She would always have been a tough act to follow, the golden retriever I lost to epilepsy after 10 years.
But tossing that German shepherd into the mix, that was nerve-wracking for me, a person who’s only known the cheerful, slightly loopy personality of goldens. If I had imagined the dog was a basket case, all I had to do was look in the mirror: She was wearing me out.
I had offered 10 days ago to foster a so-called golden-shepherd mix, but frankly I never saw an ounce of golden in her. Don’t get me wrong, she is a good dog, “the best dog, the sweetest dog I’ve ever seen,” said the woman who handed her over after the 20-hour transport from somewhere down South all the way to Kittery.
I made this temporary-bonding decision because I did not feel I was quite ready to get another dog but was desperate for canine company.
I actually had gone to see several litters of goldens — the most breathtaking right down the road in the North Yarmouth/Cumberland area at Goldiva Goldens. The kennel for the puppies was more spacious than my own digs in the woods, and the dogs had won so many competitions, there wasn’t room enough on the walls for all the ribbons.
I wanted to take one home with me but I had the accidental misfortune of falling in love with the only puppy not being sold, the last in a champion line, the breeder told me. She wasn’t going anywhere, so I moved on — through several weeks of the most disheartening search for a dog I have ever experienced. I saw champion lines I could only have afforded if I were to forego a down payment on a house; I met shifty puppy mill “breeders” with fancy websites who turned out to be pumping puppies out of Pennsylvania, carting them to New Hampshire in cat-sized crates; I saw backyard litters that all seemed to be missing key pieces of information about the puppies’ lineage or medical care; I even pored over petfinder.com night after night for a rescue dog until I fell asleep.
I couldn’t settle on a dog among all those rescues, at least not one that was available in New England. So when one of the rescue services called with an emergency placement, I agreed to foster the 78-pound “golden-shepherd mix” named Sam, if, I said, she was mostly golden retriever. I did not want a shepherd, I told them, because I had been bitten by one as a child and was afraid of them.
No, they assured me, she was mostly golden.
She arrived eight days ago, weighing 51 pounds, a shadow of her former self, every bit of her little body screaming “German shepherd.” But she had ridden all the way from Memphis, what could I do?
I was so stunned by her appearance, I thought it was possible I had been sent the wrong dog. But it wasn’t that. She had lost 17 pounds in the two weeks she had stayed with her last “caretakers.”
She is now 61 pounds, and looking healthy, the vet told me this week, one happy result of home cooking: chicken and rice, steak and bow-tie pasta, hamburger and brown rice.
She is so smart, I find it a little daunting. She figured out the household schedule in one day, determined it was OK to sleep on a rug in my bedroom the second night (leaving behind the hidey hole she first had established in the recesses of the attic), learned how to leap into the back seat of the car on command and had her first experience, I feel sure, of being held on a human being’s lap and enjoying a belly rub before dozing off into a deep snore.
She’s been to a doggy daycare and the human library, winning accolades everywhere. “I wish I could have her,” said a woman named Linda, who twice crossed paths with us at the Gray Public Library.
“I wish we could keep her,” said the attendants at the daycare center.
But no one had room for a perfectly behaved, quiet, laid back victim of PTSD, whose lingering injury is that she cannot bear to be left alone. Any company — human, dog, cat — will do, or simply being outside with nature to calm her; but she wants someone who will not abandon her, even for a few hours. Serious separation anxiety — not uncommon, I am told, in these loyal, intelligent German shepherds.
Sadly, I cannot be with my dog 24/7 or provide a fenced-in yard, so on Tuesday, the lovely Samantha will be driven back to Connecticut to be put in another cage until someone picks her out of the hundreds of thousands of dogs on petfinder.com, perhaps to adopt her.
I cannot remember when I last felt this despondent over someone’s fate. And now, already grieving my own dog, I am mourning doubly, this time that I have played any part in Sam’s history of abandonment, despite my good intentions.
I have stumbled around in a state of animal sorrow all week, while Sam tried to teach me what she needed.
One night, she wouldn’t let me leave the car without her, even to return a library book. The next night, she wouldn’t get out at all.
I couldn’t grasp it at first. This was a dog that didn’t want to be closed up anywhere. What was she doing, clinging to the car?
And then it hit me. She had deduced that it was that loud, moving box that took me away from her. Therefore, she was coming along.
I sat down in the back seat of the SUV, stroked her blown coat and told her I understood.
“You are so smart, Sam,” I said. “But it’s OK. I’m here for the night.”
I moved her with promises of dinner, herded her indoors and got her settled and asleep.
How many more times am I going to break my heart over a dog? I thought, watching “my dog” rest by my chair. “At least once more, I guess,” I ached. “Come Tuesday; come Connecticut.”
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: