My parents adopted Sam when my sister and I were in college- he kinda took over the job of doted-upon child. From the beginning he fit in the family, which as anyone who is or ever has been part of a family knows, is not always an easy thing to do. I guess after years of tolerating broken curfews, sneaked cigarettes, seemingly endless complaining and a general disregard for all things authority, a contented mute with a furry head and soulful eyes who was simply grateful to be in the house (instead of constantly plotting his escape) was a welcome change for my parents. It was just what the doctor (Doolittle) ordered.
He was always a butt wiggle away from putting a smile on your face, no matter what human calamity had befallen that day. I suppose when your life revolves around scheming your way into extra biscuits and casual shifts in pursuit of the perfect sun patch, it has a way of putting human worries into perspective.
Sam was also stubborn to a fault. He generally sat when you told him to, but it usually took him a little while, as if he needed to convince himself that sitting actually suited him in that particular moment. He needed it to be his decision. Similarly, he loved going outside, just not so much the coming back in part. There where nights of epic staring contests, as I called, gestured, bribed and begged him to come in from the backyard, and he’d just stare back, his body as immobile as his gaze. But most of all, he was stubborn in his love for his humans (UPS delivery men notably excepted).
He loved other things, the smallest and simplest things, and these details left him unbelievably content. For instance, he loved licking the foil yogurt tops and serving spoons for remnants until they shined like polished silver. He also loved when you rubbed his ear in that little nook where his floppy hound lobes folded over- when you got it just right he’d reward you with a satisfied sigh, vaguely resembling the sound a human makes while loosening his belt after a particularly fulfilling meal. And when you weren’t scratching him he loved contorting himself in all types of pretzel poses to itch just that elusive spot that a lack of hands and elbows would make impossible to reach for a less determined contortionist.
He was an amazing companion- think about that word for a second. With the exception of a spouse, a superhero sidekick, or a helper monkey, dogs are really the only creatures truly worthy of the title “companion”. He was always there- and not only because he had nowhere better to be, but because there was nowhere he would have rather been. He was the most present individual I have ever known. Most of us spend our lives looking for the next best thing, the other side where the grass is greener. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that canines are colorblind- to a dog that can’t see green, the grass they are rolling in is always the best.
One of my favorite memories is when I took Sam on a hike to the Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls, where a warning sign specifically states that the path is unsuitable for canine friends. About halfway through I found out why as we ran into a steep rock scramble (side note- I am also quite stubborn, particularly when it comes to not admitting that I should have followed directions). So I put Sam over my shoulder and we scrambled to the top. I like to think that I got to show him a view not many other dogs have been able to see. For that half an hour the tables were turned; because usually he was showing me things that most humans are never able to see.
Sometimes there just aren’t words- Sam certainly never needed any. But as a flawed human who still struggles at seeing the things my dog so easily mastered (loving unconditionally, being content with what you have, living in the present, etc…) they offer an appropriately imperfect medium to pay tribute to my friend.
He didn’t need to say goodbye, but apparently I did.