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Samson - The dog

Part II of II
by Jim (inabq) Steeves
Samson and the German Police Dog

One night my wife and I returned home late from a dinner party in Tel Aviv. She relieved the baby sitter while Samson and I headed for the street with the intention of taking a stroll to a vacant block down the street where old Sammy often smelled weasels, gophers or tigers. For some reason, I now forget, I decided to go out through the garage, which was a floor below street level and thus had a steep incline up to the sidewalk. Samson hurried on ahead of me and I heard a strange noise, a man shouting and another sound I didn't recognize. In seconds I realized what had happened. A man was walking his shaefer hund, or German police dog along the street just as Samson appeared from our driveway. The German police dog attacked and picked little Samson up like a rag doll, savaged him, then threw him. As I was trying to see what was happening in the dark, Samson literally rolled down the driveway past me and thumped against the garage door, which by then had closed. In the dark I could only guess what was going on because of the man on the sidewalk. I went quickly to Samson but he was in shock and growled at me. I spoke to him and then was able to pick him up and take him into the house. We got a towel and wrapped him up and I headed for the vets which was several miles away in the town of Rananana, while my wife made a phone call to his office - at about 11:15. By the time I got there the vet had been joined by another vet. The three of us started working on Sammy around midnight. The vets finished the job as the sun came up. All this time I held Samson's head and talked to him and he calmly accepted it all. Since then I've never felt the same about people whose dog's aren't on a lease because "their dog never bites." I decided that's always the case. Until the first time.

The owner of the German police dog? Never got either his name or one penny towards the cost of the medical treatment and that was OK. My dog was alive and back to normal a week later.

Samson and the Chameleon

There was a lot of vegetation around our house in Herzlya Pituach, one of the suburbs of Tel Aviv. There were several big trees, hedge all around the house, a frangi-pangi tree (that had giant blossoms, one of which would fill a glass and fragrant a room) oleana, grass and, of course, several varieties of cactus. It was, therefore, pretty natural that we would have lizards which seldom came into the house even though the sliding glass doors to the two patios were usually open most of the year. We didn't have a lot of chameleon's though, or at least I didn't notice them very often, but one day one was exposed within eyesight and I thought it would be interesting to show my girls, who were about 1-1/2 and 3 years of age. It was a cute little critter and we all took turns letting it crawl up an arm - a journey that took 2 or 3 minutes and watching it swivel each eye independently of the other. All the while we sort of played with the chameleon, Samson was very interested but made no effort to interfere. When we'd had enough and I figured the little fellow might be stressed out, I made sure that my wife kept Samson while I took the chameleon outside, way to the back yard, and let it crawl on to a bush. Only when I got back inside was Samson released and we felt confident that he wouldn't try to find it. We certainly underrated that crazy dog. It took hours but he eventually either found it or another one and, after munching on it to the point it looked like a well chewed gummy bear, did he proudly come to our bedroom and drop it on my wife while she slept. A prize she certainly could have done without.

Samson in Portugal

One trip my wife and I took while assigned to the Embassy in Madrid is memorable for an unusual reason. We had gone west about 150-200 miles from Madrid into Portugal and planned to explore the city of Porto and some of northern Portugal for a few days. We spent the first night in a small city whose name I forget and the next morning ate breakfast somewhere in that city but we did something that we normally didn't: we gave Samson breakfast too. Doesn't that sound terrible? Well, as it turned out, it was a BIG mistake.

On advice from some long lost dog lover, once Samson was on solid food, we fed him once a day. We were told there were good reasons for this, among them being it was good for the animal because being fed at the same time every day regulated their movements; was actually more than sufficient if the food was good and ample (wild dogs, after all, could go many days without a hot dog); and avoid providing tid-bits which was neither good for them nutritionally or for their weight over the years. In addition, we were advised, put down food at the same time every day and leave it there for no more than an hour. The dog will eat all it wants, then dump out anything left over and wash the dish to avoid attracting bugs, etc. Ok, that seemed simple and we did it. But on that trip to Portugal, for reasons long forgotten, we gave the little bugger some breakfast.

That might have been no more than a poor decision had it not been for one other thing. While still a pup, Samson loved to climb up behind my wife's neck - while I drove - and lodge there between her neck and the headrest. I don't remember if his tail was toward me or the other way around, and I don't know how she put up with it. I didn't let him do it with me. Sure, it was cute and the look from other people was amusing - he looked like a live fur around her neck. Well, on this day, that method of riding came to an end because, as we drove out of that small city, over very winding roads, Samson lost it. Down my wife's neck. We were only ten minutes out of the city, right out in the country, when she screeched. I stopped the car. She stepped into the bushes and I got some stuff from the trunk so she could clean off as much as possible. At the next town we went into a restaurant where she did a thorough job of cleaning and changed clothes.

In time Samson might have grown too big to fit between Mama's neck and the headrest. We never found out though because, after that incident, he never got the chance again. We never gave him breakfast again either. The poor thing!

Samson at the Pub

In Dublin we had our favorite neighborhood pub and were well acquainted with a few others just in case the favorite burned down. Everyone in Ireland has a regular pub and a few backups. As in many other European countries, people generally joined friends at such places which required no large living rooms in their homes which few people had anyway, or the chore of having to prepare the house for guests and cleaning up a mess after company left.

Our pub was about eight blocks away and could hold perhaps 150 patrons in....I think about four main rooms. It was a really comfortable pub, particularly in winter, ecause it had a massive fireplace in each of the main rooms and we usually got there early enough to sit where we, or perhaps I should say, Samson, wanted.

There were tables and chairs, of course, but we favored the upholstered lounge benches. These benches had high backs,and on the wall, above the back, every ten feet or so, was a push-button, like a door bell button. A person summoned a waiter for another drink, or launch a poodle, by giving the button a push. It sounded just like the door bell at home.

The Irish, like the Spanish and Germans (and perhaps other nationalities) permitted well behaved animals in their pubs and, being the head honcho of our household, Samson always went to the pub with us. He had his favorite room and favorite spot in it, one which gave him a good view of the room and one end of the bar (actually, the serving area) and beyond into part of one of the other main rooms. He perched on the bench and kept an eye on all who entered. He had one particularly cute trait, that of crossing one front paw over the top of the other. It was apparently the most comfortable way for him to lay when he didn't lay on his side which he found too informal for a pub. I need hardly say that he attracted a lot of attention. He accepted this attention as being natural - after all who could resist a miniature silver poodle, with front paw crossed over the other, alertly watching the activity in his room? Because so many people asked to pet him, we got to meet folks whom we otherwise wouldn't have, which is one of the things we liked about pubs. But....when anyone pushed the button for another round, (and some did just to watch the little devil) Samson took off. Everyone laughed and watched him charge toward the bar but he immediately responded to my call to stop and come back. Certainly the gov'nor would have told us if this was any problem and he never did. I suspect the gov'nor would have given us a discount for the extra business Samson brought in had we asked.

Samson in Pretoria

In the early spring of 1979 our good friends were declared persona non grata in Israel and had to leave the country within a few days but they didn't mind terribly. Their new post was Pretoria, South Africa. They packed hastily and off they went with children, dog, and household effects. Their dog was a silver poodle, as was Samson. (The dogs were not related.) We were sorry to see them go but that's life in the Foreign Service. Several months later, I was informed of my transfer to Cape Town, via home leave in the States. We had once taken Samson home, (from Ireland) on home leave which, for us, meant traveling from Maine to D.C. and Wisconsin, with countless stops on the way. It isn't quite as much fun as it might seem. This time, the cost of shipping him to the States and later to South Africa would be prohibitive, so we asked our friends in Pretoria to make the necessary arrangements to board Samson in a kennel while we were on home leave. Naturally, we hoped they would offer to keep him at their house and that, if they did, their dog would not object. They did make the offer, so we sent him on a flight that traversed the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar and thence down the west coast of Africa to Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg. Quite a long flight for the little guy but he had already done two trans-Atlantic crossings, so we felt he'd be okay. Indeed, we got a telegram from our friend telling us that he had arrived and seemed to be getting on well with their dog and that we should not worry while on home leave.

Several months later, in October, after an overnight flight to London from New York and a 13-hour flight from London to Johannesburg, we wobbled into the terminal just a hair short of insanity. Our youngest daughter had an ear infection on the plane and screamed for nearly six hours during the flight. Somewhere around the Canary Islands, our body clocks had given up trying to figure out what time it was and, combined with the anxiety about Jenny's condition, we were ready to throttle anyone who got in our way. All we wanted was to see our friend and get to his house, where we were going to spend several days before continuing our journey to Cape Town, with Samson.

After clearing customs and being disappointed that our friend hadn't managed to find us, we searched the terminal for him. He wasn't to be found. We were beyond weariness. I found a phone and telephoned the Embassy. The operator put me through to our friend's office. I forget now whether he forgot the flight or just couldn't make it but he gave us the address and suggested we take a taxi to his house in Pretoria. We began the job of finding a taxi and fitting forty pieces of luggage and us into it.

The driver found Pretoria without difficulty but he hadn't a clue where our friend's neighborhood was. Eventually, after asking several pedestrians, we got onto the right street which led north and up a very long, gradual incline. We were bedazzled by the view of the Jacaranda trees in full blossom. As we got closer to the street number, we spotted, about a block ahead, something which appeared to be a sheep, sitting quietly alongside the busy street, outside the walls of a large house. We continued slowly and when we got near the animal, saw that this was our friend's street address and, by then, we realized that the animal sitting there was a dog. It seemed curious that this animal would just be sitting there, watching the traffic. When one of us got out of the car, all gradually became clear. After a few moments of hesitation, when it seemed to be examining us, it charged over and went wild with excitement. It was Samson, with a six-month growth of fur and several pounds of dirt!

I don't remember our reaction but my wife and me, and our two little girls, were awfully happy to see the little guy. We also wondered how he got out there. We had to walk around the corner to find the gate; took all our stuff through it to the house and told the missus that Samson had been outside. She was as astonished as we were. She said he had never gone outside the gate but that it was occasionally left open for short periods for one reason or another.

Samson never told us whether he went out there now and then to look for his family.

Farewell to Samson

Two young kids running around a house and a very mature dog can at times be exciting. Samson was senior to the two-legged ones, by nearly five years.

In our first year in South Africa, it became apparent that Samson was having trouble seeing well in anything but bright sunlight. The vet told us he was going blind. Needless to say, this hardly presents anything like the problem that is experienced with people loosing their sight, but it was a problem we considered serious and about which we pondered what to do. The children tended to leave small objects, like toys and bigger ones like chairs, where they weren't supposed to be. A normal annoyance for parents, but such objects were a serious hazard to Samson. He knew the house and could easily run down the long hallway to the front door, and usually out the door, to bark at whomever needed to be frightened out of their wits. But if an object that didn't belong in the hallway or on the front patio was there, he sometimes ran right into it. Imagine running into a solid wall or window. The little guy did it once or twice a week. We felt terrible about it, but the vet offered very little comfort. Our option was either to do nothing or have the vet perform an operation that would open a peep-hole in Samson's eyes, providing him very limited vision, which the vet described as having no peripheral vision at all. He suggested we should leave it be. All we needed to do was be sure we didn't leave objects where he might run into them.

The vet didn't know that we were going to be leaving South Africa in two years, so Samson couldn't possibly know the layout of the next house we would occupy. We didn't know what to do, so we put off the decision for the time being. I guess we hoped some other option would arise. He was such a beautiful little dog and in excellent health otherwise. We fed him properly. He got lots of exercise and hadn't gained an ounce since he was fully mature. We loved to nuzzle the pompon on his head (his overall cut was a "lamb cut", not the customary poodle clip) and admired his silver coat which, in his tenth year, was turning gray.

What to do? He was happy; we loved him; he went with us on trips all over, so we ignored his failing eyesight, which we expected to be completely gone in about six months./p>

Three or four months later my wife noticed, one evening when he lay next to her for some petting, that he had a tick on his nose, near one eye. It wasn't the first tick we'd found on him so, unlike the first time when we went berserk, we eased it off and forgot about it.

The following morning, long after I had gone to work, my wife noticed that he was acting strangely. She said he seemed to stagger, as he followed her around the house. She followed him out toward the street, where he often left his calling card, and watched as he struggled to lift his leg and noted that his urine was bright red. Alarmed, she called me and said that she had to go to the girls' school to take a car full of kids to a museum and asked that I come home and take him to the vet. I did. He struck me as being a bit sluggish but the vet felt his tummy and said he suspected some sort of bladder infection. He wanted to run a test and keep him over night. The vet would phone us in the morning with a report on the problem and what he'd done, etc. I returned to work.

My wife said as she was ready to head for the school that morning, she had difficulty getting him away from where he often lay - half in and out the front door, from which location he could keep track of events both inside the house and outside. This time, she said, he wouldn't move so she had to actually pull him in across the tile floor.

The following morning, again after I'd gone to work, she felt an urgent need to phone the vets office. She was told that Samson had died during the night. We were at first shocked and then felt awful because we weren't able to comfort him before he died.

She called me again with this news and, again, I drove home by way of the vet's office. Though it was contrary to the law, the vet let me take him, with the promise to bury him right away in our back yard. This was done in spite of tears that just wouldn't stop. Samson had been struck by a car in Dublin and also crashed through our glass front door there; he had been savaged by a big German police dog in Tel Aviv, and had gone into a dog's old age as a beautiful, still active, wonderful pet. He was struck down by a tick that had caused Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

In the weeks that followed, one or the other of us would suddenly burst out in tears for missing our little dog. I vowed that I didn't ever want another dog, it was too hard losing a dog.

We rejected advice to replace him with a new dog. Not only did we feel he would be too tough an act to follow, that it would be unfair to another dog.

This may seem silly to many people who believe that grieving for an animal is improper; that such feelings should be reserved for people. I certainly won't argue with grieving for loved ones or acquaintances but that dog loved us and showed it in many ways. He had more "personality" than a lot of people. He had his place in our family and left a void we all felt for a long time.

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