"My name is Sam"
by Chris Benton
After I was discharged from the Navy, Jim and I moved back to Detroit to use our GI bill benefits to get some schooling. Jim was going for a degree in Electronics, and I, after much debating, decided to get mine in Computer Science.
One of the classes that was a requirement was Speech. Like many people I had no fondness for getting up in front of people for any reason, let alone to be the center of attention as I stuttered my way through some unfamiliar subject. But I couldn't get out of the requirement and so I found myself in my last semester before graduation with Speech as one of my classes.
On the first day of class our professor explained to us that he was going to leave the subject matter of our talks up to us, but he was going to provide the motivation of the speech. We would be responsible for six speeches, each with a different motivation. For instance our first speech's purpose was to inform. He advised us to pick subjects that we were interested in and knowledgeable about
I decided to center my six speeches around animals, especially dogs. For my first speech to inform I talked about the equestrian art of dressage. For my speech to demonstrate I brought my German Shepherd, Bodger, to class and demonstrated obedience commands. Finally the semester was almost over and I had but one more speech to give. This speech was to take the place of a written final exam and was to count for fifty per cent of our grade.
The speech's motivation was to persuade. After agonizing over a subject matter, and keeping with my animal theme, I decided on the topic of spaying and neutering pets. My goal was to try to persuade my classmates to neuter their pets. So I started researching the topic. There was plenty of material, articles that told of the millions of dogs and cats that were euthanized every year, of supposedly beloved pets that were turned in to various animal control facilities for the lamest of reason, or worse, dropped off far from home, bewildered and scared. Death was usually a blessing. The final speech was looming closer but I felt well prepared. My notes were full of facts and statistics that I felt sure would motivate even the most naive of pet owner to succumb to my plea.
A couple of days before our speeches were due, I had the bright idea of going to the local branch of the Humane Society and borrowing a puppy to use as a sort of a visual aid. I called the Humane Society and explained what I wanted. They were very happy to accommodate me.
The day before my speech, I went to pick up the puppy. I was feeling very confident. I could quote all the statistics and numbers without ever looking at my notes. The puppy, I felt, would add the final emotional touch.
When I arrived at the Humane Society I was met by a young guy named Ron. He explained that he was the public relations person for the Humane Society. He was very excited about my speech and asked if I would like a tour of the facilities before I picked up the puppy. I enthusiastically agreed. We started out in the reception area, which was the general public's initial encounter with the Humane Society. The lobby was full, mostly with people dropping off various animals that they no longer wanted. Ron explained to me that this branch of the Humane society took in about fifty animal a day and adopted out twenty.
As we stood there I heard snatches of conversation. "I can't keep him, he digs holes in my garden."
"They're such cute puppies, I know you will have no trouble finding homes for them."
"She is wild , I can't control her."
I heard one of Humane Society's volunteer explain to the lady with the litter of puppies that the Society was filled with puppies and that these puppies, being black, would immediately be put to sleep. Black puppies, she explained, had little chance of being adopted. The woman who brought the puppies in just shrugged, "I can't help it," she whined. "They are getting too big. I don't have room for them."
We left the reception area, Ron lead me into the staging area where all the incoming animals were evaluated for adoptability. Over half never even made it to the adoption center. There were just too many. Not only were people bringing in their own animals, but strays were also dropped off. By law the Humane Society had to hold a stray for three days. If the animal was not claimed by then it was euthanized since there was no background information on the animal. There were already too many animals that had a known history eagerly provided by their soon to be former owners. As we went through the different areas I felt more and more depressed. No amount of statistics could take the place of seeing the reality of what this throw-away attitude did to the living breathing animal. It was overwhelming.
Finally Ron stopped in front of a closed door. "That's it," he said, "except for this."
I read the sign on the door. "Euthanization Area."
"Do you want to see one?" he asked.
Before I could decline, he interjected, "You really should, you can't tell the whole story unless you experience the end."
I reluctantly agreed.
"Good," he said. " I already cleared it. Peggy is expecting you." He knocked firmly on the door. It was opened immediately by a middle aged woman in a white lab coat. "Here's the girl I was telling you about," Ron explained. Peggy looked me over. "Well, I'll leave you here with Peggy and meet you in the reception area in about fifteen minutes. I'll have the puppy ready." With that Ron departed, leaving me standing in front of the stern looking Peggy.
Peggy motioned me in. As I walked into the room, I gave an audible gasp. The room was small and spartan. There were a couple of cages along the wall and a cabinet with syringes and vials of a clear liquid. In the middle of the room was an examining table with a rubber mat on top. There were two doors other then the one I had entered. Both were closed. One said, "Incinerator." The other door had no sign, but I could hear animal noises coming from it.
In the back of the room, near the door that was marked Incinerator, were the objects that caused my distress. Two wheelbarrows, filled with the bodies of dead kittens and puppies. I stared in horror. Nothing had prepared me for this. I felt my legs grow weak and my breathing become rapid and shallow. I wanted to run from that room, screaming. Peggy seemed not to notice my state of shock. She started talking about the euthanization process, but I wasn't hearing her. I could not tear my gaze away from the wheelbarrows and those dozens of pathetic little bodies.
Finally, Peggy seemed to noticed that I was not paying attention to her. "Are you listening?" she asked irritably. "I'm only going to go through this once."
I tore my gaze from the back of the room and looked at her. I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing would come out, so I nodded.
She told me that behind the unmarked door were the animals that were scheduled for euthanasia that day. She picked up the a chart that was hanging from the wall. "One fifty three is next." she said as she looked at the chart. "I'll go get him."
She laid down the chart on the examining table and started for the unmarked door. Before she got to the door she stopped and turned around. "You aren't going to get hysterical are you?" she asked. " Because that will only upset the animals."
I shook my head. I had not said a word since I walked into that room. I still felt unsure if I would be able to without breaking down into tears.
As Peggy open the unmarked door I peered into the room beyond. It was a small room but the walls were lined and stacked with cages. It looked like they were all occupied. Peggy opened the door of one of the lower cages and removed the occupant. From what I could see it looked like a medium size dog. She attached a leash and ushered the dog into the room in which I stood.
As Peggy brought the dog into the room I could see that the dog was no more than a puppy maybe five or six months old. The pup looked to be a cross between a Lab and a German shepherd. He was mostly black, with a small amount of tan above his eyes and on his feet. He was very excited and bouncing up and down, trying to sniff everything in this new environment. Peggy lifted the pup onto the table. She had a card in her hand that she laid on the table next to me. I read the card.
It said that number one fifty three was a mixed Shepherd, 6 months old. He was surrendered two days ago by a family. Reason of surrender was given as, "Jumps on children." At the bottom was a note that said, "Name: Sam."
Peggy was quick and efficient from lots of practice. She laid one fifty three down on his side and tied a rubber tourniquet around his front leg. She turned to fill the syringe from the vial of clear liquid.
All this time I was standing at the head of the table. I could see the moment that one fifty three went from a curious puppy to a terrified puppy. He did not like being held down and he started to struggle.
It was then that I finally found my voice. I bent over the struggling puppy and whispered "Sam. Your name is Sam."
At the sound of his name Sam quit struggling. He wagged his tail tentatively and his soft pink tongue darted out and licked my hand And that is how he spent his last moment. I watched his eyes fade from hopefulness to nothingness. It was over very quickly.
I had never even seen Peggy give the lethal shot.
The tears could not be contained any longer. I kept my head down so as not to embarrass myself in front of the stoic Peggy. My tears fell onto the still body on the table.
"Now you know," Peggy said softly. Then she turned away.
"Ron will be waiting for you."
I left the room. Although it seem like it had been hours, only fifteen minutes had gone by since Ron had left me at the door.
I made my way back to the reception area. True to his word, Ron had the puppy all ready to go. After giving me some instructions about what to feed the puppy, he handed the carrying cage over to me and wished me good luck on my speech.
That night I went home and spent many hours playing with the orphan puppy. I went to bed that night but I could not sleep.
After a while I got up and looked at my speech notes with their numbers and statistics. Without a second thought I tore them up and threw them away. I went back to bed. Sometime during the night I finally fell asleep.
The next morning I arrived at my Speech class with Puppy Doe. When my turn came to give my speech. I walked up to the front the class with the puppy in my arms and took a deep breath. I told the class about the life and death of Sam.
When I finished my speech I became aware that I was crying. I apologized to the class and took my seat. After class the teacher handed out a critique with our grades. I had got an "A". His comments said "Very moving and persuasive."
Two days later, on the last day of class, one of my classmates came up to me. She was a older lady that I had never spoken to in class. She stopped me on our way out of the class room. "I want you to know that I adopted the puppy you brought to class." She said. "His name is Sam."
"How could you?"
by Jim Willis
When I was a puppy I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You called me your child and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was "bad," you'd shake your finger at me and ask "How could you?" - but then you'd relent and roll me over for a bellyrub.
My housetraining took a little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we worked on that together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed, listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life could not be any more perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because "ice cream is bad for dogs," you said), and I took long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day.
Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more time searching for a human mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with glee at your homecomings, and when you fell in love.
She, now your wife, is not a "dog person" - still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show her affection, and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy. Then the human babies came along and I shared your excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them, too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh, how I wanted to love them, but I became a "prisoner of love."
As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch - because your touch was now so infrequent - and I would have defended them with my life if need be.
I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams. Together we waited for the sound of your car in the driveway. There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me. These past few years, you just answered "yes" and changed the subject. I had gone from being "your dog" to "just a dog," and you resented every expenditure on my behalf.
Now you have a new career opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment that does not allow pets. You've made the right decision for your "family," but there was a time when I was your only family.
I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork and said "I know you will find a good home for her." They shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a middle-aged dog or cat, even one with "papers." You had to pry your son's fingers loose from my collar as he screamed "No, Daddy! Please don't let them take my dog!" And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and responsibility, and about respect for all life. You gave me a goodbye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and leash with you. You had a deadline to meet and now I have one, too.
After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago and made no attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and asked "How could you?"
They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago. At first, whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was you - that you had changed your mind - that this was all a bad dream...or I hoped it would at least be someone who cared, anyone who might save me. When I realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner and waited.
I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day and I padded along the aisle after her to a separate room. A blissfully quiet room. She placed me on the table, rubbed my ears and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love had run out of days. As is my nature, I was more concerned about her. The burden which she bears weighs heavily on her and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood.
She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and murmured "How could you?"
Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak, she said "I'm so sorry." She hugged me and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I went to a better place, where I wouldn't be ignored or abused or abandoned, or have to fend for myself - a place of love and light so very different from this earthly place. With my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my "How could you?" was not meant for her. It was you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of. I will think of you and wait for you forever.
May everyone in your life continue to show you so much loyalty.