How Sam Rescued Us

By Kate Everett – Published in the Golden Retriever Magazine Autumn 2006

I often wonder if anyone who isn’t a dog lover can really appreciate the pain of losing a beloved pet. Standard responses range from ‘Oh how sad’ to ‘Well, just get another one’. But as we experienced recently, losing a loyal friend and a beloved member of the family is never going to be that easy.

When our six year old Golden Retriever Drew didn’t want to go out for his usually eagerly awaited walk one morning this June, I was only mildly concerned. He had been off his food for a few days, but I put it down to the unbearably hot weather we were experiencing.

I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to pop him into the vets, and I remember reminding myself on the way there to ask them to trim his nails. I wonder now if he knew, as unusually he didn’t want to leave the house, and I had to lift his (very heavy) frame into the car.

All the way there he sat with his head poked though the head rest, his snout nuzzled into my neck. Half an hour later I was sitting in my car, crying hysterically; the vet had found a swelling in Drew’s stomach and wanted to keep him in for tests, I had to go home without him and tell myself he would be home in the morning.

Two days later we had to face the news that our beloved pet wasn’t coming home, the cancer that had been so quietly growing in his body had caused his kidneys to fail and there was nothing that could be done but to make the kindest and hardest decision of our lives. I can honestly say without any shame that nothing has ever made me feel so devastated in my whole life. My husband, two boys and I cried as we have never cried before.

On a lovely sunny June afternoon, we brought our darling Drew home and laid him in the garden while one-by-one we had our last cuddles with him. We buried him under the tree in our garden where he had spent many happy hours lying in the shade watching the world go by.

Afterwards I swore I would never have another dog, the pain was just too overwhelming and I couldn’t put myself through it again. But as the days turned to weeks I began to dread coming downstairs in the morning to that absolute silence, or opening the front door to an empty house. I even pined for the battle with fluff and fur that Retriever owners know so well; my immaculate house seemed to have no soul.

During this time, we decided that maybe something good could come out of losing Drew. There were so many dogs out there needing a loving home, and we had love and a home, but no dog to share it with.

Tentatively, I made contact with Lynn from ECGRC and started the process of re-homing a new dog. I think I had plans to bring home a quiet, older little female, very different from Drew – but fate had its own plans for us!

Enter Sam. A telephone call one Monday lunchtime was going to change our lives for the foreseeable future.

18-month old Sam had come back into ECGRC after a placement hadn’t worked out for him. He was terribly confused and needed to be settled into a home quickly. After a walk along the beach and some time with Lynn, we decided to take him home – not too straightforward as he was a bag of nerves and had to be carried into the car – and back out again when we arrived home!

He may have looked like Drew, but there the similarity ended – as far as Sam was concerned we were strangers and every inch of the house terrified him. We soon realised we were going to have to work really hard with him to help him become part of the family.

Jan Fennell’s book The Dog Listener helped immensely; as did a visit from Altogether Animals, who helped us to understand what Sam was thinking.

And there is the key. We wanted nothing more than to bring this poor dog home and cuddle him for hours, but it would have been the cruellest thing to do. It was so important to establish our own pack hierarchy, and place Sam in a role where he could relax and know it was our job to take care of him now.

That was four months ago. Thanks to more than fifteen trips in and out of the car every day, we no longer had to carry him into the car – within three days he was happily jumping in the car for trips out. The nervous jumpy Sam is no more, and these days you will often find him snoozing happily in some of Drew’s old resting places.

We will never forget Drew, or stop missing him, but we are so grateful for the chance to give a lovely dog a happy and loving home. Sam has given us as much as we have given him and I know now when I open the front door he will be there happy, relaxed and delighted to see me. He has helped us smile again.