Winning the Dog Lottery

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Tales of lives transformed

Sam’s Story

“He/she won the Dog Lottery!” is a favorite expression of my husband Tim’s.  Our Sam is indeed among the winners.

I rescue dogs from bad situations.  Sam was a black and white Border Collie with excellent herding instincts.  Purchased at 10 weeks of age, upon arrival at his new home Sam was chained to a garage and issued an army blanket.

The man who purchased Sam had been encouraged to do so for companionship after becoming widowed.  Of course this only works if the human and dog actually spend time together.

A typically rambunctious puppy and left on his own, Sam had that army blanket — his only source of entertainment — shredded in no time.  Now living in the high desert and spending his nights on a concrete slab, Sam soon collected as much of that shredded blanket around him to sleep; the cold nights sometimes fell into subzero temperatures.

Adding to his discomfort was the nylon collar that unfortunately wasn’t growing with Sam.  Over time it became imbedded into his neck.

One day while working his tractor, the man accidentally hit Sam, causing a large scrape on his back and a fractured pelvis.  Left to heal on his own, fortunately Sam managed, but the fracture healed imperfectly which would eventually lead to arthritis.  Sam’s owner began having medical problems himself — karma perhaps? — and had to have a total hip replacement. 

At that point Sam was fed whenever someone remembered to stop by the house and put kibble in his bowl.  After the man returned home from the hospital a friend stopped by regularly to help with basic chores and housekeeping while the man was recovering.  After seeing Sam and his situation the friend contacted me and asked if I would like to adopt Sam.

I wasn’t looking for another dog, as I already had two.  But I agreed to have a look with no obligation.  What was I thinking??!  The chances of me not taking Sam out of his situation were about as high as someone dieting for months and then turning down a hot fudge sundae! 

I arrived accompanied by two friends to see Sam’s situation for myself.  In short order I was assuring Sam’s owner that I would give Sam a good home and not to worry.  The man said he didn’t care what I did with Sam, “just take him,” he said rather gruffly, handing me Sam’s papers.  We loaded him into the backseat of my friend’s convertible and Sam departed in style.

He was a mess.  Nearly emaciated, his fur was filthy and matted.  The first thing I did was remove his collar, sickened at the tender, hairless strip around his neck.  I loaded him into the backseat of my pickup and started our three-hour drive home. 

My Border Collie, Needa, sat up front with me, riding shotgun.  Sam popped his head and front paws over the back of the seat to say hello, and was greeted with Needa’s radiant smile in full bloom.  Sam slunk back, but a moment later popped up to greet her again.  The routine continued all the way home.  Sam was determined that he and Needa would become friends.  I had rescued Needa seven years earlier, but how quickly they forget when a new adoptee joins the family!  Needa’s full name is “Needa Home,” christened by the kind folks who’d found her as a puppy, dumped on the side of the road.

I am blessed with a talented and compassionate husband who is a veterinary surgeon.  He always says if there is reincarnation he wants to come back as one of my dogs. 

Once home, Sam was whisked off to my husband’s practice, where he was bathed, vaccinated and radiographed to get a baseline on his physical condition.  He had blood drawn to ensure he could safely be anesthetized for surgery.  The radiographs revealed his previous pelvic fracture and how the compromised healing would undoubtedly cause pain in his senior years. 

Sam was two years old at this time, for the most part seemingly healthy.  Border Collies are very active dogs and will find a job if not provided with one.  In anticipation of Sam’s energy level, my wise husband opted to perform a prophylactic gastropexy to avoid a possible bloat and torsion, which can be fatal.  He came through the surgery — which included neutering — beautifully.


As he settled into his new home it became apparent that Sam had his quirks.  Not surprisingly he had trust issues with humans, and he decided his little circle of friends would include me and my father and brother.  With all his good intentions, my husband didn’t quite make the short list.  Sam had a long list too:  what wasn’t allowed or tolerated in his world was extensive.  My brother and I realized there would be no two-handed petting, no two-person petting, no petting fur against the direction it grew, no fast petting, no patting and no kissing.  What was okay my brother referred to it as “vanilla petting,” which involved one hand slowly petting the top of Sam’s head in the direction of his coat. 

Sam took an immediate liking to my father, routinely jumping on the couch next to him to be petted.  My father, a World War II veteran and recipient of a Purple Heart Award, definitely had the right stuff as far as Sam was concerned. 

As Sam and Needa developed a relationship I realized that playing ball for Needa meant me throwing the ball, and her retrieving it so I could throw it again.  And again.  Sam had no interest in the ball.  He still needed a job though, and he decided it would be herding Needa while she played ball with me.  Aha! I thought.  I located a sheep herding class about an hour from home.  It seemed perfect for Sam. 

I don’t know who benefited more, Sam or me.  The adventure was wonderful, and Sam and I could be found in class every Saturday morning, rain or shine.

From the editor:  Sam passed away in his dog-mom Sharon’s arms at the hospital where Tim currently practices.  He lived to be 12½ years old.  Sharon says, “I miss him every day but know he had a good life.  It was so rewarding to see him on a summer day rolling around in the grass just enjoying being a dog with no worries except who he was going to herd next. 


Sharon McCarthy is married to Dr. Tim McCarthy who says if there is reincarnation he wants to come back as one of her dogs.  A native Oregonian, Sharon attended Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. and graduated from Portland State with a BS.  She is a lifelong horse enthusiast and dog and cat lover.