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“Sam is down,” my wife shouted from our back deck.
Our beloved GSD had been outside since early morning with our female.
Without hesitation, I ran out to see Sampson lying the the grass on his belly as if asleep, the aging dog unresponsive to a call for his morning meal. With a clatter on the steps, I was beside him in an instant. Flies surrounded him. Not good. I touched him and spoke his name. Sam barely opened his eyes but seemed to recognize my presence. He was breathing, he was alive.
We loaded him into my SUV and rushed him to the local vet with a warning call he was coming. In a scant few minutes, we arrived at the vet’s office and where I helped transfer Sam to a gurney, one of his legs gone rigid. Really not good.
We were ushered into a waiting room and the vet soon arrived with news. Sam was not going to make it. A few minutes passed and he returned with the sad news that our nearly 13 year old dog had died, apparently having ingested something poisonous.
The dog that primarily inspired the dog character Spark from The Bow of Hart Saga has passed, leaving a sudden emptiness in our household and an even bigger one in our hearts.
For the last year or so, I’ve watched Sam get a little slower, his joints bothering him so it was harder to go upstairs. It was evident that good old Sam didn’t have that many years left, though I thought he’d make it to 15. It was not to be as it appears he got a quick taste of engine coolant left over from a single car accident on a side-road where we walk the dogs. The pieces – and the pooled coolant – were in the high grass and Sam got just enough to start a final count-down on his life. I knew I would one day have to write the announcement but did not expect it so soon, certainly not since he was clearly healthy last Friday and eager for a walk. He seemed fine when we went to bed. Saturday morning, he died after being outside for a while where the poison finished it’s deadly job when the dogs went out for their early morning constitutional within the fenced backyard while we slept-in a while and I went for a run.
Sam was special enough to become a much-needed character in The Bow of Hart Saga and I’ve written about him a few times in the past. But in tribute to his life, I thought I’d share just what made him so special in the first place. Sampson was a big dog, weighing about a hundred pounds in his younger days, but his personality was far bigger than his physical presence. He was a dog that had a little more intellect, a little more understanding of people and quite a lot of character himself.
The dog who was Spark loved people. He could have been a Wal-Mart greeter for those who remember when people stood at the doors to the retail stores and spoke to everyone entering. Sam loved visitors and grew downright giddy over small children and babies so much so that we’d often put him outside so he would not accidentally hurt anyone in his excitement. And yes, he loved puppies whenever he met them. When people met Sam, we almost always heard from visitors that he was a wonderful dog when they left. He was a lovable, gentle giant.
Sam came to our home to guard the house from inside the fence. He learned commands and tricks readily but loved being with us most. He was ever-present, hardly leaving our side in the evening. Sampson’s mother was pure black and his father was pure white and both were obviously intelligent dogs when we met them to choose same for our family. Sam inherited his father’s friendly, good-natured personality, even a very good nose often possessed by white shepherds. From his mother, Sam got his trickster nature – she wanted to greet us on our visit but his father so took our attention that she distracted him by encouraging the puppies to play with him. Our choice ended up being Sam who was pure black on his back and white on his belly where most German Shepherds are black and brown. People loved the distinctive coat pattern but him even more.
The trickster side of Sam was not evident until we brought home his smaller companion, a female runt from the litter of a real German police dog we named Chloe. She’s a very serious, rowdy dog who stole Sam’s bone, defended her food and horned in on the attention. Sam soon learned to play off Chloe’s assertive nature to get what he wanted. If he had a bone and she took it, he would go eat her left-over food noisily to get her snarling at him in the kitchen. Then, he would happily take the bone back. Once I was patting his head and Chloe came over to get attention which I was happy to give. Sam then chose to go find a bone and chew on it so Chloe would take it away. Then he returned to me for his attention. He often played her like a fiddle with these tricks.
There were other funny sides to this dog. I could scare him or startle him in some way and he just loved having someone get a trick over on him. But one of the most heart-warming moments was when he realized he could swim once he waded into a swimming hole. He went nuts, splashing around as he swam, enjoying the new-found ability he didn’t know he had until that moment. He was such a big kid that day.
One time, he visited the Gulf of Mexico and his reaction was one of complete amazement at what he saw. You could almost hear the kid in him shout, “WATER!” The surf was rough and Sam loved being bowled over continually. That night he was sore, exhausted and contented. A few days later, the surf was very calm and he enjoyed paddling around and playing until he was exhausted. He made himself sick on the salt water but had the time of his life.
We took him back to that swimming hole a few years ago, now is last trip there, and he completely wore himself out again, this time playing in a small waterfall, snapping at all the water flowing over his face. Those are good memories. He loved playing in leaf-piles, wading through fresh one with glee each Fall. We had a small, older cat when Sam arrived and he just loved her. Once though, he just walked up to her, opened his mouth and closed it around her head – didn’t hurt her at all. When I said something, Sam looked like he was caught and I can only imagine he just wanted to know if her head would fit in his mouth. The cat was annoyed.
Sam’s softer side often came out whenever one of us was upset. He seemed to have an excellent radar for sour moods and often approached to console us. He was always ready with a cheerful presence that will be missed all too soon. He could easily have been any kind of service dog. I would have loved to have gotten him trained as a search and rescue dog. Finding and helping people would have suited him well. We never had the funds to put into that kind of training so it’s a missed opportunity. He was a comforting presence and I even miss him lying at the bedside already.
The most famous attribute Sam possessed was his ability to talk with his tail. My wife said she’d never seen a dog communicate quite like him. This dog had an unusually good understanding of a large number of words. When he was focused, you could ask him questions and get answers from tail-wags – or the lack of one – meaning yes or no. It seems crazy to many people but you could ask him a series of yes/no questions to which you could expect answers consistently. Then you asked a question you to which you didn’t know the answer and laugh at Sam’s take. You can read a few of these here and here. It was the basis of how Spark communicated with Athson all along – though the character didn’t realized it until late in the series. Sam once asked for a pet cat (long after the other one died) so he was happy with the new arrival of a tom-cat a couple of years ago. He was quite protective and didn’t want his pet to go outside – that’s in one of those links if you want to read about it.
There were so many funny, heart-warming tales and aspects to Sampson than I could write in one blog. He was ever-present with us for these last dozen years and it seems like several decades since he arrived and yet it seems far too soon that he’s gone. The events were shockingly fast to the system and we’ll be adjusting, always thinking he’s there in the way that a big dog always is. I hope this gives you a good idea of why Sam is so beloved. His surviving side-kick, Chloe is confused at his absence, uncertain what exactly happened though she knows he got sick. She’s slowly understanding the new normal without Sam. We’re all understanding that the day after.
So passes a dog who embodied all too well the moniker of “man’s best friend” having lived his life well and to the fullest. He’s left a message still for us all as I consider his life that we should live each day well. I have no doubt he enjoyed his final walk on Friday evening as much as any other, only to be gone the next morning so suddenly.
We each lifted a glass in toast to his life on Saturday night, a life well-lived with simply joy and constant faithfulness. We then talked of our memories with Sampson with a hint of disbelief in our stories over his sudden, permanent absence. So now, I offer a final word to the best of companions. Farewell, old friend. Our time was far too short and your loyalty far more steadfast than we deserved.
In Memory of Sampson “Sam”
The dog who inspired Spark in The Bow of Hart Saga
8/26/2006 – 7/27/2019