The dog named Sam (my family’s default name) was born on November 20, 2003, in Front Royal, Virginia,
in the Labrador Retriever breeding program of the Canine Enforcement Training Program Center of the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security. She was one of the puppies of the “Q” litter, and she was named Q Ball.
It’s the practice of the program that at about 12 weeks of age the puppies live in foster homes until
they’re about a year old, but as far as we know Sam stayed in the program’s kennels.
Sam was determined to be unsuitable for a drug sniffing job after she flunked the baggage test at
Dulles Airport, and she was released to a family in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The family had three young
children, ages 6 months to 5 years, no fenced yard and a busy mom. Julie, the mom, was overwhelmed with
the responsibilities of young children plus a young dog, and she convinced her family that their Q Ball
would be happier with another family. In July, 2005, Julie put a message on the Chevy Chase neighborhood
chat room website, offering to give an active female yellow lab to the right family.
A friend of mine who lives in the northwest area of Washington, DC, noticed Julie’s message and
forwarded it to me, wondering if I, or one of my kids, might be interested. It just happened that my
daughter, Martha, and her family were on vacation at the lake in Leelanau County, and they were interested
in learning more. I connected Martha with Julie who assured her that Q Ball was wonderful with her children
and that the problem was that Julie just couldn’t cope with her family responsibilities plus the dog. It also
just happened that Julie and her family were driving out to Michigan the next day to vacation at their
families’ place on Lake Michigan near Ludington. It seemed as if Q Ball was supposed to join Martha’s family.
The exchange took place and Q Ball, quickly renamed Sam, joined the families and dogs and fun at the lake,
and then went home with Martha to Massachusetts.
Martha’s children quickly became very attached to Sam who was affectionate, patient with all of their loving
and always eager to play fetch in the backyard or with a Chuck-It in an open field. One of their favorite
memories is a trip the family took to the rocky shore in Maine one spring. Sam was able to run freely on
long hikes and jumped off rocks into the frigid water without hesitation. The children remember watching
her spend over an hour trying to pull a sunken log out of the water.
In Massachusetts, Sam developed some unpredictable aggressive behavior toward other dogs, and it
became more pronounced and difficult for Martha to manage. In April, 2006, I drove out, picked up Sam and
brought her back to Michigan, promising Martha I’d ask Pam Johnson to “recondition” her. If Sam was found
to be incorrigible, I’d have her put down; if her behavior could be changed, I’d find another home for her,
or keep her. Pam worked with Sam for six or seven weeks, by the end of which Sam had dealt peaceably (more or less)
with 47 different dogs, and she had established a fond relationship with Lila. So I kept Sam, and the three of
us lived together for 4 ½ years.
Pam had jokingly but accurately labeled Sam her “special needs” dog. Sam had a tendency to be anxious, and I always
kept her leashed in areas where we might come upon other dogs. Sam taught Lila to fetch, an activity that Lila had shown
no interest in before Sam. The two of them would dash after a ball and there was never a squabble over who got there first
or who should pick it up. Sam’s love of being in water encouraged Lila who had only been moderately interested before.
However, Sam’s water activities eventually focused on unsuccessful and wacky efforts to dig holes in it.
On November 9, 2010, Dr. Peck removed Sam’s spleen, and a pathology report identified the problem as hemangiosarcoma,
an incurable form of cancer. Sam’s life expectancy was 2-3 months. As it turned out, the cancer caused internal bleeding
and seven weeks later we put Sam down on December 29, 2010. She was surrounded by the many people who cared for her and
cared about her, and who were committed to her: Pam Johnson, Eric Peck, Julie Januchowski, Sharon Davies and me.
Sam was fired from her first three jobs: as a drug sniffer with Homeland Security, and as a family dog first with
Julie and then with Martha and their families. She had various allergies that had to be accommodated. Her front legs
developed enlarged and weak wrist joints and as time went on her legs became more and more bent, making it painful for
her to walk or run for any distance. And finally, the hemangiosarcoma that brought about her death. In spite of the fact
that Sam was dealt some difficult cards, she had a good life and I’m grateful to those who supported her, and me, along the way.
January 14, 2011