might be time to put the old girl down. I braced myself and tried to be reasonable. I have put other animals down when it came time. Most recently I put Whitey down. He was old. I mean really old. He would sit in a corner and stare at the wall for hours completely unaware of his surroundings. He would fall. He would moan. It was sad.
Still, Whitey came to us only 7 years earlier as wandering stray. You know the story, we were going to find him a good home and $1,000 dollars and 15 days later, we did...ours.
I put Whitey down 6 months after I watched my mother die a horrible and painful death from cancer, so juxtaposed with that harrowing and life changing experience, it really wasn't that bad.
But Sam?! Sam has been with me since the beginning. She was just a puppy when I got her in 1994. My first husband gave her to me as a wedding present. The shelter had told him she would grow to be a very big dog, maybe over 100 pounds. And when she didn't meet his expectations and never grew bigger than 40 pounds, he cast her aside and no longer loved her. And then she was truly mine because neither of us had met his needs and wants and together we formed a bond as the unloved and the unwanted.
She slept in bed with me, right next to me, for the first year. And then she worked her way down to the foot of the bed, and finally, a couple of years ago, when jumping up on the bed became just too daunting a task, she moved to the floor on a *gasp* dog bed.
When we finally left Chris, the starter husband, I had to leave her behind. It was only for a couple of days until I could find a place, but it was the hardest couple of days because I knew how much he hated both of us. Thankfully, he was too consumed with being the victim and "winning" that the he just forgot to feed her. In my mind, neglect was the least of his potential cruelty towards her.
When my family said I could not live with them and keep her inside, I found someone else to live with. When she jumped a page fence and didn't quite clear the top, I brought her to the emergency vet and begged my mother for the money to make the check I had written good. We were a team, a package deal, two for the price of one.
In return for moderate care, she has given me the love and acceptance and I had been looking for my whole life. She snuggled willingly at every turn and even saved me from a house fire. She has never bitten anyone and even gets along with cats. Her worst crime is that she stinks. But really, don't we all? I am sure we must to her.
My current husband, who is the opposite of the first, told me he fell in love with me the night I professed my undying love for Samantha and that we were a package deal. He "adopted" her as his own and it did not matter to him that she came from the first husband.
And so, yesterday, when we walked into Dr. Chapman's office, I bit my cheeks to keep from crying and told myself over and over again that she is a dog and she is 112 in human years and that things don't last forever. None of it worked and I felt myself crashing when Sam yelped being hauled up to the table.
I cannot do this, I thought. I will break, this is too much, stop the ride, I want to get off.
And then, as if an answer to my plea, Dr. Chapman said, "Not yet. It's not time. She still has life, she just needs steroid shots to help with the skin issues and the arthritis."
Maybe I get one more year or 6 more months with her. I get to hear my son say, "I love Sam" when he rolls around on the floor next to her. And I get to see Sam smell and his lick his head like he is her own puppy. And we get to raise each other for a little while longer.