“How Do You Live Brokenhearted?”

In Bruce Springsteen’s song “Mary’s Place”, he asks the question “how do you live broken hearted?” I’m going to be figuring that one out. My dog Sammy died the other day.

I guess, in the long range scheme of things, the death of a pet isn’t the worst thing in the world. I know some people struggling with really serious medical problems, families whose children are in harm’s way in Afghanistan and others just struggling to survive in today’s economy. I can hear my parents’ voices now: ” c’mon, get over yourself!”

And I will move on. Sammy is survived by our two other doggies, both of whom are are basking in the increase in attention they are currently receiving. Eventually I will be able to think of the good times and all the joy that Sammy brought to our family without the tears in my eyes. But it is still painful. My wife and I do not have children and we are absolutely one of those sickening couples that treats their dogs like children. I talk to them, kiss them and refer to them as I would a kid. I do draw the line at dressing them up in silly costumes! Sammy was special, my first pet as an adult–you know, the first dog I was actually taking care of myself (although my wife is certainly entitled to take the lion’s share of the credit.)

Sammy was a rescue. Claire, a member of SUN, called me up in April of 1998 and asked me if I wanted to take in a dog. Her daughter had found a puppy abandoned in the trash at the old bus station–now YNN’s offices. My wife and I were living in an apartment and had been told several times by our landlord that under no circumstances would we be allowed to have a dog. But Claire mentioned the magic word–“husky”– and I immediately said that I would take the dog. It was the first and only time that doing something major without first consulting my wife ended up turning out OK. Landlord, be damned! (although, to be fair, our landlord was a wonderful person in all other regards.) We hid Sammy’s existence until the end of our lease in August, taking him to a doggy day care every morning so he was never home alone. Then we bought a house. Yes, this dog was so special that we went out and bought him a house!

Sammy was named after Sammy Sosa (c’mon, this was pre-steroids and skin bleaching!) His full name was Little Sammy Sosa a.k.a. Sammy “The Toe” Barkadelko (he had an extra toe on his rear left paw)–from the hamlet of Barkadelphia. Understandably, he was always just Sammy.

Sammy was our “Go dog.” Very calm, with a placid demeanor–he loved to travel. He accompanied us on all vacations and on our two massive cross-country car trips to Arizona in 2004 and 2005 when we cleaning out, repairing and selling my father’s retirement house after his death. Four days/10-12 hours day/ each way–every once in awhile he’d stand up, stretch and announce he’d like to go pee–but usually less often than I would. On the final trip home, he perched himself on a leather chair like a throne in the back of our rented mini-van–surrounded with all the other packing boxes. He was also excellent when people would come up to him on the street . . . and people would ALWAYS come up to him on the street. I may be biased, but he was a beautiful dog–classic husky looks and markings, fluffy white and black fur and his open mouth for panting looked just like a smile! Kids would ask to pet him and no matter how rough or how gentle, Sammy would look up at them and let them pet away.

As a young puppy, he was very mischievous and devoted to playing pranks on us. Working on a project in our backyard, I set down a box full of nails on the ground–Sammy came up, grabbed the box top in his teeth and ran every which way to avoid us as we chased him to retrieve the box–spilling nails everywhere he went. He loved to steal the tools my father-in-law laid down while working on the myriad odd jobs he does around his and our homes. One day, he looked up to see a young Sammy attempting to drag a sledge hammer away–wooden handle in his mouth! Like most huskies, he loved to dig. Anytime my wife dug holes for the garden, he would be right there, getting his swipes in, eyes glazed, the dirt flying out behind him.

As he grew up, he loved to run, engaging in intricate games of tag with our second dog Molly. He had moves that NFL halfbacks could only envy and speed to burn. In middle age, an accident on a slippery hardwood floor gave him permanent nerve damage and partial paralysis of his right rear leg–but he never let this slow him down. Sammy developed a choppy, straight-down thrusting motion with the leg and while he lost the speed and moves of his youth, was able to continue walking and running. He was even able to play tag with our newest dog Archie, a dog that had the moves and speed of Sammy’s youth. When we moved to a new house with a much smaller and square backyard, Sammy treated the area like a boxing ring, cut off the angles and made small, swift dashes to cut his much faster brother off at the pass.

The house is quieter now, no ethereal wolf-like howls as counterpoint to his siblings’ harsh barking. No one greets us at the front door when we come home (Sammy alone was well behaved enough to not have to use a cage when home without supervision.) No tumbling tumbleweeds of white fluffy fur everywhere. We’ve even been able to take up the many throw rugs that covered up the majority of our hardwood floors after Sammy’s accident. We’ll eventually be able to move on.

But even I as I type this last section, my eyes are starting to mist at my last fond memory of Sammy. Deathly ill, unable to deal with the massive stroke that had rendered him unable to walk, Sammy lay on the examining table in the vet’s office. He was getting another in the series of anti-inflammatory shots that had allowed him to survive a series of smaller strokes that he had endured for the past 6 months. Waiting for the vet to come back with the results of a blood test, I began petting him on his shoulder. He shifted his weight, lifted his leg and indicated that he didn’t want to be petted, he wanted his favorite: Sammy wanted a tummy rub. He died early the next morning. At home. Surrounded by his loving family.

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6 thoughts on ““How Do You Live Brokenhearted?”

  1. I’m sorry to read about Sammy’s leaving, if you will. I’ve only ever had one dog, when I was 8, and we had to give him up when my dad went to Vietnam & we had to move. He sounds like he was a great friend to have around.

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  2. Judy Berman

    Our dogs and cats have always been like family and their passing is deeply felt. I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve never had a husky – came close to getting one. But my neighbor has a Siberian Husky and he’s a great, gentle dog. Yours sounds the same.

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  3. June

    Phil, thank you for telling your and Sammy’s wonderful story, he obviously had a very long and happy life with you.
    I lost my wee boy Pepper, the love of my life, last November after watching him die for 10 months from Cushing’s Disease. He was a rescue, 6 yrs old when he picked me to come and live with…his rescuer had interviewed many applicants that she had to turn down as it just didn’t ‘feel right’ and she waited longer than ever before for just the right person for him. When we drove away heading for our new life together, Pepper looked straight ahead…not so much as a glance in the direction of the wonderful woman that had rescued him from the shelter. Pepper was a tiny little man, 7 lbs and not much more than 7 inches tall (part dachsie and ??)…tiny dogs were supposed to have long lives I thought, we would have many years to spend together. Although he could run faster than the wind and leap tall buildings, not even the best medical treatment I could find would save him from the ravages of this horrible disease. Four years, three months and 21 days after his coming into my life he was gone. I am still trying to comprehend how such a tiny little soul could steal such a huge part of my heart.
    We indeed may move on but we will always have them with us in our memories and in the part of our heart that remains.

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