In Memory of Springer Spaniel Sam
Sam died quietly, under a veterinarian’s care, on Friday, March 16, 2007. He had been diagnosed with a lymphoma almost a year to the day of his death. During his last year he became a house dog and was indulged with canned food, chicken tenders, ground beef, steak – whatever he’d eat and could keep down. We never thought Sam would be a good house dog; he was a classic male English Springer Spaniel; handsome, heavily built, aggressive in the field, hard headed and particularly masculine: if it moved he wanted to breed it, if it stayed still he marked it. But he was a gentleman to the end. He never had an accident in the house, even when he could barely walk to the door.
Sam’s story really began with his older sister, Charlie. I was about to retire from business in the early 90’s and wanted a gun dog. We considered several options, but I had shot over a bitch of Kevin Battistoni’s and when she had pups we went and had a look. Looking for a pup that way is somewhat like shopping in a glassware store: if you touch it you own it. We came away with Charlie and discovered she was special only when we took her at twelve months for training. She had been sired by the great 1987 National Champion, “Lefty” (Pondview’s Left In The Light) and she was beautiful, birdy, biddable and bright. Unfortunately, after her first puppy stake in November of that year she was lost, strayed or stolen from our farm in Pine Plains, New York. We never found her, but Kevin Battistoni offered us another Lefty pup at the next breeding and, with Charlie still in mind, we named the pup ”Crosswinds Play It Again Sam”.
Sam was never an easy pup. Mary’s daughter, after puppy-sitting for a week while we were away, dubbed him “the puppy from hell”. He was our first real field trial dog and I knew even less than I do today about training champion dogs. We went to Pondview once a week to train and I worked with Sam at home as best I could. As a puppy he won his first two puppy stakes and may have won his third, but the judges in presenting the placements admitted it was too close to call and gave first place to a professionally handled dog. So, prematurely, we moved Sam up to the Amateur Stake. I didn’t keep close records in those days, but I believe Sam placed in almost every trial he finished; the problem was that he finished few trials. For example, in the Kansas National Amateur, before he ever had a bird of his own in the first series, he chased a bird from the other beat without even breaking stride. He was a speck in the distance before I could blow the whistle, not that he would have listened anyway. In Sam’s early years I put eight hard-earned points on him. Then, one day in training Sam broke one time too many. Exasperated, I said to Mary that it was the last time I was ever going to run Sam. I was as good as my word; I never ran Sam again, but Mary said that day in the field that she’d run Sam if I wouldn’t. After I stopped guffawing at that, I agreed that Mary should take Sam to Dan Lussen to see what could be done. That’s when the miracle began.
Dan knew Sam and his breeding well. Dan had trained and handled BarDan’s Drifting Shadow, “Drift”, to a double championship. Drift was another Lefty puppy and had most of Sam’s hardheadedness as well as his abundant talent. Dan sized Sam up and suggested a method of training that would make Sam responsible for his mistakes. Mary entered into the program and took Sam to train with Dan two or three times a week. They made progress together almost immediately. Then, during a training session, Sam was sent on a retrieve and cam back lame, almost unable to walk.