Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sam the German Shepherd: July 24, 1996-April 13, 2007

Sam was a black and tan German Shepherd I bought from a preacher. After a summer of looking unsuccessfully at puppies and never quite finding what I wanted, Sam came into my life. Sam won my heart over because, like I am, he was a little bit shy. I found him hiding under a lawn chair in the preachers yard and decided to take him home.

Sam turned out to be the best and the worst that a German Shepherd has to offer. I don't regret having gotten Sam at all, I love all of my dogs but Sam was the dog for me, the dog I was always meant to own and there won't be another quite like him. I think when Sam was a puppy, bounding around the yard playing with daisies with his paws, it was really the first time I fell in love with a dog. Sam was intensely loyal, very intelligent, strong, obedient, and hard working. He was also gentle despite appearances, but was plagued by being fearful and an ever present lack of self-confidence.

I remember one time I had enrolled Sam in an obedience class. He must have been about six months old. One task we had to perform was have our dogs walk up and down a set of stairs. Most of the dogs did it without any problem, but some were afraid too. Sam turned out to be the worst, he barely put his paw up on the first step. Over the next week, I went on a mission to get him to overcome this fear. I took him up and down every set of stairs I could find. By the end of the week, he was going up and down stairs without any problem. In the next class, we had to repeat the exercise. When Sam went up and down the stairs with confidence everyone in the class applauded. I was so proud of my new puppy.

Sam grew to be a dog over 100 pounds but was in many ways an easy-going gentle giant. He always acted aggressive in new situations, displaying his loud bark accompanied with vicious growls, but I have to say in reality he was a big softie. Over the years he met and lived with many dogs and puppies and he always let the puppies play with and basically abuse him.

Sam's best friend throughout his life was a female German Shepherd dog named Brandy (pictured here at 10 weeks). I got Brandy back in 1999 (at the time of writing in August 2008 she is still going strong). I was actually afraid Sam would attack her when I brought her home on a hot August afternoon, but they ended up becoming the best of friends. They remained friends for the rest of Sam's days, life long partners like an old couple. Brandy took Sam's death pretty hard and was depressed for weeks, refusing to eat her morning milk bone, a treat they had shared together for 8 years.

Sam had many strange quirks. One day, I was getting ready for work and I heard this loud wail. I had no idea what it was. Was a woman being stabbed to death? No, it was Sam howling for the first time (at age 2), but he was howling out of tune so it didn't sound like a dog at all! I wish I had a tape of it, it was so unique. He howled like that the rest of his life, not quite sure how to do it right. After Brandy grew up she howled along with him. Since Sam died, Brandy doesn't howl anymore even though at present she lives with 4 other dogs.

Another funny quirk Sam had was his goal of getting two balls in his mouth at the same time. He never accomplished this task. He would put one ball in his mouth, and then position the second ball with his paw. Then he would try to pick up the second ball, only to drop the first one on the ground. He did this over and over and over again-for ten years. He always made the same mistake and never got both balls in his mouth. Funny thing is a few months after he died I adopted a German Shepherd named Jake who routinely puts two or three balls in his mouth!

In his later years, Sam became quite the athlete. I moved near a mountain range and began taking Sam and Brandy (and later Lucy) on long hikes in the mountains. Sam absolutely loved the mountains. He bounded with enthusiasm every time we went out. Being the good dog that he was, I could take him off leash and he would stay right by my side.

With a kind of poetic justice, I took Sam, Brandy, and Lucy on a long hike in the forest the day before Sam died. Most dogs don't even get to leave their yards or city blocks, so I guess in many ways Sam was a very lucky dog. He got lots of walks in the mountains and wilderness. That day was a special walk, and the next morning I found him dead. Sam died suddenly of stomach torsion; he was about ten and a half.

Having a 110 pound male German Shepherd in your life is like having a pillar of strength by your side. I miss the sense of security Sam used to give me. I can never measure up to be the person Sam thought I was. Sam was always easy going and patient. When I got my dog Lucy, she used to sit there and taunt Sam every morning, barking at him non-stop. He weighed a good 90 pounds more than she did but he would just sit there calmly and take it. I want to be as patient and easy going as Sam was. I was privileged to have Sam in my life and I hope I can learn what he taught me as the years go by and the memories fade. Dogs can help you become a better person. Learn what they have to teach you.

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