Airplane Chaser

Charles came home from work (journal notes from 1980) talking about an Irish setter who had wandered up to the back door of the animal hospital. “He’s not pretty right now. He’s missed meals for a month or two at least. But if we can’t find his owner, I’d like to bring him home,” he said.

Sam (William, 12, Julie, 11, and I all agreed he looked like a Sam) looked rugged and ragged. He was as thin as a noodle on a diet, his eyes were deepset and sad, his hair looked like a worn out doormat, and he had no spirit. But it wasn’t long before he began to come alive under Charles’ careful treatment. His eyes took on a look of intelligence and inquisitiveness. His feathers on backs of legs and along bottom of stomach fluffed out. And he began chasing bees, wasps, and airplanes, ears flopping, tail wagging.

Sam is the only dog we ever had who chased airplanes. He’d hear the drone of a small plane, his ears would quirk and then, in a flash, he’d take off running, his lanky body a red blur in the wind. He always stopped at the edge of the empty lot next door, looked up in great disappointment and confusion, then sniffed around a clump or two of grass before running back home. He was a chaser of all moving things, flying or on the ground. And he was a good walking companion.

With Sam along, running ahead, dipping back to check on me, loping into the woods and swimming the ponds, a three-mile walk was sheer entertainment. I always said he covered nine miles for my three! Several times he picked up a terrapin that just fit in his mouth and took it the whole three miles, depositing it right where he’d picked it up when we returned. Those turtles had a free tour of the countryside!

One summer when William, Julie and I were all helping with Vacation Bible School at our church we came home at noon to learn from a neighbor that Sam had collapsed in her driveway. Rushing over to take him to the animal hospital, we were all horrified at the way he was shaking and his eyes rolling back in his head. We wrapped him in an old rug and William held onto him while I drove to the clinic. Charles was out on a large animal emergency but Dr. Janet Clark, our new vet at the time, treated Sam tenderly. Turns out, he had a heat stroke. He did recover but he never was able to run again without a hampering little side-swing in his trot. Not that he let it slow him down much!

When Sam was about fifteen years old he developed hip dysplasia and other arthritic problems. Some days he could hardly move. It had been a while since he’d been able to jump up in Charles’ truck. Charles would tenderly give him a boost and take him to the animal hospital for a shot of Rimadyl (sp?) and other comforts. At that time I was volunteering almost every day at our church’s day care. Our children were both grown and away at college (William) and married (Julie). There were signs around the yard that Sam no longer very neatly deposited his poopies under bushes as he always had done before. He laid them wherever he happened to be. He had also acquired a terrible fear of storms and always dragged up on the porch when thunder rolled. His chasing of planes had wound down to only an occasional whimper when a plane roared over.

One day when I wasn’t home, the thunder rolled and sam tried to get in a shed behind our house. He got stuck between two boards, halfway in, and was so weak that he couldn’t respond when we called him. It was hours before we found him. I cuddled him and talked to him. He gave me only the slightest response, like a flick of one ear. Charles ran his hands through his red hair and gently patted his unresponsive back end. “Gotta let him go,” he said quietly.

I went to day care that morning knowing he’d be gone when I got home. It was a rough day. Every time someone asked me if I was all right, I burst into tears! There was a fresh mound of dirt out by the pasture fence when I got home.

And that was our Sam, the Airplane Chaser.

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