Shortly after my daughter began walking, I adopted a three-month-old puppy. He was the last of a litter of purebred Golden Retrievers. At the time, no one wanted him because he was light-colored and had an overbite. Turns out, you cannot breed a dog with an overbite. The owner, after not finding a buyer, offered him to me for adoption. I did not care about his abnormal occlusion, but I did care about giving him a home. And it did not take long. Within minutes of meeting this loveable pup—after he peed on the carpet—my little Doodle Bug and the soon to be named, Sam Beckett, were instant pals. Whatever my daughter did to him, he accepted lovingly. Usually this consisted of her laying on top of him or crawling inside his dog house with him. Sam attached himself to her and became her lifelong protector and faithful companion.
For the first three years, the biggest challenge was keeping up with his growth. How quickly, it seemed, did he morph into a full-sized Retriever. With his size came his power, which was increased by his daily exercise. Every day or evening, no matter the time, he was ready to play chase, tug of war or wrestle. If I was not around or not ready to play, Sam developed his own form of strength training. For some unknown reason, he started pulling long landscaping bricks to the back of the yard. They weighed a little less than a cement block, which weighs thirty pounds or so. If I set one by the back porch, he would immediately go to it and, while walking backwards, pull it with his front paws to the fence line. He did this for years, thereby, developing a large and thick upper half. He grew so strong, one of our neighbors was worried he might push over her fence.
Except for the occasional careless duck, Sam was friend to everyone he met. He loved children and to be included in groups. He welcomed all with his large snout and wagging tail. Of his faults, his worst were stealing burgers off the grill, jumping up on unprepared guests, bumbling about while inside and having a famously stubborn disposition. Sam's best traits were his fearlessness, his kindness and his calm demeanor. Just watching him out on his perch (the top of his dog house or an outside table) sitting in quiet contemplation gave you a sense of comfort and peace. If not there, his next favorite spot was with his head in your lap—unless of course he could sneak upstairs and hop on my daughter’s bed. Heaven for him, I suppose. Watching them together, though, how could I be mad. They loved being together, and I loved seeing them that way.
Over the past few years, he enjoyed taking long walks or treks down the to lake for a dip. His need for rough and tumble was waning, but not his desire to accompany, to participate and to love. I cannot pinpoint when his sickness began to show. Now, I realize, it started long before I was aware of the signs. Dogs have an amazing ability to mask their pain. They are true examples of long-suffering and unwavering devotion. On a day when he should not have gone, we took his final long walk. Halfway through our paces, he gave out. Even when I loaded him into the car to take him home, you could see his wish to finish it. All throughout the next month, he wanted to keep taking those strolls. It was our time together. He just could not, though. As the disease progressed, just going out to relieve himself was too taxing. Sam's body, once enviously powerful, was now ailing and frail. He was leaving us, and I could find no means of stopping him.
Today, with a breaking heart, I ended Sam's suffering. Purebreds, especially Golden Retrievers, are genetically predisposed to developing cancer and kidney disease. Sam had both. Overcoming one is difficult. Two at the same time is impossible. Of all the animals I have had in my life, Sam is the one who was most like family. My daughter would say, “He IS family!” She is correct, of course. Watching him lose his battle with cancer was similar to watching my father and mother lose theirs. Not much of a difference in watching an animal dye versus watching a person dye. If you love them or have compassion for them, the sense of a life ending is overwhelmingly painful because we feel the tear in our own lives. We are connected to all life. The sense of loss and melancholy we feel after its passing confirms it. And while I still feel remorse and believe it to be unfair, I know the decision was the right one. Perhaps, the more I tell my Little One, “He's in a better place running free and happy,” the more I will believe it as well. Either way, he is truly missed.
January 18, 2006 – September 21, 2012