As a young couple, my wife and I moved out of the Roscoe Village neighborhood to Portage Park, a place where we could afford to buy a home. About a month after our housewarming, my wife was at her office Christmas party at Condon and Cook, a law firm near Dearborn and Chicago. On a whim, she wrote “Puppy” on the “Secret Santa” form in the office pool.
December 22, 1998 was a cold, dark, snowy afternoon. The office was about to close for the five-day Christmas break. My wife was sent out to file briefings at the Daley Center. When she returned she saw a shoebox in the hallway with a red ribbon around it. Inside it was a Yellow Labrador-Pit Bull mix. It was tiny, the size of a guinea pig. Apparently, one of the other secretaries had been told she could not keep a dog in her apartment. I drove downtown to pick them up. I remember how the tiny puppy kept shaking in the little shoebox as we drove home on the Kennedy Expressway. It kept trembling as we entered the house. It took a couple of days for him to get used to us, but by Christmas, 1998, he knew he had a home.
We named him Sammy, after Sammy Sosa, who was quite famous that year. That New Year’s Day, Chicago had one of its many two-foot snowfalls. Somehow in all the shoveling we left the back door open. Sammy wandered out. In a panic, we looked and looked for him. Finally, we heard a muffled whimpering in back near the garage. He had wandered into a snow drift, and was completely submerged, and we rescued him.
At our next Christmas party, Sammy got into a friend’s coat pocket, and ingested one-quarter of an ounce of marijuana. Sammy wandered around the basement in a stoned stupor. Then he spent a long time staring at the fake fireplace. Somehow he got ahold of an Italian beef sandwich. Still not completely grown, we decided it was best to take him to the vet. Since it was Christmas time, we went to the twenty-four-hour Chicago Veterinary Emergency Center on Clybourn, where they cleansed him with water and charcoal.
As the years passed, Sammy’s life was filled with travel, camping, swimming and almost daily trips to LaBagh Woods, where he would chase deer, wade in the river, and roll in muck to hide his scent. One day in November of 2009, he actually swam up the North Branch of the Chicago River. After a record rainfall, the river had become a veritable rapids, but Sammy swam through and up them. He was invincible.
Three days later Sammy was playing in the living room when he suddenly collapsed. A late-night trip to the Emergency Vet revealed he had cancer of the heart. It was November 21, and the doctor said he would have about four weeks to live. Sammy, the Christmas Dog, was slated to die on Christmas. Our nights were filled with tears and dreams of waking up on Christmas to see Sammy’s stiff brown body lying next to the tree. We decided to spend $1,000 on an experimental dog chemotherapy program. The doctor said it may or may not work, but it would keep him alive a few months longer. Sammy, the Christmas Dog, died on February 22, 2010. (David Witter)