I wish I could start this story with a sound. It would be a sound that makes your hair stand on end, your breathing and your heart stop for just a moment and then rush into a mad, feverish race. It would be a high pitched shriek full of anguish and abject terror. A sound so primal that your very soul instantly becomes one with it, your body responding with an uncontrollable fight or flight response. This is a sound that still makes my eyes wet with the remembering as I try to describe it to you. This was the sound Sammy was making the first time I laid eyes on him.
The sound came first. Then came the sight of an enormous big, black dog on a control stick being forced over the cement and through the rows of deafening barking and frenzied dogs in kennels on either side. Eyes wide, feet braced, tail tucked, the dog appeared bewildered, terrified, uncomprehending. I stood paralyzed, unable to act or even react until unable to bear witness I walked quickly out the back door. Body shaking, feeling helpless I stood waiting. Waiting for the shrieking to stop and indicate the end of the madness. Waiting to regain a measure of composure and the ability to control my movements, actions and words.
I re-entered the shelter to find the big, black dog quivering and cowering in a kennel run. What I had seen seemed to indicate he must be vicious, angry, dangerous. I could not reconcile that with the figure before me, head bent, liquid eyes peering up hesitantly, trembling, hugging the wall.
With quiet and soft words I started to talk to him. I wanted to tell him it would be OK, he would be OK now. I couldn’t though. So while my voice was comforting, my words told him that he should be afraid, that there were not chances for enormous, big black dogs with graying muzzles, that he would die here. It’s horrible. I know it is. But that is what I told him, unwilling to lie to him or to myself, trying to force a level of detachment that had abandoned me, consumed by the echo of that sound.
I pulled some treats out of my pocket. At first he just glanced at them, still too traumatized to move. Soon though he ventured over and took the treat with the gentlest mouth. I offered more but he leaned against the gate and pressed his head into my hand, wanting the comfort of touch much more than the treat I held. I opened the gate, I went in, I had a Sammy in my arms, a big mass of black dog melting into me whimpering.
And it was in that moment that I realized I had lied to Sammy. It was in that moment that I realized Sammy would get out because somehow, some way, I was going to make it happen. I handed over my heart and he took it completely.
I spent as much time as I could with Sammy, fed him many treats, put my arms around him and let him snuggle up, loved him, made promises to him. The van was already full and there was no way to fit 100 pound Sammy on board. It broke my heart to leave him behind. Before I did I pulled the shelter staff back to his kennel and through a few tears (or perhaps sobbing and barely coherent depending on who tells the story) I made sure they knew we were coming back for him and that Sammy would come to Minnesota.
The evening of our return I made arrangements to get Sammy to Safe Hands. I could not stop thinking about the gentle giant of a dog waiting there, his soft and wise eyes with stories to tell, his big head resting so trustingly on my shoulder. I went through the motions at intake, watched over the amazing team that is Safe Hands as they tended to our new arrivals and nourished them body and soul. Happy to have our new arrivals in good hands, thrilled that we could get them to safety, my mind was thousands of miles away, my heart with a big black dog. I maintained composure just long enough to make it through intake until I could call my friend Bridget about fostering Sammy. She answered the phone. I started to talk. Words came choking out. Unable to hold back the sorrow at leaving Sammy, I blurted out the story in bursts and fits. Bridget, bless her heart, immediately said yes, absolutely, bring Sammy home.
In the week that followed I barely slept. The sleep I did get was haunted by Sammy. He was my first thought upon waking every morning, even in that blurry and barely conscious state that rises up until you have awareness, Sammy was there with me. I think if monitors could have been hooked to my brain it would have shown that no more than five minutes ever went by without the big black dog in my thoughts. And finally, one week later, the day arrived and Sammy came to join us here. It was every Christmas Eve, every day before your birthday, every Easter egg hunt morning waiting for the tranpsort to arrive with my boy.
Safe Hands members fell instantly in love with Sammy. You couldn’t meet him and NOT fall for him madly. He was charming, polite, had impeccable manners. He would bury his head in any available body, happily lay at your feet for belly rubs, he loved having his face stroked. Sammy loved to be loved.
But finding a home for Sammy turned out to be no easy task. Safe Hands members all have as many dogs as they can and if they didn’t when they started out with us, they do now! People loved him at the adoption events. But it didn’t translate to people wanting to take him home. Sammy had the trifecta of strikes against him. He was really big. He was black. And he was an older gentleman. No one was willing to take him for the years he had left, favoring instead the younger dogs and puppies who seemed to promise more time. Sammy did have one did have one, itty bitty little bad habit. He liked cats, a bit too much. This further limited his options as he needed a cat free home.
The months went by and Sammy was a very happy guy in his foster home. He very much enjoyed the company of his canine foster siblings. He loved the boys in the home and took to sleeping with or near one of them most of the time. He often stood guard and refused to leave their side while they were asleep. He got along excellently with all dogs and I once found him with two small dogs playing “King of the Sammy” and standing on him to push each other off his side while he lay placidly amused by the whole spectacle. To Sammy life was grand, he had legions of followers to rub his head, ears and belly, what more did he need?
As it turns out, life for Sammy would get even better. As we were working to find a home for another one of our “kids” we came across a lovely woman named Maike. She was looking for another dog to join her family on their 10 acre farm. Her current dog needed a buddy to run with, but as an older gent himself he needed a nice, easy going, laid back kind of friend. She also needed a dog that wouldn’t chase the horses. Thanks to a very dedicated volunteer a meeting was arranged and Sammy went off on a big adventure to check out the farm that he would soon call home. It was love at first site, a match made in heaven, it was HOME. Summit and Sammy instantly bonded and the two big guys took off exploring in the trees, hunting in the tall grass and roaming the property together like long lost friends. Since Summit kept responding when Sammy was called they decided Sammy should get a new name to go with his new family. He was a great buddy for Summit and would prove to be a great buddy for Maike and Mark too so his new name, aptly, became Buddy!
His new family said they spent their first day with him “taking him out many times, cuddling with him, naps on the dog bed…just so he will know he’s home.” Just so he will know he’s home. Those are some powerful words. They went on to say, “We both realize that since his age is not known, Buddy might live for another year, maybe many more…we are fine with that. He’s a sweet, sweet, polite big lug and deserves to have whatever time left in a place where he can be happy and where he is being loved. Snuggling with him is a treat! We made that commitment to him and we will keep it to his end. We promise to do right by him – whatever that means. We will take the best care of him possible, make sure his health is good and let him be the dog that he is…. He’ll have a good place to live, lots of dog beds and treats, a safe place outside and inside and two people that will give him all the love, hugs, kisses, he deserves.”
So my story with Sammy sort of ends at the point he became Buddy and went to live with his forever family. I am hungry though for more, more Sammy/Buddy, more of the marvelous big, black dog. So I asked his mom to share the start of his new chapter with us.
When Buddy first arrived we could witness how he would get happier and happier every day… and truly shed years in the process. After the first week, I noticed how much higher he carried his head and his trail. He had a nice bounce in his trot and would actually run at times! Now his tail wags all the time – just when I say his name or catch his eyes and it’s nice.
From day one, Buddy and Summit were the Siamese twins – where there is one- there is the other. It’s pretty sweet to see the two greet each other in the morning. They do those goofy ‘butt-up in the air’ stretches in sync, do several loud, moaning yawns and gently lick each others faces – before being bumper-cars with each other to race downstairs for breakfast. It’s 200 lb of dogs barreling down two flights of stairs and a dumbly-dorky race to the mud room for breakfast. It’s just fun to have a good laugh in the morning because of those two goof balls ……. Buddy however, is not a morning dog. Calling of his name barely gets him to open one eye. Calling his name a few times might get two eyes open, but when he wants to sleep in, he’s going to be sleeping in.
A few weeks after Buddy’s arrival, the two decided to start their own part-time company …. and mud digging, drainage-tile and hole digging service called B&S Excavating. The first project was a 3-hour long hunt for something in 50 ft of plastic drainage tile. Then a few HUGE holes dug behind the barn. Some of the holes are so deep, the both dogs disappear in them up to their waist. When it’s hot, each excavation project is followed by runs into the pond to cool down. They come home totally dirty, muddy, but their eyes are just sparkling with pride and joy. There is no harm done – they have fun, I don’t mind. They did get into the hostas once and my day lilies and we needed to have a bit of a discussion about the location of their projects. Behind the barn or around the pond is fine, not around the house and in the flower beds. It worked, my flowers are safe.
I did notice though that “If Buddy doesn’t want, Buddy doesn’t do”. He lays down, goes limp and doesn’t move. There is evidence of traumas passed. I grabbed his collar the first time and got him into total dead weight, he whimpered and got panicked. So – I need to just work with him with words.
I also noticed he didn’t like to go ahead of me into the dark barn. He’s fine now, but between that and his bad front teeth, I assume that he might have been locked up in a small dark place at one point and tried to bite his way out of it.
Mark also got him into a panic the second week. Buddy was lounging in his bed and Mark gently tapped him on the butt with his foot and pointed towards the bed to encourage him to hop into bed with me. The combination of being tapped with a foot and the upwards, raised arm triggered a bad memory in him. He yelped, jumped up and dropped on his back in submission. Mark felt just terrible that he got him so scared…. he gave him tons of hugs and snuggles and lots of apologies.
But I guess those little learning experiences just come with a second-hand dog … no way of finding out what or why that happened. We just have to adjust our behavior to accommodate those old triggers.
Getting to know Buddy, I truly think he must have had a really good life at one point, possibly as a farm dog. He is so smart around the horses. He protects me, stays around, but out of the way. He is so well trained, so well mannered and respectful, very very sweet, loves people dearly and will protect any dog that is in distress. If there is a whimpering puppy, Buddy will run and come to the puppy’s rescue. He’s good with kids, disabled people, little tiny dogs, the horses. He’s good in strange situations and will stick with me and look to us to give him security. Mark keeps saying “Why would anybody give up a dog so wonderful?”
I guess he had a great, caring and loving owner, but for some reason, he needed to give him up, died, something and the next place he got too was really bad and he ended up in the shelter. But he’s just the biggest, sweetest, most wonderful dog and I tell him everyday how much we love him and how honored we feel that he’s with us. He brightens my day all the time and he makes me laugh and giggle. He and Summit are great buddies and I don’t think Summit could have asked for a better friend … nor could Mark and I.
Thank you for saving his life … he’s the best dog we could have ever imagined.
Yes, the best dog anyone could ever have imagined.
**Epilogue – This story was originally written in August of 2009 when Buddy was first adopted. Sadly Summit has since passed away but Buddy now has a new “buddy”, another elderly black dog with which to spend his days. Tomorrow will be Buddy’s first day as an official therapy dog as he and Mark visit a Memory Care Center. No worries Maike, I know Buddy (& Mark!) will shine!