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Unconditional Love - We Had That...

On an early spring day of 2007, I happened to be walking a beach on the Washington coast, and heard someone call out my name. To my surprise, it was a coworker from our second office, and we were both many hours away from home – quite the coincidence. He was walking a very pregnant female Labrador Retriever named Scout, and after a few minutes with the dog I was impressed by what a special dog she was: Obedient, respectful, and trusting. I had a house full of young children at the time, and a seed of an idea was planted that day that it would be a great idea if they could have a puppy. We had always adopted adult dogs from the local shelter and had never had a young dog, much less one that was barely off of the mother’s milk. I ended up reserving one of Scouts puppies and waited for the news that they had arrived.

Part of a substantial litter, one special female yellow Labrador pup was born on April 16, 2007 in Entiat, Washington. I took my boys to see the puppies when they were about four weeks old, telling them that my friend had invited us to see the litter as a singular treat but under no circumstances were we going to get another dog. Immediately my oldest son took a shine to the biggest female, holding and cuddling her the whole visit, uninterested in any of the other puppies. A nod and a wink to my friend told him that this was the puppy I wanted to take to her forever home when she was old enough to leave her mama.

Four weeks later, I made the trip back to pick up our pup, barely able to contain my excitement. I could not wait to see the looks on my children’s faces when they got presented with a brand new puppy! I wrapped the little pooper in a blanket and walked in the house, where the kids were already sitting on the couch, all lined up and anxious to see what the big deal was. I told them that I had brought them a special pet – that it was a giant lizard – and at that moment the puppy’s tail broke free of the blanket, she was wagging it so hard. The kids squealed “It’s a puppy!” and all mayhem broke loose.

We named her Samantha, her full name being Lady Samantha of Leavenworth (for AKC purposes only, you understand, not because she was one of ‘those’ uppity dogs). Most of the time we called her Sam or Sammy.

Having a puppy was a whole different ball game than bringing an adult dog into the home. Electrical cords had to be hidden and toys had to be put away. Toes had to be covered by slippers or shoes, or they were fair game for licks and nips. Pillows were considered mortal enemies and would be shredded on sight. Any food that was good enough for humans was good enough for Sam, and woe be to anyone who perhaps left their plate on the coffee table unsupervised, because upon coming back to said plate it would be empty or close to it.

Speaking of food and the puppy, I remember one day in particular. I had a substantial butcher’s block in the middle of my old kitchen which stood at least 42” high and was plenty wide, and I figured that four month old Samantha was not big enough yet to reach what was placed in the middle of that counter space – or so I thought. I was home one day while the kids were in school, and made myself a tuna sandwich for lunch. I carefully constructed it on the butcher’s block, then went into the pantry to retrieve some potato chips which I thought would make a nice addition to my meal. I walked back in the kitchen, got a plate from the cupboard, and put some of the chips on it. I poured myself a glass of milk, put all of the items on the block, then went to put the sandwich on the plate as well. I could not believe my eyes. My carefully constructed sandwich was missing the top slice of bread. Nothing else had been disturbed and there was no mess, but there was one very guilty looking dog sitting on the dining room rug avoiding full eye-contact. The sneaky little bugger had managed to quietly get up on her hind legs, place her front paws on the block, and stretch her rubbery doggy-lips out just far enough to carefully snag that top piece of bread. The epilogue to the story is that in all of the years that we had her, that dog had an absolute thing for bread. Any time anyone rattled the bread wrapper bag, that dog would come running. And sometimes – just sometimes, mind you – I would throw her the heel.

Time passed and Samantha grew into a fine and healthy young dog. She had three beautiful litters of her own, which caused us lots of hard work but gave us so much joy. There is literally nothing like romping in your backyard with ten or twelve floppy-eared puppies. Wrangling them back into the indoor kennel was often a chore that left us laughing so hard we would be gasping for air and so exhausted that we practically needed a nap afterwards, and Samantha was literally no help at all. It was almost like she was smirking at us as if to say “See how hard it is to put up with all of these critters?” as she went off on her own for some much needed alone time. After dealing with all of those puppies, I gained a healthy respect for how hard Samantha worked and what a good mother dog she was.

In the fourteen years since we first met, Samantha saw much. She saw children get bigger and taller. She saw countless skinned knees heal and bruised egos mend with time. She saw kids graduate from high school. She saw some of them leave the home and only come back sometimes, and some she never saw again. She saw me recover from six painful surgeries. She saw me finish my degree and start working for a university. She saw a nasty divorce and the hurt it caused, and she saw how good that ended up being in the long run for those she cared about. She saw countless other family pets succumb to time and tide, including her best buddy Milo (the stinkiest pit bull you would ever meet, but that is a different story). She saw an old home go away and a new home appear. She saw times of poverty and times of prosperity. She saw sorrow and joy, pain and celebration. Samantha saw it all with the calm assuredness of a dog who loved us unquestioningly and with her whole heart, no matter what the circumstance and no matter what the consequence.

And today, for the last time, Samantha saw us cry. She didn’t understand that we were shedding tears of sorrow that we were losing the one constant, the one companion who had been with us through it all for nearly fourteen years. She didn’t understand that we were crying because we had to let her go, had to let her race through the green fields unencumbered by weakening organs, brittle bones, and failing eyes. She didn’t understand that we were crying because she would not be there to see the next chapters of our lives – retirement, weddings, newborn babies, potentials achieved. She accepted her own exit from this world with the unsurpassable grace that she had always shown and with the unconditional love, a love that will last in our memories forever.

Rest in peace, our beloved Samantha

April 16,2007 – November 24, 2020

I don’t have to get up in the morning early to let the dog out any more.

It breaks my heart.

I don’t have to remember to order that special probiotic off of Amazon for my dog any more.

It breaks my heart.

I got to cancel my Petco repeat order delivery of dog food and pill pockets.

It breaks my heart.

I got to throw away those half-empty prescription pill bottles of extra medicine for my dog.

It breaks my heart.

I don’t have to cut short whatever I am doing or run home in the evenings to feed my dog any more.

It breaks my heart.

I don’t have to run to Costco to pick up a Glucosamine supplement for my dog any more.

It breaks my heart.

I do get to look at the empty space on the floor next to my bed where my companion of almost fourteen years used to sleep darned near every single night of her life.

It breaks my heart.

I do get to come around the hallway corner and continually be surprised that she isn’t there.

It breaks my heart.

I don’t have to scoop endless mounds of dog poop out of the backyard any more.

And yes, even that, breaks my heart.

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Breaks my heart too. What a wonderful life story and tribute and how fortunate I was to share that life story. We smile when we talk about her and remember and will certainly never forget her.

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