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For Love of a Dog


C J (Cindi) Mouser

I think it's probably safe to say that many of us have seen some hard times. May still be seeing them. If there's one thing you can take for granted, it is that if life decides to kneel on you, there ain't a thing you can do to stop it.

We were going through one of those hard spells about ten years ago. There were five of us then, as there are now, but at that time, half the family was under four feet tall. Plus we had a dog that had been with us for a few years. Sam was grown when he was given to us, and he made several moves with us, before we finally bought a house in Sarasota. It was after that, that Sam's health began to deteriorate.

At first it was the ear mites. I suspected that he had them, and when I found him one morning with a hematoma on his ear I knew I was right. Not only that, he was covered with fleas. It's like the house we moved into had millions of fleas in the dirt just waiting for some unsuspecting family to move in and provide a dog so that they could feast in earnest.

Sam was the best dog ever. A great, heavy, blonde lab, he was intimidating to those who didn't know him and was fiercely protective of the house and the kids. I never met a smarter dog. He would follow me when I hung clothes on the line, and in between sitting down to scratch at those infernal fleas, he would retrieve the clothespins I dropped, placing them carefully in the laundry basket. He knew how to play hide and seek, and would get between the kids if a squabble ensued that deteriorated into physical combat. Sam wasn't having any of that. Not on his watch.

I remember once I took him walking. I let his leash drop to the ground so that he could roam a bit. We were close to home, he was safe. He immediately went to the back of a neighbor's car that sat parked in the driveway and squatted.

"Uh uh, Sam....not there," I said in a level voice. He stopped instantly and moved to a bush nearby, leaving his offering in a neat pile out of harm's way.

"Want me to get that...?" I asked the neighbor who had come out to check his mail.

"Nah," he said. "No harm done." Sam sat and scratched. Oblivious.

I checked into the once a month treatment for fleas. Sixty dollars for three months. That would almost pay the light bill. I'm not ashamed to say that we were pretty broke. We sure as heck didn't choose to be. Three small mouths to feed, doctor bills, diapers. Anyway, I did the best I could by bathing him, which did little more than dry out his lovely coat.

When the hematoma popped up I became desperate. The dog was in real discomfort. Now he had this thing on his ear. We never once thought when we took the dog in, that one day we would not be able to afford to care for him. I had no money to have him treated. I called the vet. Sixty five dollar examination fee, plus meds. I envisioned this two hundred dollar vet bill that I had no hope of paying.

"Do you guys ever... you know, take payments?"

"Sure," replied the voice on the phone, "we will finance fifty percent of the balance due."

"But how do I know how much that will be?"

" don't."

Of course it wasn't the vet's fault, he had to make a living too. I sat looking at Sam all day out the window. He wasn't allowed in the house. He had never been in the house, so he was not trained. By that afternoon I reached a decision. I would either take Sam to the pound where he could get the treatment he needed, and hope that he would find a good home, or I would find him a home myself. I didn't know anybody to give him to. I didn't know what to do.

That evening after dinner I loaded Sam in the van, drove him to the local supermarket and tied him to a post in the parking lot. Then I parked several rows away and watched him. I knew someone would take him, so I sat there and sobbed myself silly, even before the man walked up and squatted down next to him.

I could see the man's mouth moving as he talked to Sam. Then I saw his eyebrows go up when he noticed the scrap of paper tucked into Sam's collar. He unfolded it and read......

'My name is Sam. I need flea medication and I have ear mites, but my owners cannot afford to take me to the vet, so if you decide to untie this leash, you better be prepared to assume the expense for my treatment. I am a damn fine dog. I can fetch and retrieve and play hide and seek. I can understand English almost as well as you, so you need to talk to me on occasion. I love kids and I will love you too, as long as you love me.'

The man paused and studied Sam for a moment and then he slowly slipped the piece of paper back in Sam's collar. Then he went into the store. I didn't know whether to be relieved or mad. I had seen the man get out of an expensive SUV; he was well dressed, clearly not poor. Why didn't he take Sam? Why? Was his resumé not good enough? Had I left some important detail out?

I sat there with my heart in my mouth and had just about decided to go get Sam, take him home and try something else, when the man returned. He had a woman with him. Together they knelt down and the man handed the woman the note. She read it and then stood and glanced around the parking lot. Women. We know each other. She knew I was there.

I sank down as low in the driver's seat as I could go and still be able to see. I watched, bawling my eyes out, as Sam was loaded into the SUV. He seemed a little concerned, but went willingly enough. I watched them drive away and then I drove home, crying every single inch of the way.

I knew that this was not the best way to find a home for an animal, but I had to have some control. I had to see the people, I had to know that whoever got Sam knew that they weren't just getting a dog, they were getting a treasure.

I don't know where Sam is now, but I do know that I did the best I could to find him a good home, and in my mind, he's stretched out on a nice brick patio somewhere, in the shade, with healthy ears, and no fleas, and I hope that someday he thinks of us and remembers the good times we had together, and doesn't hold it against me that I couldn't do better by him.

I get through this memory by reminding myself that Sam was a dog. Not a child, or a brother or a sister. He was a dog. A friend. Friends leave, go on to other places, sometimes better places. Many times we lose contact with those friends,  but you can love them and still let them go if you know in your heart that it is what's right for them.

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