This post rises from deep in my Drafts Folder. I started it back in 2012 as a followup to the Sad Day; Perfect Day post. That one recalls a special 1994 memory about Samantha, my dog (who died a little before her time, in 2004). The second post would catalog various memories highlighting how much fun we had and how much she meant to me.
For Father’s Day, I thought it appropriate to post once more…
As I describe in the Perfect Day post, Sam came into my life on Father’s Day. It wasn’t planned that way, and the day had no deep meaning to me (other than regards my own father who was pretty far gone into Alzheimer’s by then).
In those first days I was sure I’d made a mistake. It’s almost a classic story theme: the independent individual suddenly responsible for a young life and… well, panicking.
But that’s just act one. In the arc of act two, the surprised parent finds strength and learns valuable lessons about self and others. Finally, in act three, the old and young bond and find love. The credits roll on happiness.
The closest I ever came to being an actual parent (of little humans) was having two step-kids. A decade earlier I had talked about talking about getting married with a woman who had two kids. (A weird echo: In both cases a daughter older than the son by ten years.)
Those were wonderful, but relatively brief, experiences. Sam was my effective child for eleven years. (Dogs are maybe roughly comparable to having a perpetual one-year-old.) I fed her, cleaned up after her, worried about her health, and climbed the walls when she was in surgery.
Other than parents and sister, no other living being has shared day-to-day constant life with me that long. There have been family pets, and I’ve co-owned pets, but Sam was mine alone. That she came into my life on Father’s Day is one of those jaw-dropping moments of synchronicity that makes me wonder.
All the humans had free choice and wandered off. One simply cannot put a leash on people. I wouldn’t if I could (other than for mutually agreed fun, of course). That treacly hippie-era quote about setting love free and if it’s meant to be it’ll return, well it’s actually right on (to borrow another hippie phrase).
One of the greatest gifts life offers is someone choosing to love.
As for a trip down memory lane, the Dog Tales post covered many of them.
I’m especially fond of the “huge water puddle” story. Watching her zip back and forth at hyperdog speed was a hoot. And a joy knowing my water dog was, in fact, a water dog.
Near the same location in that park, the ground ramps down about four feet from the park level to the sidewalk level. That bank faces east, putting it in the lee of most storms. In particular, snow storms.
The snow sweeping across the park hits the bank and suddenly finds four more feet of air beneath it. A lot of snow drops out of the wind then, building a serious snowbank against the bank. Nice deep fluffy snow.
So puppy Sam and I are walking that winter, she’s maybe nine months old then, and she discovers this deep snow. Snow she disappears down into.
So here’s my little Black Lab pup bounding out of one snow hole she’d created to creating the next. Bounce, bounce, bounce, she’d flash into sight just long enough to arc over and down into the snow again.
Nearly the same spot in the park and I’m laughing my ass off at my energetic hysterical dog.
(Our walks together inspired some silly lyrics to an old child’s song.)
That park had baseball fields and a hockey rink. We especially liked that hockey rink.
In the summer, it was a good place to play fetch, because it was a large walled-off area. There was only one open entrance, so if I stayed there, my puppy couldn’t go running off.
I came to learn she wouldn’t go running off, at least not for long, so I let her roam off-leash as often as possible. Even leashed, I used the longest of those retractable ones.
The first time I let her off-leash we were wandering through what used to be a corn field but was now being turned into a condo tract. Lots of dug up dirt made interesting smells, and she loved running up the various hills of that dirt.
It was night and she just vanished into the night. After several minutes I figured, crap, I guess my new dog has left me. Then suddenly, there she was at my side. Where she stayed for another decade. Only cancer parted us.
Back to that hockey rink: In the winter it was filled with ice and Sam seemed to get a kick out of sliding on it. She used to grin and come back for more when I’d push her around. I think she especially enjoyed the effort involved in running after the Kong toy or ball I’d throw for her. Ice gave things a new level of difficulty!
She never cared much for tug-of-war, perhaps because it was too static. (Or maybe because she realized she could never win and I was just toying with her.)
She’d much rather run. Sometimes on early morning walks, when the park was completely empty, I’d let her off the leash, and she would zoom to the other end, turn around, and zoom back. A bit of energy burned, she’d start running around checking stuff out. It was a joy to watch her move.
She did love fetch and catch and would play that until my arm fell off. Training her to catch was pretty funny though. I’d have her sit. Then I’d back up about ten feet and toss a treat at her.
Which bounced off her surprised face. But, hey, a treat! After a few more face bounces she starts to get the idea and tries to snatch the treat out of the air. Over time she got amazing good at it.
I gave her deliberate high-speed training as a pup. We’d play games with fast moving toys, which I’d often spin rapidly to train her sight and her paws.
I’d play keep-away with her a lot to develop her dexterity, and that dog got her revenge in one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen any dog do.
She’d hold a toy in her mouth, something that stuck out for potential grabbing. She’d approach, daring you to make the grab. You would, and that devil dog would move her head the merest fraction to make you miss. She was a perfect judge of the precise minimum movement — it was a nefarious ninja skill!
She took to the no-bite training big time. (You yelp and end play. Most dogs pick up on it.) She was super adverse to any contact between her teeth and my skin. Most dogs get it, but she really got it.
(It’s actually kind of amazing how good dogs can be with their mouths and bite control. My pal Bentley, who is more inclined to roughhouse, has astonishing bite control. She knows exactly what she’s doing.)
Sam’s first car rides freaked her out. The very first I had to stop and let her out to recover.
Over time she came to love car rides (we always went somewhere cool; she even liked going to the vet). She’d put her front paws on the console and stare out the front window.
Except on the way home. Tuckered out, often wet from a swim in a lake, she’d crash in the back until we got close to home. Somehow the smells of our neighborhood let her know we were near, and she’d wake up.
Our time together is one of two times in life I’ve been in seriously good shape. At our peak, she and I used to run 5K every other morning. (We’d walk the 5K on alternate mornings just to enjoy the morning.) In the evenings we’d take an even longer walk.
The other time I had a work out friend. We’d run and then hit the gym. It’s always easier with a partner and/or a commitment. A partner eggs one on when one isn’t feeling it.
So does a commitment. That Father’s Day, when I was on my way to pick up my new puppy, I stopped by a pet store to get supplies. I also bought a couple of books about Labs. One of them said Labs have to be walked three times a day.
Yikes! I have a job, you know. But, on the spot, I committed to walking her twice a day. I kept that commitment. (My marriage put a crimp in my commitments to Sam on several counts. Not the reason for the divorce, but definitely had me considering it a lot.)
So glad I did. (Commit, I mean.) The wonderful thing about daily walks is seeing the change of seasons, feeling the wind and sun, watching the weather evolve, and just generally getting out of the damn house.
In the spring I especially love watching life return to trees and plants. One sees the first buds appear, then leaves, then everything is green.
This has gotten longer than I expected. There are still stories to tell, but perhaps I’ll leave them for another time.
There is the delicate stomach she had all her life. As a pup, I used to let her shred cardboard cartons (such as soda and beer come in). She loved reducing them to little pieces, but I wonder if chemicals in the cardboard might have contributed to her eventual cancer.
There are all those people who told me, “Labs don’t settle down until they’re about five,” and that turned out to be very true. She was a hard dog to take pictures of, because she was always moving.
There is the sorrow that I bought a condo with no stairs because she’d had ACL surgery once and might need it for the other knee. But she only got to live here for a year or so.
And there is a key story about an enduring gift she gave me. It’s a crushing moment of awful self-discovery and regret. It’s not a tale I’ve decided to tell in public yet. Maybe I never will. Suffice to say we taught each other a great deal about life.
I still really miss her sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade the joy of our time together for anything.
The punchline is that I might not be a Lab Guy any more. Definitely a Dog Guy, but having gotten to know a more opinionated breed, I find I like them even more.
I’ve long had a grudging secret slight agreement with the disdain cat owners have (or pretend to have) for ‘sloppy overly affectionate dogs — such whore for attention!’ And with some dogs, it is pretty intense.
I’ve found I really like a dog with more of her own mind.
Stay with dogs, my friends!