Please, please can we get another dog, my daughters pleaded. And look how cute these ones are! Look how wrinkly and adorable!
So we caved. Sam the Shar-pei joined our family nine years ago, a ball of wrinkly, jowly fluff.
We called him Samwise Gamgee, of Lord of the Rings fame, but over the years he answered to many names: Sam, Sam-Bob (because his head bobbed when he ran full tilt), Bob and Charlie-Bear. Once a vet misread his name on the file and called him ‘Saw-wise’. So sometimes we called him that, too.
I did no research on this breed. I fell for the wrinkles and triangle-shaped eyes, plain and simple. I had no idea that these dogs were the working breed of Chinese peasant farmers, fulfilling roles of guard dog, wild boar hunter and dog fighter.
We have no wild boars in suburban Ottawa. But we have a lot of cats, squirrels, birds, chipmunks, bunnies, and raccoons. I think Sam has had fights with all of them, especially other dogs — only the big ones, he doesn’t bother with dogs smaller than he is. Where’s the challenge?
Some of these fights he lost, a.k.a. trips to the vet for antibiotics from deep scratches by cats and raccoons, but most fights he won. And everytime I found a dead bird or squirrel in my yard, I cried and felt so guilty. But by that time I’d fallen in love with him, and could do nothing but intervene whenever he chased critters around the yard. I guess mothers of juvenile delinquents — can I even say that phrase? I’m sure it’s politically incorrect by now — feel the same way when their kids steal cars or bully other kids. They hate what they’re doing, but love them anyway.
Sam on Guard Duty
He was an excellent guard dog. Every day he would patrol the perimeter, making sure we were safe from suburban terrors, such as mailmen, gas company employees, and telephone repair men. I couldn’t let strangers into the house without careful thought, and even then he mostly growled at them. He even growled at friends, for good measure, until he felt confident they weren’t going to attack us. Sam was the reason I watched every episode of The Dog Whisperer, hoping Cesar Milan could pass on techniques to help deal with his behavior.
Shar-peis are described as affectionate, independent, reserved, suspicious and loving. I’d like to add ‘stubborn’ to that list. He was affectionate and loving on his terms, much like a cat. He enjoyed a good scratch, but only if he was in the mood. Usually first thing in the morning. There were certain people he adored … my son-in-law, for one. Other people he tolerated. Like me, for instance, since I was the one who clipped his nails, cleaned his ears and brushed his fur. All I had to do was say the word ‘ears’, and he would give me the hairy eyeball and skulk away. If he saw the ear cleaning supplies, he ran. We muzzled him for nail clipping. Always a fun experience. He looked like Hannibal Lecter with that thing on.
Whenever I fed him, he sniffed the bowl with suspicion, as though he was afraid of being poisoned. But he would readily eat his favorite foods — cheese, hot dogs, banana muffins, ice cream cones and pizza– from my hand.
Sam and Leroy
My daughter’s dog, Leroy Brown, was attacked by a loose dog during a walk in the park, and Sam leapt to his defense, saving his life. His wounds were so deep from that fight they had to be drained and dressed for a week — and yes, more antibiotics. Sam acted like it was no big deal. Most of the time he ignored Leroy completely, but still, they were members of the same pack, and Sam protected his own.
Just after Christmas, Leroy was diagnosed with mast-cell tumor cancer, and shortly afterward, Sam was diagnosed with lymphoma. We started him on corticosteroids, since there is no cure. Leroy died a little over a month ago, and we knew Sam wouldn’t be far behind him.
It’s hard to live with a dying dog. Many times I would stare at him, or give him lots of hugs. He’d shoot me a look that said ‘What’s up with you?‘ Stoic and independent, a warrior to the end.
Our Sam passed away today. I like to think that he and Leroy are together again, and that Sam is still on guard duty. Rest in peace, dear friend.