Today sharing where her heart belongs is the wonderful Erin Emerson.
You can connect with Erin at http://www.whatwouldoprahdo.net/ or tweet her @EmersonErin
I think of the perfect puppy as a cuddly little one who licks your face and sleeps a lot. Sam was not one of those puppies. He was a black fuzzy guy from the pound who liked to exercise his staggeringly sharp puppy teeth on the back of your ankles. I’m surprised he didn’t break one off into my skin. If you held him up to your face in an attempt to give your ankles a break, you could end up with puncture wounds on your chin that required a Band-Aid.
Sam never needed rest. He was always on the go and usually looking for something to destroy. He didn’t even have the curious look of a puppy discovering new things. He had a simple stare that reminded me of John Goodman playing Roseanne’s husband. Sam was a very cute puppy, but I must admit, I thought that when his puppy fur grew out, he wouldn’t be the best looking dog.
A few months later I moved to a city where I knew no one. It was me and Sam. During the day I wrote. In typical Sam fashion, he didn’t sit at my feet; he was on the war path. I took him for long walks morning and night, which almost made him manageable. He still ate The Annie Dillard Three and my big hardback dictionary like they were his chew toys.
My bed was somewhat high, and our evening and morning ritual included transporting Sam from ground to floor (and in the morning vice versa) as his little legs weren’t long enough for the jump. I lived in a small carriage house, where there was a certain amount of noise from the gravel pathways behind it. One night I woke up to more noise than usual. I suspected that it was nothing, until I noticed that this black fur ball was sitting up on the bed, all of his fur raised. Before I could register fear, Sam jumped off of the bed, toppling a bit on his landing and laid Super Man style in front of the closed bedroom door. In that moment, I knew he was my dog.
And he was. He developed, and his simple stare became something deeper. He could look at me and read my emotions, expressing back how he felt about them. When I was sad, he was sad too. When I was happy, he wagged his tail with delight. When I was pensive, he would sit beside me, not making eye contact, letting me live in my head for a while.
He calmed down over the years and started chewing his own belongings. While he still lived up to the reputation he had earned after getting kicked out of a puppy obedience class, he got better.
I got married and when I went through a heartbreaking divorce, he let me cry all over his neck, every single night. During that time, he could hardly be coaxed away from my side as he sat with me in what I think of as his show of solidarity. If I lay down on the floor facing him, he would lie facing me, putting his forehead against mine. This became Foreheads, something we did every morning. As silly as it may sound, it’s one of the most peaceful things I know.
A few years later he became well enough behaved to act as the mascot at the small newspaper where I worked. He even appeared in our Christmas photo, which is more impressive than you would think considering that “stay” and other basic commands just weren’t in Sam’s wheelhouse. He was perfect for the job. I was wrong about his looks as a pup. He never outgrew his puppy fur. He grew into a handsome fuzzy black dog, with a fluffy tail like a squirrel, the model mutt.
When I had outgrown my position at the paper and become dissatisfied with my career, Sam must have felt it too. I brought him in with me one day, which wasn’t unusual in our small Sam-friendly office. As soon as I sat down at my desk, my completely house broken dog took a giant dump in the middle of our office floor. Did I mention that our office floor was carpeted?
Sam scrutinized my dates. He was very standoffish with anyone he didn’t like. Part of how I knew that my now husband was special is because of the way that Sam bonded with him, never hesitating.
This is how the next ten years went by. As life went on, life went on. There were special events, and some very sad ones. Any loss that I experienced was punctuated with his ever presence, his ability to just be there showing his truly empathetic nature. When I wrote my debut novel, Sam had a place in it as Buddy. My heart swelled with the number of strangers who emailed me and said how much they loved Buddy. Sam was my buddy.
When you have a fourteen-year-old dog, you start being together differently. You have to start paying attention to things that weren’t an issue before; changes in eating habits, slowing down of movement, decline in energy. I was aware, but Sam was consistently telling me that he was fine. When we got a puppy, Sam welcomed this newcomer with the love he had given me. He was patient and gentle. He let the puppy run under his legs, and as the puppy got bigger, he indulged him in some light wrestling. Despite the puppy having his own bed, Sam let the new guy cuddle up with him at night. I was so glad that Sam finally had a special friend. In some ways I thought of the puppy as Sam’s puppy.
This fall I noticed more changes. Sam stayed in his bed much longer than usual and there was a lump on one of his hind legs. The vet checked it, and said that it was just a lump, although it couldn’t be drained. Sam was already on geriatric dog food, but we added supplements and arthritis medication for good measure. The lump continued to grow. And Sam continued to slow down, which is normal for a dog approaching his fifteenth birthday.
Over a period of about eight weeks, Sam started to sit beside me, just looking at me like he was trying to tell me something. He was. I wasn’t ready to listen, but he was. I took him to the vet where we went over the fact that he was still participating in all of the fundamentals of a happy dog, and we added some mild pain medication to his regimen.
I had warned my sister of his decline, but it wasn’t until she came over after not seeing him for a month that I could truly gauge the extent of it. She sat on the floor with him. While he nuzzled her neck, she began to cry. And like the comforter he had always been, he sat still and let her cry into his thick fur. I knew then. I didn’t want to acknowledge it, but I knew.
Before long, Sam started trying to tell me again. That he was tired. That he didn’t feel good. That he needed for me to do the right thing, for him. While there were plenty of physical signs, what spoke the loudest was Sam. My sweet, sweet boy, always the one to rally was trying to tell me. When he would get up from his bed, he would look at me, like ‘See? This is getting really hard for me.’
I called the vet, who was so gentle and kind, and told her that it was time. I have lost people. I will not compare the two. They are very different things. What I will say is that they are both gut wrenching experiences.
The vet increased his pain medication and we made the appointment for a few days later. I knew it was the right thing to do. Yet I still wondered if there was any chance I could be wrong. I had a little gathering at my house for friends who would want to say goodbye to him. We drank wine and Sam mingled and enjoyed a lovely piece of lamb. As much as it broke my heart, it was a beautiful thing to see how many lives he had touched, how many people loved him. That is how we spent his last night.
The next day Sam paced. He couldn’t get comfortable despite the pain medication. As much as I knew we had to put an end to his suffering, I didn’t know how to say goodbye to my buddy, my very best friend.
When it was time to go, my husband carried him to the car, something I don’t know if I could have done. It was a rainy day, but he put on sunglasses, tears streaming beneath them on the ride to the vet’s office. When we got to the office Sam didn’t pull his usual act of walking back to the door, sort of a ‘nothing to see here, let’s go home’ gesture, he wagged his tail.
When he was lying on the floor, they shaved his leg for the injection. I tried to put on my bravest face for my buddy, not wanting his last moments to be me crying on his face. I had my forehead on his, and my hand on his back. “It’s ok, buddy.” I said this over and over again. Sam lifted his head and licked my face.
This is still raw, something I can’t eloquently relay, much less write. But when asked to write “My heart belongs to…” I didn’t have to give it a thought. My heart belongs to Sam.
A big thank you to Erin for sharing such a wonderful & touching post.