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Saying Goodbye to Sam

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Posted 03-22-2013 at 10:44 AM by Jeff Westover
Updated 03-22-2013 at 10:47 AM by Jeff Westover

For the past two weeks we have endured health difficulties for the first time with our dog Sam.

Sam is 11 years old and came into our family after months of pleading by my then ten year old daughter, Abby. She once wrote about the Christmas Sam came into our lives that I added her reflections here on MMC.

Abby will be 21 this year. And she and Sam are still close. In fact, Sam has remained a critical part of all our lives for these many years, a steady and loving influence.

When we moved to the country this past summer Sam took to it like a fish to water. He is a short haired border collie and he is as active as advertised. In fact, when we took him in to the country vet's office the good doctor was surprised at Sam's vitality, strength and youthful demeanor.

So when Sam took ill a couple of weeks ago we grew immediately concerned. His symptoms began shortly after he got hold of some deer antlers out in the pasture that still had some meat on them.

I wondered what had happened to that deer. All winter long we have been treated to many deer visitors. Living in the country we were told by neighbors who have been here for years that our property has long been a gathering point for deer during the winter. Our house was originally designed and built by a man who taught at a local agricultural college and he designed the yard with all manner of plants, trees and shrubs that were compatible with local wildlife.

Since the first snowfall we have watched the deer out in the yard at various times of the day and night. Many times I have backed my car out of the garage and started down my long driveway slowly to "part the sea" of deer and elk in my front yard, frequently seeing 15 to 20 or more at a time.

Sam is a hunter and he has had no hesitation in chasing the deer when he had the opportunity. Mostly he chases birds but I've often wondered what he would do if he ever caught a deer. He never did, though.

But he did seize upon these deer antlers during one of the first really nice days of spring that we've had. The girls were outside with him and saw him find the antlers. They attempted to take them from him but he growled at them and then grabbed the antlers into his teeth and took off. I wasn't there and Sandy was told about only later. Later that night the antlers were found out in the yard and immediately we wondered how long they had been out there over the winter and whether or not Sam would suffer any ill affects from them.

We were assured by many that they were probably harmless. But when he started throwing up the next day Sandy called the vet and he took assured her that Sam was only being a dog and likely wouldn't be affected by them long term.

Two days later she took Sam in for an evaluation. The vet gave him an antibiotic and gave Sandy some follow-up antibiotics she was supposed to give him over the weekend.

Poor Sam had it all going on last week. He was peeing and pooping with such regularity that we were certain the deer was bacteria filled and had made him sick. We explored everything from pancreatitis to a bowel obstruction.

Through out it all Sam was grateful for all the love and attention he was receiving. Sam was never trained and as such has always been very independent. Border collies are smart and believe me when I tell you that he owned us more than we owned him. I've said for years that he was a pampered, spoiled baby because he knew exactly how to worm him way into the heart of all my girls and my wife to give him everything he wanted.

About five days ago Sam stopped eating and the concerns really grew. I had several of my girls in tears because they could feel that Sam was dying.

Another trip to the vet seemed to reassure that we were doing all we could and that Sam would eventually recover.

He continued to lose weight and became listless. For the past several days he has been hesitant to move, even though every time we would talk to him or try to give him his meds he always worked that tail, which thumps on the hardwood floor like a big bass drum.

Sam was registered and certified when I got him from the shelter but because he is a short haired border collie many people suspect he is not pure bred. That never mattered to us, frankly, because we just wanted a dog that was good for the kids.

And he has been. From the very first day Sam was a sponge for affection and playful in the extreme. Our backyard at the old house was not huge but it was big enough for Sam and he owned that space. Any bird, any cat, even any mouse who dared enter that space was taken on by Sam.

He was never much of a guard dog. If someone wanted to break in they could, with Sam's easy approval. He loved people and while he would bark at strangers he would never bite or get aggressive.

Nevertheless, with all my business travel, I took great comfort in knowing that Sam was there because he was territorial and he was very protective of the family.

People used to joke that I bought a border collie because we needed a dog that could herd all of our kids. That's more true than funny.

When the kids were little the subjected poor Sam to everything from pulling the wagon to wearing bonnets. He always put up with it in good humor.

He's been loyal, he's been devoted, he's been concerned as a member of the family for all the time we've had him. I can recall how sensitive he was to Sandy when she was near delivery with our last child, Emma. Sandy is the alpha in our house and she could get him to do anything.

Watching their relationship has been a delight, especially because Sandy didn't really want Sam in the first place. You have to remember that when Sam came into our lives we had five kids under the age of 10 and a teenager. Sandy didn't need one more kids and a border collie puppy is no low maintenance creature.

Border collies demand a lot. They need to be played with. They need to run and work. They need to be needed. Sam could never get enough attention or could contain his emotions when people tried to love him.

That was part of his problem. Whenever I would get home from work one of my favorite things to do was to just go say hi to Sam. I'd open the patio door and call his name and he would come running like his tail was on fire. I would usually get to pet him for about two seconds before his body would take over. He would first jump up on me and I'd have to put him back down and literally hold him down in order to pet him. If he ended up on all four feet his back end -- not just his tail -- would wag so much he was literally a danger to be around. I recall Madelyn, who was two or three and just a petite little thing, getting whacked by Sam's tail as I would pet him and it would floor her every time. She would fall and cry and Sam would turn around and lick all over her face, further creating issues for Madelyn, trying to get her to get back up as he said he was sorry. Controlling his enthusiasm for love was always Sam's challenge -- and, we learned, one of his greatest strengths.

The past couple of days have been especially difficult. Sam has been watched around the clock, both Maggie and Abby staying up with him to take him out every couple of hours or to coax him into drinking some water. He's exhausted.

Sandy has been on the phone with the vet several times as we have tried this and that to heal him. Sam would eat a little and drink a little, giving us some hope that he was coming around. But his bowel movements two days ago started to show blood and we could sense then that more was going on than we all thought.

After another long night the vet called early yesterday saying he wanted to see Sam, after getting a report of all that we had been through. So late yesterday Sandy took him and the vet gave Sam an examination he didn't like at all (rectal exam). The vet was very concerned but said he really couldn't advise anything else for Sam until his blood work came back today.

This morning around 7am the good doctor called again and informed me that Sam's kidneys have completely shut down and that he will not recover.

And now we face the prospects of telling the kids. Sandy is taking it very hard. And I lost it altogether when I had to call my daughter Aubree down in Salt Lake to see if she could get here some time today.

We haven't told the kids yet. We will wait until after school to let them know today.

Sam is not suffering. In fact, as I write this he is sleeping - snoring loudly, in fact. It gives me comfort only because he hasn't slept in days, at least not for very long. A little while ago I got him to take some water and Sandy fed him a little chicken. We know he won't keep it down, he hasn't kept anything down for more than a week.

I know he knows. And I know he's grateful.

Love, whether from a person, or a dog, is almost impossible to explain. The ache, the hurt, the tears we are all experiencing right now are a byproduct of love.

I don't know if it will be later today or tomorrow that we put Sam down. I've had to do this before and it is a wrenching experience every time. But I cannot and will not allow him to suffer. He is unhappy and that just isn't our Sam. And hard as it is it is less painful to let him go than to go through what the vet says we will endure if we don't do this soon.

I haven't yet been able to reach my son, who is going to be devastated by this news. Sam was his only brother and he's called him that for all of Sam's life. Out of all of my children it was my son who understood Sam's need for physical fulfillment and he ran him and played with him hard, both developing bodies of strength together. Their bond is every bit what it should be between a boy and his dog.

I haven't been able to share any of my feelings with anyone other than my wife. My kids won't know until after school today. I thought it would be safe to post this here only because you are my family too and if ever there is a place where I could pour out my heart besides within my own home it is right here.

We are people of faith and like other loved ones in our lives we know that Sam and other beloved pets have a place in the hereafter.

Like others I have met and known in my life I will testify of Sam's goodness, his gentle nature and his big heart. I have missed his youthful spunk these past few weeks and have hurt to watch him in misery. I know when the moment comes for us to relieve him of his body that his spirit will rejoice, because that's what is in his heart.

But, oh, how we have loved him. He's been the Christmas present we've all remembered and have joyously received over and over these many year.

Farewell, my faithful friend.
Total Comments 8


  1. Old Comment
    MerryCarey's Avatar
    God be with you through this, and God bless Sam.
    Posted 03-22-2013 at 11:16 AM by MerryCarey MerryCarey is offline
  2. Old Comment
    JayIsh's Avatar
    My heart aches for you, and for Sam. I know the pain of losing a faithful pal and it is every bit as hard and as real as the loss of a loved in, it is the loss of a loved one. My comfort was found in the knowledge that the life we offered our pal was one where happiness, affection and care were the norm and that when he or she got to kitty or doggy heaven, they'd tell a story of us as loving friends rather than masters. I believe Sam will tell the same type of story. My love and thoughts are with all the Westovers, and with Sam.
    Posted 03-22-2013 at 11:17 AM by JayIsh JayIsh is offline
  3. Old Comment
    What can I say Jeff ?? I am weeping right now. I know how you are hurting. My Wishbone too has kidney disease and though we give him fluids subcutaneously every day, eventually I know that is not going to work. I am so, so sorry. I wish I could make it okay for you and dear Sam....xo
    Posted 03-22-2013 at 11:40 AM by caninemom3 caninemom3 is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Bradmac's Avatar
    My heart is breaking for you and your family, Jeff. Losing a beloved pet is like losing a member of your family, your Sam and my Ben 2 years ago.

    He knows he'll see you again someday. Bless his heart.
    Posted 03-22-2013 at 01:00 PM by Bradmac Bradmac is offline
  5. Old Comment
    RachRon's Avatar
    My thoughts are with you guys , I read this with my dog laying at my feet . Having gone through this myself I understand how devestating it can be.they are family no doubt about it . Take comfort in all the great times you had with him .
    Posted 03-22-2013 at 01:10 PM by RachRon RachRon is offline
  6. Old Comment
    Meceka's Avatar
    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, Jeff, and with your dear Sam.
    Posted 03-22-2013 at 01:32 PM by Meceka Meceka is offline
  7. Old Comment
    made582's Avatar
    Praying for all of you.
    Posted 03-22-2013 at 01:57 PM by made582 made582 is offline
  8. Old Comment
    Maureen's Avatar
    {{hugs}} Just remember how great a life he had with you guys and how great a life you had with him
    Posted 03-22-2013 at 04:15 PM by Maureen Maureen is offline
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