Sammy's Story
The Story of an Unadoptable Dog

About Samuel

DOC110409-0001  Sitting Sam


Normally, I would not have brought my cell phone to the library.  But that day  I did.  And it rang.  Embarassed at my horrible breach of library etiquette,  I rushed outside.  When I saw who it was, the County Animal Shelter, I called back immediately.

They had a Malti-Poo, they said.  Very fearful.  They had worked with him for 2 months.  But now they had given up.   He was “unadoptable.”   In other, unsaid, words.  He would be euthanised.

I called back immediately.  Yes, on principle, my rescue group was interested.  Put a hold on him.  A hold on his life.

I would come to see him the following Monday.

Samuel: Photo ID on Arriving at Shelter in March 2009

When I arrived, the Animal Services Officer led me to an area of larger metal enclosures.

The shelter was tumultuous.  Barking dogs, banging metal.  Layers of noise.  All of it loud.  All of it constant.  It was disturbing, deafening, disorienting. Even though the Shelter was closed to the public that day.   And even for the centered and stable. 

But, for the vulnerable, for Samuel, it was debilitating, destructive, deadening.

I watched, incredulous, as a tiny, dirty, matted, unkempt dog, who could hardly see through the thick screen of overgrown hair in front of his eyes, weaved and circled then feinted, moving quickly, deliberately, unerringly, with singleminded determination, around the 200 lbs plus Animal Services Officer, who was trying to catch him and place a leash and collar around his neck so that I could evaluate him.

He was fearful.  He was terrified.  But he was also determined.  He was Sam.  And he was doing all he knew how to do.  What he had learned.  Trying to survive.  Doing what he could to survive.

Like a shadow boxer,  he continued to feint,  circle, weave, then, suddenly, run, wickedly fast, this way, then that. All the while squinting, upward, through the curtain of hair over his filthy eyes, because he already knew that to see the people who control your life you have to look up.

And although the enclosure where Samuel was located was small and confined, it began to look as though Samuel would never be caught, at least by this lumbering caretaker. 

But then, suddenly, Samuel stopped, in a corner, and recoiled.  The Animal Control Officer was able to, gingerly,  place a collar and leash around his neck and drag him, resisting, determined, towards me.

I asked to visit privately with Sam.

I sat in a white plastic chair, in a dirt yard, under a lonely, skimpy tree, the only protection against the unrelenting midday Valley sun, and pondered my charge. 

Sam continued his well-learned behavior.  Continued to look away.  Rejecting all contact.  All interaction.  Rejecting all treats. Continued  to startle violently in response to every sound, however small, every movement of a human being.

I had only one criterion.  Was he a biter?  Given the demonstrated degree of his fear and distrust of people, this would have been an entirely predictable and understandable response by him  But, if he was a biter, understandable and remediatable though that conduct might be, there would be nothing I could do for him.

I sat, immobile, beside him for several minutes, thinking to quiet his pounding heart. Hoping to comfort him, if nothing else, for at  least these few minutes.

But, No.  I soon realised he had not, he would not, and he could not, let go of the abiding primordial fear that he had learned, and learned so well, from my fellow human beings.

So, softly, firmly, I picked up the tiny matted body, held him close, then placed him in my lap.  He struggled.  Then, instantly, froze.  But did not bite.

Slowly, quietly, I stroked him.  Talked to him. 

With every touch, every contact, he cringed, recoiled, became more tense, more rigid.  Then, for a few seconds, while somehow continuing to remain completely rigid, he trembled.  From head to toe. 

That day, nothing I would do, did do, could do, would or could assuage his overwhelming fear and dread of me, a human being.

I moved his head.  I checked his ears. Looked at his teeth. He did not bite.  Made no attempt to bite.  No.  He was not a biter.

But every sound, every touch, re-traumatised him, anew and again.  Re-enforcing his fear.  Re-enforcing his terror. 

And, with an epiphany, I realised that I now knew exactly what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder looked like.

It looked like Samuel.

And I knew I could not leave him there.  I would not leave him there.  And I did not.

You might also like to read:

About Samuel … 1st Days

About Samuel … 1st Month

About Samuel … 2nd & 3rd Months

About Samuel … 4th & 5th Months

4 Responses to “About Samuel”

  1. What a wonderful story. My wife and I rescued a bichon poodle mix from a shelter in King County, Washington 9 years ago. We also, ironically, named him Sammy. Unfortunately, he passed away this morning due to complications from surgery to remove a tumour on his adrenal gland. Both of us are devastated. It helps a little to see that there was another Sammy, not so far away from ours. Thank you. Chris Pawloski

    • Dear Chris & Family:
      Thank you so much for visiting Sammy Bourke’s website and for your comment. We are so terribly sorry to hear about the loss of your own dear rescue Bichon-Poodle, Sammy. You must be feeling so terribly, desperately sad. Like Sammy Bourke, your Sammy was, we have no doubt, an unremitting ray of joy, sunshine and courage in your lives. Words fail us, as does all else, in the face of such loss …

  2. Such an amazing story! It just warms my heart that there are people out there like you (and perhaps like me) who care about rescuing dogs. Here’s hoping there will be more people like you.

    Jun & Stanford

    • Sammy is, as you say, an amazing little dog. He has such courage and grace. He is, simply, a joy to watch. As, I have no doubt whatsoever, Stanford does, and is, too. Corgis have such a strong sense of self. What a lucky boy Stanford is to have found you and to be able to live in SF!!

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