He Was a Whole Lotta Dog
Saying goodbye to a Best Friend
If you ever met Sampson, chances are you’ll never forget him. I bet he scared the bejeezus outta you, and possibly even gave you a love nip (most likely on the bum).
Sam was Jason’s guard dog. He was an Akbash Dog, which dog breed sites describe as powerful, independent, relentless, and regal.
Sam was all of those things. He was also one of the most loyal, hardworking souls I’ve ever met, canine or otherwise.
When Jason and I first met, Sam was already 6 years old. “He’s not going to like you,” Jason warned. Indeed, it took several months of dating before we even attempted an introduction.
Over the next six years, Sam learned to love me, though I’m not sure he ever accepted my authority. As far as our “pack hierarchy” was concerned, I’m fairly certain Sam always considered himself to be equal to me and Jason, while our other three dogs were just, “the dogs.” Jason and I often called him, “the fun police,” because he’d bark at the dogs when they played together in the yard. There were certainly times when Sam felt the need to keep me in line, too. He hated it when I did anything out-of-the-ordinary, like dancing or moving too quickly.
He really hated it when I cleaned the house.
Sam never learned to tolerate dancing, but he liked to play in his own way. Over time, we formed a loving and affectionate bond.
Sam may have loved me, but he lived for Jason. And Jason loved his Best Friend in a way that words cannot express.
I’ve never told him this, but a part of me fell in love with Jason before we ever met because his dating profile said, “My dogs are my children” on it. I had just adopted Bruce a little over a year before we met, and finding another dog lover to share my life with was an absolute must. Jason had two dogs of his own, Sampson and Smokey. Together with me and Bruce, we formed our own kind of Brady Bunch. No one was really surprised when we returned from our honeymoon in Baja with a fourth dog in tow — Isabella.
None of our dogs are smaller than 60 pounds, and Sam was more than double that size. Because of his strength, power, and dominant temperament, we usually had to keep Sam in a muzzle and separate him from the other dogs when he was in the house.
The muzzle was supposed to be a sign that he was “off-duty,” but Sam never stopped guarding the house. The muzzle did prevent him from chewing his way through the walls, the repeated attempts of which remain evident through bite marks on the window molding and missing patches of drywall. This is how Sam would react when someone drove by the house, or, goddess-forbid, approached to make a delivery.
Though he was definitely not a cat, Sam seemed to have 9 lives. He survived cancer, Lyme disease, heartworms, and multiple porcupine encounters. He also had arthritis. More than once, we prepared ourselves to make that final call to the vet. It wasn’t always because of illness or injury — Sam bit nearly every member of my family, including me, Bruce, and both of my parents.
But when it came down to it, Jason and I resolved to do whatever it took to provide Sam with a safe home.
Though the humans quickly forgave Sam for exhibiting the type of behavior he was bred for, Bruce latched onto his grudge like a highly coveted squeaky toy. So, keeping Sam safe meant rearranging our home to keep the feuding dogs in separate spaces.
It was all worth it.
Watching Sampson pass away peacefully, in his own time and his own home, was one of the saddest and most profoundly beautiful experiences I’ve witnessed.
On Tuesday, April 18, Sam didn’t get up to go outside or eat breakfast. I thought for sure he was just tired, or maybe he sensed the bad weather. He was fine on Monday, though I do recall thinking it was odd that he didn’t bark at me for moving laundry from the washer to the dryer.
Around lunchtime on Tuesday, I coaxed Sam outside. He made it to the back porch before he laid down again, and I could tell his time was approaching. I called Jason at work and urged him to come home as soon as possible, which he did.
We hovered around Sam like hospital nurses, noting his vitals and observing the fading color of his normally pink nose and lips. When the UPS truck drove by, we were thrilled to see Sam raise his head. But he didn’t get up and he didn’t bark.
Jason lifted Sam onto the heavy, extra-large orthopedic dog bed I picked out for him at L.L.Bean. Together, we dragged Sam and his bed into the living area of the house and covered him with a blanket. One of us had eyes on him at all times.
At one point, Smokey came out to give Sam a kiss on the nose.
I worked late that night, and Jason went to bed before me. I heard Sam growl and saw him lift his head from the bed for the first time since the UPS truck drove by.
“I think he’s looking for you,” I told Jason.
“What should I do, sleep on the floor?”
I didn’t answer yes or no, but I said, “He wants you near him.”
Next thing I knew, I was helping Jason make room for a mattress on the floor next to Sam’s bed. I tucked them in and went into the bedroom to pray. I prayed that Sampson would transition peacefully, swiftly, and without pain, and I prayed that Jason would be with him when it happened.
Every prayer was answered.
After I finished praying, I sat on my bed for a few minutes. Suddenly, a flood of happy memories about Sam popped into my mind: the game we used to play in his yard, taking him to Acadia National Park, snuggling on the couch, and the time he, Jason, and I all slept on the floor of a friend’s house. I knew that Sam wanted me to come and say goodbye, too, so I got on the floor with them.
I had one arm wrapped around Jason and the other resting on Sam, my fingers clutching his thick, warm fur.
At some point last fall, I had started building a psychic connection with Sam. It began when I decided to attempt some form of reiki on him — which I’m not trained in, but I figured couldn’t hurt — to ease his arthritic hips.
When he suffered his last porcupine attack on October 31, I spent more time with my hands on him, focusing healing energy into his body. We didn’t think he’d recover from that attack — the quills in his neck, chest, and mouth kept him from eating solid food, and he was in rough shape.
I started telling him he could “go over the rainbow bridge” when I sat with him during these energy-healing sessions.
And he would growl at me.
He wasn’t ready.
So I started telling Sam he would stay with us forever. But in reality, we didn’t think he’d last the week.
When Jason asked me if I’d call the vet, instead of listening, I made Sam a scrambled egg and ran outside to feed it by hand.
He ate it, and I started making him scrambled eggs with rice, chicken broth, and vegetables three times a day. Gradually, Sam recovered. He was with us at Thanksgiving, and then Christmas.
We celebrated his 12th birthday in January.
Sam rebounded with such vigor that Jason and I thought for sure we’d see him turn 13.
The week before he passed away, Jason joked that Sam would outlive some of our neighbors. That week was one of the best I ever spent with Sam. The weather was gorgeous, and he’d guard my back while I worked at my laptop from the zero-gravity chair on our porch.
Laying on the floor with Sam that night, I tried telling him he could cross the rainbow bridge once again.
This time, he didn’t resist.
I closed my eyes and was surprised to see Sam standing on something that looked like a small iceberg, floating through a galactic scene. There were stars and rainbows in the background, and Sam looked curious and calm with his ears perked in keen interest as the floating rock carried him on to someplace I could not go. He looked happy, healthy, and strong — alert as ever, but without agitation.
It was almost cartoonish. If the mood wasn’t so solemn, I would’ve laughed.
He was ready.
That’s when I said goodbye. Sam said goodbye, too. But before he did, he made me promise to take care of Jason for him.
I felt the connection between us stretch to the point of no return. Like an elastic that doesn't break, but is no longer able to spring back to its usual form.
Something in him let go, peacefully.
All day, Sam’s breathing had been shallow and his heart rate high. After sharing this sacred moment, I felt the ferocious beating of his heart subside. I almost couldn’t believe the timing. Had Sam really died after our psychic goodbye? I lay there for what felt like an eternity but was probably only a few more minutes, waiting to feel a breath or heartbeat.
In time, I detected a faint sense of his dimming life force. I realized Sam had not died but had taken the next step closer. Death is a transition, after all, not an on/off switch.
Now, he wanted to be alone with Jason. So I left them in the quiet darkness.
Sam opened his eyes when I got up before 5 am Wednesday morning to walk the other three dogs. But he groaned when I pet his head one last time.
After our walk, I let the dogs in the bedroom to snuggle and closed the door to give Sam his privacy. At some point, we heard him make a noise that sounded like something between a growl and a yip two or three times. The dogs lifted their heads and turned in his direction.
The vibe in the room felt like church on Good Friday.
Ten minutes later, Jason came in to let me know that Sam was gone.
I know how lucky I am to have had things go the way they did. But now my house — normally a cacophony of raucous barking — is far too quiet to be peaceful.
Sam’s presence in our home was so tremendous, there was no way his departure wouldn’t leave a black hole.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, and I’m sure some of my closest friends will try to talk some sense into me, but last night, I told Jason I want another Akbash puppy.
For now, my whole family, including Bruce, mourns the passing of our slobbery, quirky love bug we affectionately called “Booger Bear.”
Sampson was a good boy.
Thank you for reading.
I love you,
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PS- There will be no newsletter next week as I will be celebrating Hayley’s life with loved ones in Oregon.