Archive for January 27th, 2008

My dog Sam, Part 5

January 27, 2008

I fully expected Sam to push against that screen door like he usually did and make his escape, never to be heard from again.  Or at the very least, I thought he’d start barking and force me to let him back in.  But as I lay there back on my hide-a-bed, Sam began to howl; low, long and loud.  Loud enough for my mom to yell downstairs and tell me to let him back in.  Figuring I had taught him a lesson, I complied.

I went to the front door and peered out through the window.  The screen had been opened and Sam was standing at the top step looking out, but not going any further.  I went to open the door and he came towards me, trembling and wagging his tail.  It was the first time he acted glad to see me.  I attributed it to the cold and his chance to get back inside.  I went out to pull the screen closed and return the spring to where it belonged when I saw what caused Sam to howl.   A pack of dogs, 7 or 8 were roaming around near our yard in the moonlight, Frankie was in amongst them.  There was no mistaking the hitch in his giddyup as he moved amongst the other dogs.  They were up towards the garden and the end of the lane.  Most were still on the road, but Frankie and a couple others had ventured into our yard, sniffing and marking everything with their pee.  Sam didn’t act afraid, he seemed more excited than anything else.  

“C’mon, boy!  back inside!”

Sam came in with me wagging his tail.  I bent down to pet him and he stood there trembling for a moment, allowing me to rub his shoulders and pat him on the head.  He had never allowed me to pet him before and I enthusiastically went from his head and ears, down his shoulders and back. 

“Good boy! good dog, Sam!”

Over and over I praised him as I vigorously spread warmth through his body with my rubbing up and down.  Sam licked at my face and wagged his tail appreciatively.  I stood and moved towards my bed and Sam followed.  I jumped onto the bed and pulled the covers up to my chin while Sam curled up on the floor nearby, close enough that I could reach down and touch him.  He was still trembling, either from the excitement or the cold or both.

“C’mon, Sam!”  I patted the bed.  Sam jumped up and curled in the quarter moon arch my body made, his tail thumping against the mattress.  We slept like that through the night.  

That was how our friendship began, both of us compromising.  I gave up the resentment I felt and he accepted our home as his.  We never did “own” Sam in the sense that he was obligated or belonged to us.  He and I formed a truce, an alliance of sorts.  He adopted the family, each one of us; my sisters, my mother and me.  And he never tried to shag my leg again. 

The fact that Sam tolerated us was obvious early on, because he hated everbody else.  Everybody.  It didn’t matter who they were, how long he knew them or how hard we tried to make him like them.  He didn’t need anyone, not even us… really.

One time the meter man came round to read our meter and Sam threatened him so badly that he slipped to the ground on his face trying to get away.  Sam was so furious that the fall only served to make him angrier, like the poor man had done it on purpose.  Sam lunged within a few feet of the man barking and growling, causing the meter reader to drop his clipboard in the mad scramble to get to his feet and back away to his truck.

My older sister had suitors that came around and (if they didn’t know better) left their cars to come knocking.  It was not uncommon to hear them calling from the hoods or even the roofs of their cars for us to come out and call off our dog because Sam would chase them back. 

Friends we made on the road would be held at bay towards the end of the lane because Sam wouldn’t let them in the yard.  Even my brother-in-law, who was generally well liked and soft spoken, could not make Sam accept him.  When we finally stopped chaining Sam up and let him roam free, our yard was off limits to anyone.  The neighborhood dogs soon learned respect and Frankie, the undisputed king of the road, met his match. 

Sam was chained to that tree every morning but I never saw him strain at the length like some dogs would.  He accepted that he was limited in his movement around the yard and didn’t fight it.  I’d come home from school and release him for a while, allowing him to run around as I wrestled with him.  Sometimes I threw a frisbee or ball for him to chase.  He kept within the confines of the yard at first. Though the world outside beckoned to him and curiosity put him on the property line more than once.  If I called to him he’d run back with a big doggy grin on his face knowing he was pressing the limits of his freedom.

I came out one morning to go to school and Sam was chained beneath his tree by the front porch, happy to see me.  The weather in Iowa is such that if you don’t like it one day all you had to do was wait until the next day and it would change.  So though it was still winter, a warm spell had caused most of the snow to melt and Sam could sleep outside.  I gave him the usual pat on the head and made my way down the lane to catch my bus.

Just as I made it to the road, Frankie was there waiting and he had me cold.  I knew I couldn’t out run him back to my house and there was not a tree near enough for me to climb, besides I didn’t have enough time… my bus was due any moment.  Frankie feigned a lurch towards me and I looked to the ground for something to throw at him.  The ruts in our drive still had frozen ice and snow in them and I bent down thinking I could scoop some up.  I thought I could make a snowball to hurl at this beast from hell.  Just as my hand reached down I was aware that I was not alone.  Still bent over I looked behind me and saw Sam standing there, head lowered, watching Frankie.

Frankie had pulled up and stopped dead in his tracks.  He didn’t bark, he didn’t growl, he just stood there looking at Sam.  I stood up straight and stepped back to where my dog was.

 “Watch him, Sam!” I commanded, but it wasn’t me Sam was obeying.  He was in his own mind set, not paying heed to anything except what lay before him.  He silently gazed at Frankie; out in the open, no longer confined to that tree or hampered by a chain as he was before.  Frankie flinched and Sam leaped at him, sending Frankie yelping down the road with Sam hot on his heels.  I called to Sam and as Frankie headed down the “lower” road he turned and ran back towards me, skipping about and seemingly pleased with himself. 

My heart was racing that morning and I couldn’t praise Sam enough, no dog had ever stood up to Frankie like that.  I had never seen Frankie fear anything; man, animal or machine, Frankie defied them all.  Until that morning, Frankie seemed fearless.  Sam was a godsend, a miracle.    But in all the confusion I’d forgotten about catching my bus. 

“Stay, Sam.”  I walked away.  “Stay, boy.”  Sam began to follow but finally stopped at the point of our lane meeting the road.  I looked back several times as I walked to the bus stop, my heart still pounding from the excitement of seeing Frankie running away from Sam.  He stayed put until I got on board.

I don’t know how Sam became unchained that morning, I figured that somehow during the night he got himself free from his collar.  I thought nothing of him being under the tree like he was that morning, the same as every morning.   I left for the bus stop assuming he was secure.  Not only did he rescue me from Frankie but he gained his independence.

From that day forward, we never chained Sam again…