Friday, June 14, 2013

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Sammy on his last day.

Sammy came into my life in the fall of 1999. My sisters and I had been asking my parents for a dog for a while. We had had two cats and innumerable hamsters and gold fish. But our felines were always outside pets and the smaller creatures weren't cuddly and never stayed long. We knew another family with a pug, and he was gentle, quiet, and generally content to sleep all day. A pug seemed like the appropriate choice for a family with five young girls.

Sammy and me in, I'm guessing, 2000. Hello, middle school.

Sammy hailed from the exotic land of Maine. From good pug stock, he himself was not totally up to breed standards because of a slight dark stripe down his spine and a dark ring on his tail. Ah, well. We did not want a show dog. We just wanted a puppy to play with.

Can we go for a ride? Please, oh please?

I remember meeting Sammy for the first time. The oldest kid at the wise age of 12 years, I circled around with my sisters in the mud room as my mom lay newspaper down and a terrified, wobbly little rolly thing eyed us with trepidation. Annie and Mom had picked him up from the airport on a cold day. He reportedly burrowed behind the small of my mom's back (this was in the day of bench seats in Chevy Suburbans) and stuck his little curly tail in the air, whimpering loudly the whole time. Poor pup.

I would like a taste of hummus, s'il vous plait...

Sammy did warm up to us and gained more courage as he grew. We watched him destroy molding, pee on bedding, poop on carpet, chew up Mary Jane's hair, chase school buses in the snow, run frantic and pointless circles in the yard, and generally demolish anything he could fit in his trap. He learned no tricks, obeyed no orders, and gained a reputation for being simultaneously adorable and totally obnoxious.

Sammy and Mike, his favorite.

He was neutered, and we were told this would make him more docile and less hyper. We found, however, that this was not the case. He really didn't slow down until he was about ten years old.

Sam had several Nantucket dog collars. Classy canine, that one.

When kids started leaving the nest and my parents accepted a three-year missionary assignment, Mike and I offered to take care of Sammy for a while. I understood that we might have to face his death during that time. At almost twelve years old, Sammy was deaf but otherwise in good health and with just the right amount of energy for us to handle. He was game for walks, but otherwise calm and happy to snooze in our small apartment.

Sammy being exceedingly patient as Charlie treads upon his precious cat bed.

We added a baby to the mix, as you all know, and I was concerned at first that Sammy wouldn't adjust well to the new member of our family. Sammy had been mauled plenty as a puppy by equally young human pups, but it had been a long time since anyone had yanked on his ear or poked him in the eye.

Sammy bulldozed over Charlie a few times as a small baby, much to my dismay, but in no time at all, Charlie was mobile and pretty bent on harassing Sammy in an attempt to love on him. Sammy, bless him, never once nipped or barked at Charlie. And Sammy's deafness came in handy; we never once had to deal with an animal reacting to a crying baby. Thank goodness.

Faithful navigator.

Sammy's health declined rapidly this year. His back legs started to wobble, so we took him to the vet, who diagnosed aggressive arthritis in his spine. We decided to manage the pain with steroids, but in the end, his legs and his bowels would eventually fail him. He wouldn't last through the year.

We ultimately had a tough choice to make when Sammy wasn't able to pick himself up anymore. He would lay on his side, breathing heavily, eyes fixed in the distance. It was clear to me that his time had come. I think Mike knew much earlier, but I had a harder time conceding that his last day was drawing near.

Sammy trying to stand on his last day.

Trish was able to be with us when we took Sam in to be put down. We shared funny Sam stories all the way over. The vet and her assistant were kind and listened to us tell some of those same stories again. I think we were stalling, whether we knew it or not. The procedure itself was so fast. In the middle of it I felt a surge of panic: I was willfully ending the life of a companion animal. Me. This was happening.

I often dream about having chickens, for eggs and for meat. For me, killing a chicken for stew meat after its laying days are over is not a big deal; it is exactly the proper way to make sure a utility animal is as useful as possible.

But what about an animal whose sole purpose is to provide friendship? Amusement? I had agonized over making this call for months, and in the moment of watching my dog breathe his last breath, I wanted more time. It was too late, of course, to reverse what we had decided to do. And in the end, it was the kindest thing for the poor old guy. He had been in obvious pain for a few weeks, and the vet agreed that it was his time to go. But I was still conflicted about deciding it was time to say goodbye.

All these emotions were compounded by the fact that I had been in a state of emotional preparation for months. Some days I was sure we'd wake to find that Sammy had passed during the night. Then he'd have a great week without any sagging or wincing. I found I almost came to resent Sam for hanging on and lingering, for dragging me to the depths of sadness and helplessness, then rebounding with almost puppy-like energy and cheerfulness.

This resentment, I think, made it hard for me to act because I was afraid of putting him down out of spite or frustration. I was glad my sister could come and provide an outside opinion. She was shocked at his state, though we had been really transparent with my whole family for months about his health. That helped confirm to me that Sammy was ready. Looking at the above picture, I see now how obvious his suffering was.

It's been nearly a month, and Mike and I agree that while we miss the happy, peppy Sam days, we don't miss the 4:30 am potty breaks and the smelly accidents of his last few months.

I feel Sam's absence strongly in strange ways. I have to sweep now. I know it sounds nuts but pugs are veritable vacuum cleaners. He trailed behind Charlie with dedication, picking up every crumb he ever dropped.

We don't have little white hairs everywhere anymore, and I don't feel the compulsive need to vacuum every ten minutes.

I don't know when I'll be able to open my heart to another dog. They are so much work, and they draw so much from me emotionally, something I didn't realize until my dog was gone. I'm glad I did know Sammy for almost fourteen years, and I'm especially glad that Mike and I could experience caring for a pet so early in our marriage. And all the good laughs! Can't forget those. So thank you, Sam, for the good times, and for what we learned in the not-so-good times. We'll see you on the other side.

How I always want to remember Sammy. Happy and eager and kind.


  1. He was a great dog! Sad to see him go, but what a well-written tribute to a caring canine!

  2. I cried through this entire post. And it started immediately with your first photo caption. I'm so sorry, even if it was his time to go.

    1. Sorry to make you sad! Hug your puglets for me!

  3. Thanks so much for this post. I have a pug too who is ten years old; he is blind and can barely walk a block now. It's difficult for me to imagine that there will come a time when I have to say goodbye to my best friend who has been with me since elementary school. I guess we never give much thought to the full extent of the happiness and companionship that our furry friends bring to us until they are gone. Thank you for reminding me of all the good times I have had, and I hope will continue to have, with my dog. So sorry for Sammy's passing. I'm glad he had such caring and loving owners.

    1. Aaron, I'm sorry your dog's health is declining. It is a sad thing to watch, isn't it? I hope you still have plenty of time with him! Pugs are such sweet companions, and they bring together their owners in amazing ways. Don't you feel like you belong to a special pug club? I always did. :) Thanks for your kind remarks.