(Originally published in the “Opinion” section of the Vacaville Reporter, October 26, 1997)
Our family talked about getting a dog for a while. Being military and having allergies in the family kept us from making the commitment.
Our girls were now eight and nine, and we had promised to look for a suitable pet once we moved to Travis Air Force Base. We hoped to find a poodle; as part of that search we visited the county animal shelter several times.
The shelter is large, housing dozens of animals. I read the small white cards on each cage as we passed. Some would simply say “stray”; others would indicate the dog had a tag, but the owner had failed to come for their pet.
“Scared” and “friendly” were adjectives most used to describe their temperament. Most were indeed friendly. They looked up expectantly as we passed, tails wagging wildly – beautiful dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds (or non-breeds).
Puppies were in cages across from mature dogs many times their size; a few dogs failed to even lift their heads at our approach, as if they already knew what fate had in store and did not want to pretend otherwise. Everywhere we would look into gentle, pleading eyes. They represented so many stories, all sad, either never having the love and attention they deserved or having been separated from it.
Cages were clean, but spartan – chain link enclosures with cement floors. For a number of reasons, the dogs were handled as little as possible. They were tended to until either adopted (not likely) or euthanized.
At first I thought the people who worked at the shelter didn’t care. There was a remote quality to their manner. That was before I saw a posted list enumerating the reasons by which an animal handler might find purpose in their unpleasant task. This was just self-preservation.
The problem of animal overpopulation of abandonment is not of their making, but we rely on them to “handle” it. Every day these individuals face owners who bring animals to the shelter as if their pets were used clothing – serviceable but outdated. “Recycle or throw them away, as long as I’m not responsible,” seems to be the message.
After we made several visits with no success, one of the handlers told me they had a poodle, one 2 to 3 years old. “She’s in C section, somewhere along the right hand wall.” I found her. She was a total mess; impossibly matted hair the color of dirty dishwater, skinny and flea infested.
Her card identified her as a stray, poodle mix, and available for adoption that day. I asked to see her. The handler led her outside through the corridor lined by wildly barking dogs. It didn’t seem possible, but she actually looked worse in the light. Strange fur formations hung from her skinny thighs; fleas and ticks painfully apparent. Her ears looked like a crowded beach in summer. She was shaking uncontrollably. I wish I could say it was love at first sight, but my first impulse was to pass. Who could tell where she’d been, how she would fit into our tight-knit family of four?
I wasn’t sure we were ready to take on such an overwhelming project. I decided to bring my two girls back to see her after school. I should have known then and there we would be taking her home.
The second time we saw our poodle, she was calmer, sniffing politely. The word “cute” came to my mind. The girls loved her without reservation, fleas and all. I looked into her lopsided eyes – one was glamorously rimmed in black, the other devoid of any enhancement.
It was all over. We filled out the paperwork, lacking even a leash and left with our new family member.
It’s been less than a week, and I don’t know where to begin telling you about “Sammy” (short for Samantha.) How about her claiming our family room futon as her throne, or the way she curls up next to you and promptly falls asleep? She’s fearless, confronting larger dogs with a show of her half-inch teeth, and she loves to walk, walk, and then walk some more. She tolerates grooming, veterinarian visits, and pill-taking with aplomb – no doubt long lost canine royalty.
Sammy is now a very passable snowy white, her very short coat promising poodle glamour in a few weeks. Her eyes are still lopsided, but we like her that way. Best of all, she gives freely of her affection, despite the neglect she’s suffered. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
How many “Sammys” are there in shelters everywhere?
Sammy at 14, 12 years later
p.s. We had our dear Sammy for over 12 years; she lived a long and healthy life and traveled the world with us. We miss her greatly.