Sam the Man, also known as Sampson, Sambo, Little Sam and one big hearted dog.

Sam has lost three of his best friends this past year.  Last November it was Molly, the little Maltese/Terrier mix with whom he fell head over heels in love with the first time he met her.  They were very close and when she died, he grieved along with the rest of us.  After a month or so it seemed as though he was okay with her being gone.  He enjoyed being the only dog in the house, finding it easy to break the rules we had set up for them when there were two dogs instead of just one.

We always allowed them up on the bed for afternoon naps, but at night they both slept on their own cushy beds on the floor next to us. They seemed to understand the difference between afternoon and night and rarely jumped up on the bed during the wee hours unless there was a thunderstorm or one of them had to pee.  After Molly died, Sam gradually made his way up onto the ottoman at the foot of our bed.  He’d get comfortable and when he was sure we were asleep and the sound of snoring filled the air, he’d quietly move up onto the bed.  If he dared, he’s snuggle up against a human leg. Not liking hot legs, we’d gently move him back to the ottoman, until one night we said, “The poor boy is lonely,” and left it at that.  By then, he knew he should sleep in the middle of the bed, not up against his human’s bodies.

Of late he’s been looking sad.  He wasn’t eating much and wasn’t bringing us his favorite toys for us to play with.  Just two weeks ago, the day after his best kitty friend, Peppermint died, Bill and I left for a week visiting our grandkids. Though Sam was here at home with his beloved, Bobbie, who always comes in to stay with him while we’re away, he got even more depressed. When we got home he wasn’t eating.  His tail, usually a happy wig-wag machine and a sign of how he is feeling, didn’t wag much. I was very concerned and knew he was deep in mourning for his three family members, Molly, Cleo the cat who died in June and now Peppermint.

I knew what the best medicine would be and sent a message out into the Universe to see what we could do about it.  The following day, when I went to the SPCA to pick up Pepper’s ashes, I took a walk past the dogs up for adoption.  They were mostly big hounds and pit bulls, not matches for Sam.

Next, I went to the pet supply store hoping to find a new exciting dog food that might tempt him into eating again.  I walked through the aisles and turning a corner entered into a larger open space. There right in front of me was the cutest little terrier mix I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.  He came over to me, greeting me as if we were long-lost friends.  Terry, was one of the dogs at an adoption event the store was hosting for Animal Connections, a local dog rescue group, that specializes in small dogs.  It was through them that we found Molly, ten or so years ago.  I knew this was the little angel dog that would be powerful medicine for Sam.  And if Sam and Molly had been able to have puppies together, this little man was what they would have looked like.

Terry. Sometimes I think of him as Terrence

I rushed home and brought Bill and Sam back to the store to meet  one year old, Terry.  When they met, Sam’s tail was waving a mile a minute and we took them both outside for a little pee party in the grass.  I was happy, Terry was happy, and Sam was happy. But Bill was reluctant.  We’d promised each other we that we wouldn’t fill the house back up with animals again and thought Sam would be fine after a while.  He’s also been wanting to travel more and knows I don’t like to be away  from my animal companions for very long.  He thought that the more animals there are in the house, the more reluctant I would be to leave them.  Not so.  When it comes to my furry friends, whether it’s one or ten, they are my special companions and I don’t like to be away from them for very long.  I’d find my life empty without them.

Lily and Terry

At the end of our meeting, we set up a day for Terry to come to our house for an overnight.  That would give him and Sam plenty of time to get to know each other. On Thursday morning when Terry’s foster mom, Lynette, brought him over, Sam was very excited.  Within two hours, beside myself with joy, I called Lynette to tell her that Terry would be staying with us forever.  We’ll sign the final adoption papers today. But in heart and soul, no papers are necessary. He’s ours and we’re his already.

Sam is eating again and playing for the first time in many months with a new companion who he wanted and needed. Terry has a new forever home and seems to be as delighted with us as we are with him.  He loves to play and this morning finally coaxed Lily, our remaining cat, to play with him.  The floors are a jumble of toys that haven’t been used in a long time and when Sam gets tired and needs a nap, Terry carries on by himself, chasing a tennis ball he tosses around for himself. Or sometimes he crashes next to Sam. Bill adores Terry as much as Sam and I do. He whispered to me that if I wanted him to, he’d put it in writing that I was right all along.  Companionship, of all kinds, is big, powerful medicine.

The Boys

Peppermint, 2005-2012

Precious Peppermint

The first time I saw her, I had just signed up as a volunteer at the SPCA to help care for the cats that were housed at our local Pet Smart store.  She sat in her cage playing with a small yellow ball with a bell hidden inside, seemingly as happy as could be.  She’d already been there for several months and only left her cage when one of us volunteers would let her out for twenty minutes or so.  She rubbed up against my leg, purring like a miniature motorcycle, her perfect moon-face tilted to her right, forever looking as if she might have a question or two for me.  On her records I noted she’d been rescued from a woman who had been keeping some thirty cats in her home and I knew from one the notes left by another volunteer that he was considering adopting her.

I went every Monday morning at eight to feed the cats and clean cages.  It was a way for me to get some kitty time and have time out of my house where my mom was slowly succumbing to lung cancer.  My best cat friend, Hannah, had died only a few months earlier and I was missing the soft, gentle love that only a lap cat can provide.

Several months later I decided that being around homeless cats living in cages was not making me any happier that being at home with my dying mom. I gave notice that I would be leaving my post.  Peppermint was still there, waiting for the right person to come along and take her home. On my last day, a young family came in looking for a cat to adopt.  They had three children who seemed a bit wild, but I didn’t think much of it until they wanted me to let Pepper out of her cage so they could see if she would be the cat for them.  As I put her down on the floor, the kids lunged at her, squeezing her and fighting over who would get to hold her next.  Pepper was not happy and I found myself in rescue mode, saying that I had forgotten that she had already been spoken for.   The family considered a couple of the other cats and I sighed, very relieved, when they walked away without one.  That night Peppermint, Peps, Pepperoni, or sometimes just Pepper, went home to live with me and my pack of two dogs and another cat I’d  recently rescued.

She was my sweetheart, never learning how to stalk birds or squirrels, simply running toward them with all of her might as they fled way before she could reach them.  She loved to play with anything that rolled across the floor and took to stealing pens from tables and desktops.  Meowing loudly, as if she was bringing me a mouse, she’d deposit her treasures in the same place every day.  I often watched her walk down the hallway from my office with a pen sticking out of her mouth, dangling like a cigarette, until she got to the place where she stored them.  The only times she ever meowed was when she was carrying a pen or when I’d force her into a crate to take her to the vet.

About a year ago, she started having difficult walking at times and looking at all of her test results and her head tilt, the Doc thought that she might have some kind of brain difficulty.  We dosed her with Prednisone and she got better.  Just a week ago she went missing in the house for a full day and I finally found her hiding in the dark basement, not feeling very good.  Bill and I took her to the Emergency Vet, and they could find nothing wrong with her, saying that it was likely her brain condition, and that they would only be able to diagnose it with a brain scan. We were unwilling to put her through that. The odds were that most likely it would be  something that was untreatable.

We brought her home, checked in with her regular Vet, Richard, on Monday. He told us to just watch her and get back to him on Friday with a report.  She started getting better, no longer hiding in the dark, eating well and using her litter pan.  On Friday morning I called Richard and he felt she’d probably be fine.

Later in the afternoon she went outside and immediately got hung up in a shrub, unable to walk.  We rushed her to the clinic. Within the hour she had four seizures and bit one of the technicians, something she had never done before.  We all decided that there was nothing to be done but to gently and quietly put her to sleep. She died in my arms with Bill and Richard mourning along with me.

It’s been a big year for losses at my house.  Molly, my little Maltese mix, died suddenly last Thanksgiving of cancer and just a month or so ago, Cleo, originally my mother’s cat, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, at age seventeen.  They leave behind super dog, Sam, and Lilliput, a crazy tuxedo cat who spends most of her time outside, threatening and often succeeding in murdering the local wildlife.

We’re hoping and praying that this string of losses will end for a while. It is so difficult to part with these special creatures that come into our lives.  In the meantime, I take solace in the fact that they were all once homeless animals to whom we gave their second chances. They lived out their lives in comfort, surrounded with love.

Just a year ago I complained that with the five animals we kept, the house often felt like a daycare center.  Today, it’s very quiet and somewhat empty. I wish they were all back sharing their lives with me.

Cleo, 1995-2012

She was my Mom’s cat.  I was there when Mom went to the SPCA to find a new friend.  Mom had recently moved here to Virginia from New Hampshire and was finally settled into a lovely small home.  Now she was ready for a companion to share her days with.

There were so many cats waiting for their forever homes, all ready to curl up in a lap and cuddle their days away.  Mom chose two feral kittens about five months old who were hiding in a corner under a table.  They were scared to death and difficult to capture. She named them Cleo and Leo. Leo was a ginger colored tabby and Cleo a beautiful calico.

The first few weeks at home, they made a nest under Mom’s bed in the box springs.  They came out only for food, but after a while realized that she wasn’t going to harm them and took up following her around the house.  When she finally let them go outside, they roamed the neighborhood by day, always returning for their evening meal.  They were afraid of everyone but Mom.  They would occasionally put up with a pat on the head from me, but Cleo had a distinct dislike for men, especially Bill.

When Mom’s health began to decline and she moved in with Bill and me, her buddies naturally came along.  They weren’t happy at first, afraid of our aging dog, Charlie and old Hannah, our Maine Coon Cat.  Leo disappeared a few months later.  We checked the SPCA daily, put up posters in the area and even called the folks that Mom had sold her house to, across town.  But he was never seen again.  There had been reports of Coyotes in our neighborhood. We figured the worst had happened.

When Mom broke her shoulder and then her leg in two separate falls, and I could no longer take care of her, we moved her into a nursing home until she was able to walk again and then into an assisted living situation. Cleo couldn’t go with her, so she came upstairs to join our pack of now two new dogs, Molly and Sam, and recently adopted cats, Peppermint and Lily. She wasn’t happy at first but slowly adjusted but always seemed to be the odd man out.  She disliked most prepared cat food. I cooked chicken thighs especially for her.  Pepper and Lily would have none of it, preferring Fancy Feast and other kitty fast foods that come in cans or bags.  Mom died a few months later and Cleo became a true member of our pack.

We moved here to the city two years ago. Cleo’s behavior changed dramatically.  I have no clue as to why, but suddenly she was greeting guests on her own standoffish terms and spent TV time in the evening settled in Bill’s lap.  But she was also aging and we were told she’d probably be gone in the next six months.  She began losing weight and her kidneys were beginning to fail. We chose not to take any heroic measures to keep her alive because of her advanced age and the invasiveness of many medical procedures.

Most recently she looked like a walking cat skeleton dressed in a fur suit. She hadn’t been eating much including her favorite home cooked chicken.  We knew her time was drawing near.  A few weeks ago I noticed that someone had been peeing on a new carpet we’d had installed and caught her red-handed. One evening while I was out doing some weeding in the garden, I noticed she was straining to pee and looked terribly uncomfortable.

We decided it was time and a week or so ago on June first, at noon, as she sat on a towel in my lap, my friend and Veterinarian, Richard, injected a magic sleep potion into her veins.  As she slowly let go and the light went out of her eyes, I imagine she was scampering off across the Rainbow Bridge to her other Mom, who was waiting on the other side. I feel sad that Cleo is gone, but also relieved. It is so hard to watch a loved one in pain slowly slip away.

With such a loss, there is always an ensuing emptiness.  Cleo’s spirit and energy is no longer here. We all feel it and miss her. In a week or two she will return home in a small box in the form of ashes. We will sprinkle them in the garden where we sprinkled Molly’s ashes not too long ago.