On Monday morning at 10am, almost exactly 12 years to the day that we got him, Samson passed away. He was 12 years old and lived well beyond what was expected for his breed. He is physically gone from our lives, but his presence is still felt as we walk into the house and it feels empty. He’s not there to greet us with a wagging tail and butt. Or it’s quiet because he’s not there snoring in the background. Or when we eat he’s not there trying to get his portion.
It’s been a rough week and I have been a little silent on social media. If you have never had an animal become a part of your family, I don’t expect you to understand what I am going through.
Up until Monday, I could only imagine the pain a friend was going through when they posted a memoriam photo of their beloved pet. You may wonder, “What’s the big deal, it’s just a dog?” and you are certainly entitled to your opinion. But it IS a big deal. Especially for me because my dog was BIG and he had an even BIGGER personality. I knew the day was coming. We knew he would not live forever. Humans usually do outlive their animals. But my husband and I agree he wasn’t just a dog. He loved us, genuinely really loved us, and it wasn’t just because we walked him, fed him and gave him apple and pizza crust treats. Samson Johnson, The English Mastiff - often known as “Ol’ Gray Face” - was the best dog ever!
I’ll never forget picking him out of a sea of his brothers and sisters, his little tongue hung out of his mouth. It looked like an upside down heart. We later came to realize perhaps this was why he was “on sale” and we got him for such a huge discount. Though he had papers, apparently his tongue meant he wasn’t going to win any perfection awards.
I never had a dog before. I had always had cats. As a newlywed my husband traveled often and it was his idea to get an English Mastiff. He thought I needed the protection. I had never even heard of an English Mastiff but upon research I agreed to the breed known as a “Gentle Giant”.
Mastiffs are a working breed and working dogs have a job. Samson knew his job and he did it well. He was a protector and man’s (or this woman’s) best friend. The door never rang when he didn’t think someone was here to say “Hi” to him. There wasn’t a child who came over who didn’t get properly licked. We had 6 different cats in our family through the years and there wasn’t a cat he didn’t adopt as his own, allowing them to groom him. There wasn’t a box that arrived at the door that he didn’t think was for him.
I would like to say there wasn’t a stranger he didn’t like but that is not entirely true, if it was then he wouldn’t have been doing his job. He somehow knew who was safe and who he needed to say bark or growl at. But he greeted everyone with a smile and a big ol’ tongue. And if you checked out ok, boy did he lean on you. We called it a hug, letting you know he was there. It was either that or he was placing himself as a barrier of protection.
He was smart and he understood sentences. I could say in a soft voice, without even looking at him to get out of the kitchen and he would turn around and leave. I learned to say hello to strangers on the street, otherwise he would think he needed to be on guard. I’ll never forget walking my baby in the stroller down the street when we passed a man on his bike, and for some reason Samson did not like this man. When he barked the man started yelling profane words at me about my dog. After a few more houses Samson kept turning around and his hackles were high. I turned to see the man was now following us at a distance. This did not sit well with him or me. Weighing in at 175 lbs. I was not sure I was going to be able to hold him back if that man got any closer. In tears I called my husband, and I yelled back to the man I was on the phone with the police. He eventually stopped tailing us. But I know and trust that Samson would have done what he needed to do to protect me and my baby.
Now that he has passed, I could say there is a hole in my heart but that is not actually true. My heart is full, in fact my heart is incredibly whole for having just glimpsed the life of this massive, awe inspiring beast who was a part of our family and gave us everything he had for over 12 years. He gave us his devotion, his love, he gave us his obedience, and he trusted us utterly and completely without any doubt.
However, there is a hole in my life, how could there not be? When someone who took up so much presence and literally space in our everyday is no longer there physically, you feel it. Whenever we laughed he was there mouth open, tongue slobbering, tail wagging. When we cried he was there, resting his head on our knee looking up with big knowing eyes. When I was downstairs and my husband was upstairs he laid on the landing with torn allegiance. When I put my son to bed he gathered round to hear the bedtime story too. When we got home he excitedly greeted us with tail wagging, tongue hanging and body leaning. Unconditionally he loved us. If we scolded him he forgave us and came back to give us more - more love, and more devotion. Where we went, he went and not without fanfare, we heard him coming, we felt the floor vibrate when he walked or plopped down. We heard his deep snores, smelled his room-clearing gas. Wherever he went, he made himself known and he wouldn’t get ignored unless he wanted to be.
I used to think EVERYONE should get a mastiff because Samson was the BEST DOG EVER. I have since determined an English Mastiff is not for everyone, a dog like this is not for the faint of heart. Not everyone could handle all the “love” and slobber that comes with the size. Not everyone could stand to give all the attention that Samson demanded. I know I had friends and family that didn’t understand him or us and that is ok. He loved them anyway.
As I was saying, my heart is whole because I have known a love so unconditional, so pure, so deep and forgiving. And it has taught me how we are designed to love others so deeply, so unconditionally, so purely and with forgiveness. Not only did he model how to love others he modeled how God loves me, so deeply without abandon.