With four days until my cross-country move from Tampa to Denver, I was busily wrapping up my Floridian life. Furiously, I was packing my glassware, forwarding my mail and emptying that last bit of vodka in my liquor cabinet. Boxes everywhere, I certainly didn’t need any distractions or setbacks. Getting rid of furniture, saying goodbye to friends and emptying that last bit of vodka were my top priorities.
A notification popped up on my phone. Roger, a Facebook acquaintance, sent me a message: “Adam – if you are driving to Denver there is a dog here in Tampa looking to hitch a ride.” Really? A dog needs a ride to Colorado? Then he sent me a link to this guy:
Meet Samson, a 7-year-old black lab. His Florida owners moved into a condo that didn’t allow dogs over 35 pounds. Even with a diet, Samson’s 80-pound frame didn’t stand a chance in this new dwelling. Now, you might ask, “Why does a dog that lives in Florida need to be transported to Colorado?” Well, I’ll tell you! The local animal shelters were full. And even if they had room and Samson growled at one person, he’d be deemed unfit for adoption and euthanized within the week. After exhausting all avenues, in steps Sheri-lyn Traylor, animal advocate and publisher of BellaDOG Magazine, based in St. Pete Beach.
Sheri-lyn’s spent her spare time posting Samson’s info on Facebook, Craigslist and any other platform she could find. Her efforts were rewarded when Matt Ross, an owner of two golden labs, caught word of this homeless Florida doggie. “I saw his face, and I said, I can’t let him die,” Matt told me, “I’ll take him if he can get here.” “Here” was Basalt, Colorado, located just northwest of Aspen.
So began the intricate web of logistics needed to get Samson from Sarasota to Basalt. How do you find someone to drive a dog from the Gulf to the Rockies? Seems like a pretty specific need, and who would actually do this voluntarily? Luckily, Pilots N Paws exists with hopes of saving orphaned and rescued dogs and cats across the USA by connecting them with pilots who can transport them from one city to another. Occasionally, ground transportation is better, as was in Samson’s case.
Samson’s owner dropped him off the morning I was scheduled to hit the road in my 14-foot Budget truck. As a friend to dogs, an easy hand-off was expected.
He would not acknowledge me. No sniffing my hand. No jumping up on me. No barking. No growling. The silent treatment: the worst reaction any man can receive. Does he want a milkbone? Nope. Not from me.
Was this a good idea? The 97-degree humidity had him panting and drooling excessively. When his owner finally left through the front door of my empty apartment, this creature had no idea what was happening. Samson just stared at the door, “I know you’re behind there. You’re coming back any moment. Okay, joke’s over. Open the door!”
He howled to let me know the void he was feeling. I let him alone. I knew we weren’t going to instantly bond, and I felt terrible. Ugh. What did I sign up for?
TAMPA to NASHVILLE
My friend, Sean, was joining for the ride to help me move and to see Denver. It was mutually beneficial – he got free transportation to Denver and I had help driving and unloading my truck.
Cruising down the highway with the pooch riding “bitch,” we passed Gainesville. Samson passed gas. “Aw, Samson!!!!!” we cried and quickly rolled the windows down. Sean and I couldn’t help laughing hysterically as we tried to identify the ripe, pungent vapor that could compete with Assad’s chemical weapons.
In my experience, when someone feels comfortable enough to fart around you, they’ve declared that your friendship is legit. Let’s just say that Samson, Sean and myself declared our legitimacy the whole way to Nashville.
NASHVILLE to COLUMBIA, MO
Sean’s friend from college, Courtney, who now lived in Nashville was gracious enough to let us stay at her apartment for the night. I hit the couch with Samson curled up on the floor next to me. At around 8:30 a.m., the most gorgeous night nurse walks in the front door, home from her shift. Samson growled at the very serious threat posed by Courtney’s incredibly beautiful roommate. She walked over to Samson, reassured him she was “good people” and made small talk with me. Unfortunately, as I humbly stared into her eyes, all I could think to talk about was how I was rescuing this homeless pup, helping him escape his impending euthanasia and delivering him to his new home where he could run free in the mountains.
As she walked into her room for a mid-morning nap, Samson’s rolled his eyes, shrugged and said, “Hey, I gave you the perfect opening. She wasn’t impressed with your sainthood. Now, let’s hit the road.” Since our traveling trio had never seen Nashville, we did explore downtown and ate some barbecue.
After a half-day’s worth of driving, we reached Columbia, Missouri. Exhausted from the previous day, we had a unanimous decision to stop despite being two hours from Kansas City, our goal destination. I snuck Samson in to the Ramada Inn and prepared his bedding. In our dark room, by the light of the parking lot lamps spilling through the window, I noticed he avoided his familiar and tattered blanky. He curled up right next to my side of the bed.
We were officially buddies.
COLUMBIA to DENVER
Sleeping past the hotel’s dedicated time for continental breakfast, we had to stop for coffee and some morning grub. After two days of riding on the floor of our truck’s cab, we made sure Samson got some exercise:
Then, our story gets extremely interesting as we glide down the scenic 424 miles of Kansas interstate. Bear with me as I list the highlights:
Pulling into Denver after midnight never felt better. Sean and Samson were glad to be finished with driving too.
DENVER to BASALT/THE EXCHANGE
Samson jumped into the backseat of my Prius, ready for another adventure. But his having no clue he’d be meeting another human made me pause. Sean turned to me and said, “Shit, you’ve grown attached, haven’t you?”
The sadness in my eyes confirmed Sean’s assessment. Samson drooled, farted and whacked his tail on anything in the way, but…I liked him. I had grown to love him. I felt responsible for his well-being.
As we twisted and turned through the mountains, Samson gazed out the window. I’d ask him through the rearview mirror, “You doin’ okay, buddy?”
Shit. I had grown attached.
* * * * *
Hearing the gravel crackle under the tires at Samson’s new home solidified it. It was time to say goodbye.
Matt, the open-hearted finance guy who accepted this imperfect pup into his home, unleashed his other two four-legged friends. Samson stayed close to me and aggressively snapped his teeth at these unwelcome golden labradors. The territorial viciousness was not what any of us expected.
“Uh oh. That’s not good,” Matt said. “I think it will take some time. He is very protective,” I warned. I explained his dietary and flatulence habits and handed Matt Samson’s papers and food.
Rain clouds were hovering and Matt wanted to take him to the park for an icebreaker. I said my goodbyes and opened the door to my Toyota. Samson made a run for the front seat.
“No, Samson, you’re not coming with us,” I said. He didn’t understand and not because of the language barrier. Seeing his confused eyes as he was led into the backseat of Matt’s vehicle made me aware of the lump in my throat. He nudged his snout out of the back window and stared at me as if to ask, “Are you coming with?”
I backed my car out of the driveway, and it started to rain. As we pulled out of the town, a crystal clear rainbow appeared in the distance, each color perfectly glowing. Corny, but true. Sean and I clinked our water bottles together and toasted, “To Samson!”
Samson made nice with the other two dogs and enjoys napping on Matt’s couch. You’re doing okay, buddy!