Happiness came to the minahan household wrapped in a small, furry package in the spring of 2003. We had been trying to find a family friendly dog to add spirit to our home since the passing of our great grandmother Clara two years prior. Grandma Clara had occupied the extra room in our basement and single handedly raised my mother and completed our lives as a whole. Since she left us, the house seemed bigger, more empty, less happy. We knew we had to make a change and fell in love with a specific breed: Golden retrievers. This isn’t to say all other dogs are not equally as wonderful and life changing, but to the Minahan’s, we were hooked. That nose! The smile! Those eyes that were so honest and could speak to you without actually speaking…we had to get one of our own. Unfortunately, they were in such high demand that we almost gave up on looking altogether. We missed the pitter patter of paws scurrying across the hardwood floor. We ached for the jangle of a dog collar echoing around the house. Thankfully, our aunt had found a perfect opportunity in the penny saver, “Last litter for Golden in Imperial, puppies only 100 each.” And just like that, we packed our mini van were off.
Sam was the smallest of the bunch, and despite my mother’s worry of “big paws” that signify how large the puppy will be, we knew Sam was meant to be ours because he fell asleep in my brother’s arms a minute into us being there. SOLD.
We brought him home without my Dad knowing, to which he walked upstairs, took off his boots and saw a tiny fluffball peeing on a pile of newspapers in the middle of our dining room. “Well, at least he’s paper trained!” And he was. Samson quickly adapted to the life of a Minahan, which meant he became as rambunctious and naughty as any growing puppy learns to be. Anywhere any of us went, Sam followed.
Sam is notorious in our small neighborhood as “that dog that always ran away” because of the whole rambunctious and naughty puppy thing that started off as adorable but soon grew into exhausting. If anyone left the gate of our backyard open, you would have thought the world was ending, but in reality our puppy was off rolling in mud and jumping into ponds that weren’t his to jump into in the first place. There are countless tales of torn trash bags, unwanted dug holes in the yard, and my next door neighbors have seen way too many of our dirty laundry sprawled out in the open yard, courtesy of Sam. As mad as we got, at the end of the day, none of it mattered because there Sam would be curled up and snoozing at our feet or more often than not, snoring and snug at the foot of our beds. Once, Sam ran onto my sister Chloe’s school bus because he thought he was going too. Another time, my other sister Caitlin’s hamster had escaped from it’s cage in the middle of the night and while any other large dog may have eaten her, my mother found Sam in the morning cuddled up next to the tiny, baby hamster because he felt like he needed to keep her safe. Sam had more compassion and kindness in his paw than most people learn to have in their whole lives. There was also a time where he was younger and jumped onto our kitchen counter and ate an entire container of pasta, and we couldn’t even be mad at him for that because he thought it was all for him. (TSM. Total Sam Move…)
Having a Dog is a blessing and life altering experience in itself. This is not to dismiss the wonders of being a parent to a child as i’m sure I will go through some years down the road. But I think it’s pretty close, and sometimes more challenging. You are dealing with a child of a different breed, A child who needs your love, attention and discipline. Owning a dog and loving a dog like Sam has been eye opening and radically rewarding. There are so many moments over the past 12 years with him in my life that prove to me that he is, and will always be so much more than just a Dog. Sam watched my siblings and I grow up, and every morning he walked us to and from the bus stop. He was always there when I got my heart broken, or when I simply just needed a friend. And that’s what Sam was to every person and creature he came in contact with; a best friend. I always joked how I wanted to spend my weekends not out partying with other people, but laying at home with Sam. It is something Dog people will never understand, the unspoken bond and trust formed when raising them. In the simplest terms, we gave Sam our lives, and he gave us his.
This is the part in the post where I’ve stopped writing for a week or so. I’ll be honest and just say that I don’t want to be writing this right now. There are just certain stories and certain things even the most eloquent and descriptive of words that cannot do reality justice and that is precisely what is happening here. It all just sounds so scripted and corny, and unless you have met me or spent time around Sam, you will never truly understand the extent to which he honored us in the Minahan household. Samson is a gift to our family and there just aren’t any words left to voice that. Sometimes I would swear that he was a person, not a dog. He was wise without words, an amazing judge of character, and thats more than I can say about a good amount of people that I know. I wish so badly that everyone could meet him, see the smile that would brighten my day and have him try to sit on your lap despite that he was the size of a baby horse. I can sit here and say whole heartedly that my family and I might have loved Sam more than ourselves. He provided joy, comfort and a protection to us for so many years and we will never forget that. I will forever hold the times we spend on the porch together, as I drank coffee and pet him, And all the walks near and dear to my heart. I will never forget the way he would put his head down and his paw on my leg as if to say, “everything is going to be okay.” There will never be any words for that feeling.
It wasn’t until I was in my senior year of college on my spring break when our family noticed a serious decline in Samson’s demeanor. There wasn’t a spring in his step anymore. His eyes didn’t smile the same, and he couldn’t run upstairs, jump on our beds and wake us up by licking our faces anymore. He started making these strange, sighing noises that we thought were cute and seemingly innocent at first. Then came winter, and one day my mother called me while I was up and school. I knew there was something wrong when she said “he’s um, fine.” when I asked how Sam was doing. When I came home, it was worse than I had expected. Sam had trouble getting up and had a terrible limp when he walked. Since I was on vacation, I wasn’t there for that first bad trip to the vet’s office when they told my parents that Sam would not be getting any better. Sam had cancer in his front leg, and told my family to make him as comfortable as possible. They warned him that dogs run away to be alone when they want to die, and described how dogs act like they aren’t hurting to keep their owner’s happy. That was Sam. He was the one always making sure we were okay, and now the tables were turning. Our hearts broke into a million pieces at the thought of having to say goodbye to Sam. In fact, there were countless nights where my sisters and mother slept on the floor of our living room with sleeping bags as Sam cried and wimpered himself to sleep.
That was back in March, and it is nearly July now. Today was the hardest day of my life because we finally made the decision as a family to help him lay himself to rest. We knew that he was dying on the inside and only holding himself together for our sake. I think that is a lesson most pet owners fail to come to terms with; animals do not exist simply to entertain and comfort us, we need to care for them back. It pained us to see the cancer take over Sam’s leg and expand so largely that he couldn’t even walk normally. It pained us to have to pick his head up just so he could drink some water. It pained us that Sam’s time in our lives was coming to a cancerous and sad close, that he’d never run, swim, or play in our yard again. We were in denial of our old boy leaving us. His last weeks consisted of him sighing to himself while laying on his side, whimpering and crying. Infections everywhere, and sick to his stomach to the point where he couldn’t stand up, we didn’t know what else to do, so we cried with him. We cried, and cried, and cried. When it came time to make that last car ride, my brother said, “I was the one who carried him into this house twelve years ago. I want to be the one to carry him on his way out.” And so he did, picking him up with towels as he put Sam, who was swollen and misshapen and old on his lap.
The experience of Sam’s last trip to the vet was a paradox. It was needed, but dreaded. It was despair, but so relieving at the same time. It was comforting, but terrifying all at once. I stayed in the room with my mom as she buried herself into Sam and wept. The people at the vet’s office could not have been more kind and genuine and for that we were so thankful. I know we made the right choice for our Dog, but it hurt so much to watch Sam close his eyes, and breathe for the last time. Seeing life exist and then cease like that was one of the hardest things I have had to go through. However, as cruel and unfair and beautifully graceful as the circle of life can be, the sun will rise, and it will set. Sam played his part in our lifes so perfectly, and he will forever be my most prized and special friend.
The house seems bigger and emptier now, and quieter. I know it’s going to take time to heal from losing him, but we find our peace not from mourning Sam, but by knowing his place is now in Heaven, where nothing hurts. Sam taught me so many things. He taught me it’s okay to feel things, to allow myself to experience joy, sadness and love. He has taught me patience, how to judge a person by their behavior and character, but all the while loving them to the best of my ability. My mother closed our day of losing Sam by saying, “Sam has shown me that sometimes, the best thing you can do to comfort someone is to just sit with them in silence and let them know that you are with them.” His whole life, a happy and bacon filled twelve years was just that; comforting people.
I feel as though there is a hole inside of me now that Sam is gone. I miss him. I am going to miss him so much, even though I know that he is in a much better place now. You never know when your last time with someone you love is “the last time”. and that is what scares me. To think that our destinies and fates are outside of our control, and can begin and end by the light of the sun terrifies me. Sam always made it seem like no matter what happened, things couldn’t get that bad because I had him. Now that he’s gone, I was forced to face one huge question that I’ve never wanted to answer: “What do I do now that he is gone?” I’ve spent a long time going over this and I think I’ve come up with a good answer. The answer is this: Take the love that I had for Sam, and go out into the world, trying to spread that love around the best I can. Most people go their entire lives without knowing the kind of love a Dog can provide, and to love a Dog means loving something a whole lot more than yourself. There was nothing easy about letting you go, and we will never forget him. If anything, I want to honor him that way, by being warm and welcoming and have this radiance about me that comforts people the way that a twelve year old golden retriever did. I will never forget that face, those memories, and my furry gift from God. What a remarkable gift it was, to love and to know that I am capable of such love like that.
Be the sun of you own lives, and seriously, buy a Dog. You will be forever changed.
To the greatest friend I will ever have- We love you endlessly and will miss you so much, baby boy. Thank you for the memories, and for letting us dress you up and pail your nails. I’m so happy to know you’re not hurting anymore. I cannot wait to take you for a walk again someday, and have my morning coffee with you by my side. Rest east, Sammy. We love you.