#77 Sammie’s Life

Poor Sammie. The sweetest dearest dog ever had the misfortune of the draw of birth to be adopted by me.

Around 1968, during the blacker than black period of returning home to stay with my suicidal mother, after my father’s death, there wasn’t much light or life. I took some college courses and worked at the store that had been a summer job. One evening someone brought in a box of puppies. They were supposed to be Cockapoos, which was a new combo. They were tiny and adorable and I had no resistance. I needed cute and cuddly so I took one home to my mother hoping it would break the bleakness.

Reception wasn’t what I hoped. My mother is a cat person, but the little thing was so cute even she gave in, but without a smile. I got a box from the garage, wrapped a towel around an alarm clock, which supposedly would sound like the mother’s heartbeat. I put her in the hall outside my room. I named her Sammantha, shortened to Sammie. I have no recollection why I chose that name but it fit. She provided the first moment of cheer in that house of gloom. Maybe I should have put the mother’s clock heart in with me.

Her fluffy coat did not have any of the curls expected with a poodle, nor did she have the ears of a spaniel. Her soft coat was short. She was really part beagle and part mystery pup. She had adorable white eyebrows, white paws, white at the tip of her tail, a white chest and tan markings on her black body. I put her box in the hall outside my bedroom. I do remember the agony of puppy whimpers at night for a while. Getting her outside at regular intervals was a challenge since my room was upstairs. But we made it. She was smart and she caught on quickly. The yard was not fenced so training outside had to be on a leash. She loved the cat. The cat was cat indifferent. I never successfully taught her to come to me outside when I called.

No household needed something cute more than that one. And she responded well to repeated tasks. Even my brother enjoyed Sammie. One time during a rare visit he gave her some beer and she twirled in a circle chasing her tail. It was both mean and funny.

When I moved to Seattle Sammie stayed with my mother who bought a house with a fenced yard. So that was her world, the back yard. My mother remained cat indifferent to her. I remember bathing her in the laundry sink when I visited. She was so patient about it, looking up at me with her dark eyes. She was a small dog, not as long as a daschund or as low to the ground.

When I left the Seattle radio station to move to New York, I went back to Port Angeles to pack a few things at my mother’s house. I was taken by surprise when my mother announced that Sammie would be going with me. Whoops. I had categorized her as my mother’s dog after a couple of years, and I thought she did too. Not so. She’d known for weeks, even months that I was moving but waited to say something until I practically pulled out of the driveway.

Whoops also because the family friends who were going to let me stay with them did not know about Sammie.

So I drove back through Seattle for goodbyes. Then I made my first cross-country trek alone. She loved being in the car, but I had made no plans for her. I needed to drive very long days so she got no exercise.

Would a New York apartment allow dogs? Or would any motel allow dogs? I chose not to ask and took her quietly into the motel rooms on the trip. I couldn’t keep water for her in the car and once when she tried to poop it came out as powder. Bam! Even I realized that she desperately needed water. What an idiot. The poor little thing. Also the beagle in Sammie came out when she was left alone. She was a barker, so we were constant companions. She was always sweet and in spite of my incompetence, seemed happy.

When I arrived at the big house of friends on Governor’s Island at the tip of Manhattan, poor little Sammie had to stay in the car for days. I’d take her out to walk her but the family hadn’t warmed up to her yet. One night when it was terribly cold I tip toed downstairs to the car and brought her up to my room. But I was terrified that she might have an accident in that beautiful house.

Fortunately the family welcomed her in and she became the tiny sidekick of their big crazy dog. They had the run of the 3rd floor and the back stairs. I already described in #14 Who Me?, when the sons in the family hung her from a doorknob by her halter collar to shock me one day. I was shocked. She was sweet, just hanging there waiting to be rescued.

When I grabbed the first job offered, I began apartment hunting. A dog narrowed the possibilities. I found a large Greenwich Village studio on the first floor so that I could get her outside quickly. And it was a subway ride home from work to her. But I developed a terrible lazy habit of just letting her out onto the odd small patio. It was more like a private well. That became her bathroom. I was just awful about walking her, especially in cold dark weather. In the summer she got walks to Washington Square Park. Sammie’s world was pretty dull. My life was pretty bleak and she was a bright spot.

I took her on a camping trip in the Adirondacks with a friend. She was adorable in the canoe, patient watching the world go by. She even sat resting her cute face on the picnic table. She never begged.

Unfortunately the hound in her barked during the day. I had to get a muzzle because neighbors were complaining. I hated doing that. Someone left a note on the door about the makeshift potty area outside the apartment, and rightfully so.

The one truly dark memory is what sparked this story. I came home to an accident on the floor after she was left in all day. I actually raised my hand to her. Not just a hand, but with a fist I hit that little dog her on her rump. Suddenly the memory flashed of our beautiful cocker spaniel kicked into the air by my father’s rage. I held her and cried.

My low paying job wasn’t going anywhere and I took a job with some Seattle radio people I knew in New Jersey. Now Sammie’s confinement during the day was even longer. When I moved us to New Jersey, I couldn’t find a place that would allow dogs. The radio station where I worked was a fascinating converted house. I’d love to have had her there with me during the day but that was pushing things. It was a fun group and a fun time. Sammie was relegated to the engineer’s building about a block away. She was on a long leash outdoors during the day. I’m sure there was some FCC rule they had to follow about having her inside near the transmitting equipment. The guys there loved her but it still wasn’t right on so many levels. I provided food but had no idea what extras they might be feeding her. Other employees went to play with her during the day. She had regular necessary vet visits and I have no memory of her ever getting sick.

The news director of that station told me that he and his wife wanted to adopt her. It was both wrenching and perfect. They had a great house and yard. Odd to see your dog take immediately to new owners but I was relieved. They adored her and Sammie followed the wife everywhere.

A couple of years later my friend, the wife, was going on an errand and left Sammie home. But somehow she got outside and followed the car without my friend knowing it. She ran and ran after her out to the highway and was hit by a car and instantly killed. My friend was inconsolable for a very long time.

That was over 40 years ago. The friends and I are still close. And we still refer to little Sammie as the best, most loving and sweet dog ever. They and I have had great dogs since, but there was just one Sammie. She was only about five years old.

I always missed her but am grateful that finally she had a wonderful life with them for a while.


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