And sometimes they're not people at all.
This is Big Sam. He's not a person, but he doesn't really know that, so don't spoil it for him.
He belongs to one of my best friends, Laurie. Her extended family rescued him from the pound as a puppy. He went to live on their family ranch to replace the former black lab, Moses. But when her aunt was moved to a nursing home, there was no one left to care for Sam on a regular basis, and Sam came to camp.
Upon arrival, his presence was felt immediately, and he took to it pretty quickly. I've never met a dog who was as unfazed by hordes of children running at him, screaming his name. They would crowd about him, 15 or 20 at a time, petting him, tugging on his ears, and snuggling his stinky snout. I think his tolerance mostly centered around the fact that little kids tend to be sticky with candy and are known to carry beef jerky in their backpacks. To travel around camp with Big Sam was something akin to being the roadie for the Beatles; you're necessary to manage the crowd but not much else. I spent many summers as Sam's human sidekick, even sharing the title of "Assistant Director". He dealt primarily in curing homesickness and snack clean-up while I mostly dabbled in paperwork and scheduling.
|Sam is a little weapon-shy. He's a total failure as a bird dog.|
|Pretty sure that kid had ketchup behind his ear.|
|Katie and Sam|
He was invaluable on more than one occasion though, most notably with a camper who had erupted and run away. After a tense 15 minute chase around the lake, I came upon her, poised at the edge, threatening to throw herself in and die. I managed to grab her in a panicked snatch. As I squeezed her tight, her tiny fists beat upon my back. Little did I know that Big Sam was behind me charging to the situation (Big Sam does not run). He got between us, shimmying and licking her face, drawing her attention out of her furor and back to reality. I'll never know if he thought he was saving me or her, but, in truth, he probably saved us both. His timing in a crisis is almost as impeccable as his timing for dinnertime and daily snacks.
Sam is always a good sport, letting us dress him up and humiliate him on several occasions just for the benefit of marketing or a good laugh. We paid well, though. Milkbones every day at 3 PM.
|Sam at the Ranch|
|Sam with the mowing gear on.|
|Riflery goggles. He was not pleased.|
|Not a squeaky toy that he can't destroy.|
|Checking cook-outs in the mule.|
|Snuggling with Jamie|
|Sneaking into the chicken chair when no one's looking.|
When none of us returned to camp this summer, there was a certain sense that maybe it was just time to move on. Admittedly, there probably haven't been very many people missing my paperwork skills, but I feel pretty confident that they could've used a good camp dog a time or two this summer.
Tomorrow, I'll go to the Ranch with my best friends, and when I get in the car, there'll surely be a very fat, very happy, black dog shimmying in the back seat, ready to say hello. And I'll surely give him a big smile.
And maybe a Milkbone.