Sam Stewart RIP 2007-2014
Sam was born in Picture Butte, Alberta 7 years and one month ago today. He was the grand-nephew of our previous Bernese Mountain Dog (Zeke) and we flew and drove out there to pick him up. He was the last of the litter to leave home, and he was kind of nervous to meet us. The fact that Hank (the breeder) had washed and blow-dried him to floofiness probably didn’t help, but in the picture below, that ain’t water on the deck! But you can see him looking up at me bravely, ready to make a new life.
On the drive back to Calgary Airport we stopped in Vulcan, AB, where he had his first ever leash walk. Must have been scary for him, but he was brave again and did really well. I love this photo: Berners are very fuzzy from some angles, and we always thought this picture made it look like Barbara was walking a BEAR!
Perhaps it was the early hair-dryer trauma, but he was often nervous at the dog groomers. They always sent back a report card: sometimes he was “a perfect angel” but most visits he was a “brave little bear.” We knew what that meant – he was doing his best, was nice to everyone, but you could tell it was maybe a little tough for him.
He always came back pretty good looking: Barbara always called him the “Brad Pitt of dogs.” And not the scruffy more recent Brad: she was thinking the Thelma and Louise version!
But being handsome is just genetics, and no one can take too much credit for that. But his inner self was his own making. I’ve known and owned many dogs, and they each have a core character. Some are puppies for ever, other are old and mature animals from early on. Sam was like a 3-7 year old kid: they know what the rules are, and they know about being good and bad. And they choose good – helping Dad chop green beans, smiling when going into surgery, playing with the other kids.
That was Sam: he always wanted to help, he wanted to be around the family, he was never cynical, and he lived each day in order to be a “good dog” and make his Mum and Dad (mainly Mum!) happy.
The lymphoma was only diagnosed three months ago. We tried chemo, and while the side effects were minimal, it didn’t make the tumours go away as it does in 75% of dogs. We tried another kind of chemo, and it didn’t help either: by yesterday afternoon he was having trouble breathing, walking, getting up, and had stopped eating. We talked to the vet, and gave all the people who mattered to him a chance to pay a last visit. My kids, the Neray dog-walkers, Uncle Jim.
But a funny thing happened after dinner last night. A very sick and dying dog came to life for 20 minutes of play. In our back yard, where the photo up top was taken, he chased his orange ball like a pup, barked up a storm and squeaked the ball madly, all with massive tail wags. An hour later he was having trouble breathing again, but I think those 20 minutes were HIS last gift to us. He knew we were sad for some reason, so he pulled up his white Berner socks, and had the courage and willpower to make us happy for a very little while.
This morning, just before noon, Sam had the catheter put in. We said goodbye, and held him with me patting his back. As the plunger was halfway down, his head dropped to his paws for the last time. After the vet listened and told us his heart had stopped, Barbara and our dog-walker (also Barbara) couldn’t stay in the room and left with the vet.
I leaned across him, nuzzled into his fur, and told him: “you really were a brave little bear.”