The hardest part of loving my dogs is leaving them, and because of my job I’m on the road 120 days a year. Luckily, I have an incredible house sitter who is both trustworthy and affordable. That’s not the problem. The problem is I miss them from the moment I drag my suitcase out the front door until the moment I return. When I finally realized leaving them wouldn’t ever feel okay, I developed several coping mechanisms that help get me through both days and nights. I’ve even discovered the ultimate antidote, the one quick fix that completely erases my homesickness.
Nights are the worst. I sleep cuddled between three dogs at home, but in a hotel room the sheets stretch around me like a deserted wasteland. To make this cold, empty space feel more hospitable, I wear fleece pajamas (even in summer) and travel with a heating pad. I plop my carryon bag on the comforter for its weight and create a cocoon around my body with pillows. On those extra lonely nights, I swallow a few melatonin and gorge on Netflix.
Days are easier for two reasons. One, I’m busy. Secondly, I actively seek out co-workers who love their animals as much as I love mine. Before I ever ask my friends about their significant others or children, I ask about their dogs. I chat with Lance about his pit bull’s proclivity for swimming and Chris about his mutt’s old age struggles. I talk to Big Mike, an avowed dog person, about a kitten who recently captured his heart. And when I’m feeling really homesick, when I miss my mutts the most, I ask Todd Veney about his dog Sammy.
Sammy is a five-year-old English setter who Todd and his wife Jacque adopted almost four years ago. They adopted Sammy because they had recently lost their adored setter Lucy. Lucy had been a rarity for a bird dog, sweet, timid, and quiet. They had high hopes Sammy would be the same because she slept in a ball on Jacque’s lap during their first ride home. But, the second they unhooked her leash, things drastically changed.
Todd and Jacque didn’t know much about Sammy’s past, but her behavior provided clues. She loved men but avoided physical contact with women, including Jacque. She also suffered from extreme anxiety that translated into insomnia. During their first year together, Todd and Jacque contemplated finding her a home better equipped for her issues. But they didn’t give up, and one day their relationship simply clicked. Sammy and her mom became inseparable, and her anxiety morphed into a hilarious lunacy, a lunacy that makes her a guaranteed antidote for my homesickness.
Todd’s stories about Sammy cause a smile or laughter ten times a day. One of her funniest quirks is that she poops when she gets excited. And she gets electrified about the dog park. Whenever they visit, she drops a trail of pellets from the car to the gate because she won’t stop long enough to take a proper poop. She also gets animated about car rides, mostly because they equal trips to the park. If Sammy is alone in their van for any length of time, she will jump from the backseat to the front and leave behind the aromatic evidence of her excitement. During the entire two minutes it takes her to perform this acrobatic feat, she wears her goofball grin.
Speed is another one of Sammy’s idiosyncrasies. That dog is fast, so fast none of the other dogs at the park can keep up with her. But Sammy doesn’t care. All she cares about is racing full throttle, tail swinging like it’s her motor. One day Jacque drove outside the fence while Sammy sprinted inside a straightaway. She clocked her at 34 mph.
Unfortunately for her folks, sometimes her penchant for running results in an unapproved trip to the neighborhood duck pond. When they find her, she’s always soaking wet and dripping mud, but in such a euphoric state it’s like she inhaled nitro.
For Halloween, to emphasize her natural abilities, Jacque made her a WWII fighter-pilot costume, complete with a set of cardboard wings. Sammy loved her wings, as though she found her calling. Brandishing her tail and beaming with pride, she sprinted inside their invisible fence and chased cars around their corner lot. Before long, fighter-pilot Sammy became a neighborhood celebrity and some people even stopped to take pictures.
What I love most about Sammy is that in every story, picture, and video, she is unquestionably happy. Her feathered tail is always swinging and she’s always wearing her signature goofball grin, tongue pink and unfurled like a banner for some canine “House of Happiness.” That’s why Sammy is the ultimate antidote for homesickness. She reminds me to find joy in every moment, even the moments when I’m away from my dogs.
So, if you are ever traveling solo, I recommend sleeping with a heating pad and a cocoon of pillows. I also suggest finding a family like Todd, Jacque, and Sammy. The good news is dog lovers aren’t hard to find. The bad news is that dogs like Sammy are one of a kind.