My dog Samson is what you would call a “bread hound.” Of all forbidden human food – bread is at the top of his list. The yeastier – the better! As people-food goes – bread isn’t a bad option. I mean – it’s not like the miniature chocolate bars that my grandmother fed her little dog – at the table – while commenting on how daintily she ate them. It’s true “Buttons” did sit on a chair at the kitchen table and after Nana broke the “bite-sized” human candy bar into “bite-sized” doggie pieces, Buttons would “daintily” eat one piece after the other.
I know, I know – chocolate is poison for dogs (mmm… maybe – but a very slow poison). And yes – it is weird for a dog to sit at the kitchen table. But I never objected because I knew that Buttons was Nana’s “replacement dog.” Nana rescued Buttons from the litter of puppies that were being tormented by the young son of Nana’s back-yard neighbor, the year I left for college. I always knew that Buttons filled a void that was left for Nana when I went to college, my mother remarried and moved to Florida and Nana’s adopted son, my “little uncle,” finished high school and moved out.
Samson didn’t start out as a “replacement dog” for me and yet there can be little doubt that he is. So it’s fitting that we found him the year Nana died – 2003. In the 12 years that we’ve had him, both of our children have been away to college and, in turn moved back for awhile, and then moved on – although Will is currently home.
On that day in early May 2003 when Samson entered our lives, my son and I were schedule to take a Saturday morning canoe trip and then go on to Richmond for our final visit to Nana’s house. Nana died at the end of March and it was our last chance to see her house before it sold.
The canoe trip was “rained out” so instead we hiked through a wet field with waist high grass in a damp drizzle, all the while wondering why in the heck we weren’t canoeing. We’d have ended the morning much drier and believe me – happier. Ask any 11-year old boy you know whether he’d like to hike through wet grass or canoe in the rain – 10 out of 10 will choose canoeing in the rain (and so would I).
So by noon when our expedition ended, I had a rather grumpy son on my hands “but you said we were going on a canoe trip!” and faced the prospect of a three hour drive to Richmond. So I did what any good mother would do. I decided that instead of driving the most direct route to Richmond we’d have an adventure! We’d take the back roads and check out future camping spots. Will’s mood brightened a bit. We set off.
Somewhere between Danville, Virginia and Richmond – on a two-lane country road, on that drizzly, misty day in May 2003, we spotted something white in the road ahead. The last car we’d seen had been at least 30 minutes ago and I was ready for this adventure to end. I’m not even sure where we were but I was ready to get back on the main road and head to Richmond. I slowed to see what was blocking our way and the white object began to move – three puppies, who were huddled in the middle of the road, scampered off into the woods.
“PUPPIES!!!” We both cried at once, as I pulled to the side of the road. Of course I stopped the car. Of course we went to the edge of the woods and called – “here, here – come here puppies.” Samson was the first to appear. He was the biggest and friendliest of the lot. Cautious but with a wagging tail, he approached us. His sisters followed behind, much more hesitant than he. They were all covered with fleas and ticks but we loaded them into the back of our car. I promised an adventure and I delivered!
So our first “home” with the puppies was our last day at Nana’s house. The next day we drove back to North Carolina – puppies and Will making a happy pile in the back seat. Rick will always remember and often recalls with a smile on his face, the picture of Will surrounded by puppies when he opened the back door of the car.
“Snips and snails and puppy dog tails – that’s what little boys are made of.”
The next day I took the puppies to the vet and got their shots and medicine necessary to de-worm them. There was little doubt which one we would keep. Samson was a roly-poly fluffy ball of golden fur. The vet thought he looked just like a golden retriever puppy. The two girls were a similar color but more like beagles – and completely opposite dispositions. The strongest of the two girls had always been mean – snapping and growling whenever we tried to pet her. Once the runt of the litter got stronger, she also began to exhibit “mean girl” tendencies.
So after a week of trying to find homes, we took the girls to the local animal shelter and quite honestly – I’m not sure they would have made good pets. I know that may sound unkind – but hey – they’re animals – and not all animals are meant to be pets. No doubt these “three stray puppies” as they were known at the vet – had an unkind start to life. They were either “dropped” in the country by some city person who didn’t have the sense to spay or neuter their pet and ended up with unwanted pups – or, as I think more likely, they were country dogs born to a farmer who had no means to provide for their food. Somewhere along the way – shotguns were involved, for whenever there is thunder, fireworks or morning practice at the police firing range that is about a mile from our house, Samson sulks and cowers at the sound. He was clearly traumatized at an early age.
So there’s the beginning of our life with Samson. The significance of his love for bread? I’ve always imagined the farmer’s kind wife – who took pity on the litter of unwanted pups – would sneak out to feed them what little scraps remained from the family’s dinner table. Those scraps were perhaps the only thing that kept the pups alive after the farmer, in a rage, shot their mother and chased them off into the woods.
So why did I make Samson toast today? I sometimes share a bite or two of my morning toast with Samson, but today I made him his own piece because I know he will not be with us much longer. About six months ago the vet pointed out a “flat, mango-sized tumor” on his left shoulder. She wanted to do a biopsy, take an x-ray, figure out what it was but I’m not that kind of pet owner. I love Samson – but he is an animal. Once the vet said that any surgery to remove the tumor would require his front leg to be amputated – there was no question in my mind. Why perform a test if the results won’t change what you would do? At that time, Samson was running and jumping without any sign of discomfort – and he was 12 – he’d had a great life. In my mind, surgery was not an option. When the time came, I would do what needed to be done.
On Christmas Eve morning, just a few days after I’d spent several hours commiserating with a friend who’d recently euthanized her beloved 16-year old dog who’d been blind and deaf for the past two years, Samson began limping noticeably and seemed in pain. He couldn’t bear any weight on his front left leg. The tumor seemed about the same size but rounder and harder. I had some pain relievers from a previous prescription and they seemed to help.
When I took Samson to the vet the Monday after Christmas, she couldn’t tell what was causing the problem – probably the tumor – but she also noticed that he was having some neurological impairment with his hind-quarters. “Surgery for the tumor isn’t an option given the condition of his back legs,” she noted.
“Well it’s a good thing I didn’t consider that 6 months ago when you seemed to think it was a good idea,” I thought.
After blood work to determine that Samson’s liver and kidney functions were okay and a new prescription for pain meds (with three refills!) we came home. And I began the process of saying good-bye. A sunny Sunday morning sitting out back by the fire ring giving him lots of back rubs and side rubs as he leaned into me; lots of tummy rubs when he rolls over on the floor, good morning head rubs as he yawns and we both wish that he didn’t have to go down a flight of stairs. He’s taken to sleeping on my daughter’s be, since she moved out a few years ago.
So that’s why I made my dog a piece of toast tonight. And I might just make it a daily habit for however many more days we have together.