The Old Man On The Mountain

A View From the Backwoods of NH

The Dogs – Sammi Jo

I’ve had seven dogs in my life, Copper Belle, an AKC registered Golden, Schultz, a Shepard mix, Sammi Jo, a Shepard mix, Hunter, a Golden mix, Dakota, a Hound/Lab mix, Blue, a Walker Hound and my boy Max, a Shepard mix that’s still with me. This story is about Sammi Jo, the first dog I had after my boy Schultz was killed.

It was 12 long years after Schultz died, but I kept my promise to never have another dog until I could provide a safe and permanent home. Much had happened in those twelve years – I was married with three kids now – kids who’d never had the experience of owning their own dog. And within two weeks of passing papers on the house, I found Sammi, a three month old stray. We had to wait another week to get her, a week of hoping no one would claim her. She was part shepard, part border collie, with a white vest, white tip on her tail and four white socks.

I initially named her Sambuca, because she was a real (sic) licker. But as a little time passed (and the kids took to calling her “Sam”) I changed her name to Sammi Jo, a character played by Heather Locklear on Dynasty. Heather and Sammi had one thing in common – they were both beautiful blondes (at least to me). My youngest daughter was still scared of dogs when we first got her, but with a little time and love, that fear went away (and was replaced with “Get her, Sam”). And the boy, well he was only 3 and not really sure what to make of her except hey, it’s a dog.

I’d never had to housebreak a dog before, and “crate training” was a foreign concept to me, but we managed, without a crate or a lot of anxiety. I think the toughest thing though was getting her used to riding in the car. She’d spewed on the girls during the ride home from the shelter, and every ride after that. Until one ride when she went to spew, I pushed her down on the front floor and told her to do it there (I’d spread newspaper just in case). Then I wouldn’t let her back up on the seat, leaving her to lay on one side of the floor, with the paper-towel & newspaper coated puke on the other. It was still a 30 minute ride until we got home, but after that she never threw up again.

Sammi loved to ride – in the car, the truck (an ’88 Bronco with a drop down window in back) or the boat (a 14 foot rowboat). One time, when I took my daughter and Sammi out in the boat, Sammi did what she’d usually do – jump in and out , back and forth. Until I told my daughter to hold her in the boat. When we got a ways from the launch I said “you can let her go now, I don’t think…”. I saw Sammi’s eyes when she hit the water, expecting a solid footing. Sammi’d never been swimming before – and when her feet kept going, and she went under, the look of surprise was priceless. She came up snorting and learned to swim “the old fashioned way”. Unfortunately for me, she weighed a ton as I leaned over to haul her soaking body back in the boat. Unfortunate for both of us as she shook the swampy water off and all over us. But it was worth the price of admission to see that show.

She was a champion frisbee player, at least in my eyes. She’d run full tilt, jump and catch in the air. And she loved to play ball too, with that same dedication, She would play hard, giving her all on every throw, even when she came up lame one time after extended play. She was a die-hard. We played “puppy-toss” her first winter, with the drifts so deep – she loved it. She was everything you could ask for in a dog – she could run, she could jump, she obeyed and she was loyal.

Although we lived in a “leash law” city, I could let her run free range, as she stayed mostly in our yard. Sammi loved life, and was extremely protective of her family. Even the boy, who would continually try to step on her feet (if no one was looking) until she developed her one bad habit. She hated sneakers (which is what the boy wore) and would bite at them, whether your foot was in them or not, until she was sure they weren’t “bad” sneakers. This made it tough when company came to visit (not to mention the liability). I’d begun to worry about how I would handle this as she got older, but it turned out I worried for nothing.

Sammi was the first of the “Thanksgiving Curse” dogs (Blue was the second). On the day after Thanksgiving, when she was only eight years old, she died of a cancer I never knew she had. The morning started off normally – I let Sammi out, took my my youngest daughter to work, then ran a few errands. When I got back home, Sammi was laying on the front porch. The unusual thing was, she didn’t get up to greet me. After I dropped the bags in the kitchen, I went back out and she still didn’t move. I called her and all I got was a tail wag – now I was scared. I said “SAM, COME” and again, just the tail wag. This made me wonder, did she get hit by a car? I yelled into the Ex to “call the Vet and let them know we’re coming” and, with my oldest daughter to hold her, I carried Sammi to the Blazer and sped to the Vet’s.

They took her right in, kept us waiting for ten minutes (which seemed like an eternity), then came out and led us back to where she was, laying on a table. They told us that she was bleeding internally, and that there was nothing they could do. So I stroked her, all the while looking into her eyes, thanking her for being my friend and telling her how sorry I was that it had to end, until her eyes clouded and they told me she was gone. We found out later that she had a cancerous liver, and she’d burst a lobe. One minute fine, the next, gone.

My heart broke that day – not since Dad passed had I felt such an emptiness in my soul. I guess you never know how attached you’ve become to someone or something until they’re gone, and that was the case with Sammi. And as much as I loved her, I knew the healing wouldn’t begin until I got another dog. So I began to look around for a new member of the family, which is how we came up with Hunter. I’ll tell you all about him in another story.