We weren’t supposed to get a dog. 

In lieu of presents, for our oldest daughter’s 9th birthday she asked her friends to bring dog food to her party. A few weeks later, we took all the food to the Charlotte CMPD Animal Care and Control facility where homeless dogs lived. At the time, we had two dogs and weren’t looking for another. But she and her sister insisted we walk through the kennels “just to say hi” to the homeless puppies. 

The manager on duty thanked her for the food and was happy to take us to the kennels. Before we went in to where all the excited barking dogs were, I pulled the girls aside and told them we were NOT there to get a dog, but to see the dogs who we just helped with the food. Nothing more. 

We barely got halfway down the first row when a little orange one-eyed pup stood on his hind legs wagging his curly tail and smiling. Both girls cried out “awwww” and stooped down to engage him. I saw where he had a wound on his side and it was clear that the socket of his missing eye was recently stitched. This little fella had been through some things. The other prominent feature on his pug-nosed face was the ridiculous underbite. The name on his pen read “Sammy Davis, Jr.” I thought it was funny. After a few minutes of agreeing how cute the little orange dog was, I pried the girls away so we could finish the tour. Before leaving the kennel, both went back to say goodbye to Sammy. 

On the ride home I was hounded by two little girls who had their heart set on a little orange dog with a huge underbite and one eye. Back at home they ran to tell Mommy all about Sammy. As she listened, my wife looked over at me with an expression that said, “Really?” I shrugged. 

A week later we officially adopted Sammy Davis Jr. Before taking him home, I asked about his backstory. I was told that he was likely abused as they found him in a junkyard with his eye in really bad shape and a gash in his side. They fixed him up and neutered him and we were the first people he got to meet after his recovery. 

I’d never had a little dog before. It presented unexpected challenges. For example, tiny gaps under our fence that were too small for our shepherds to escape from (not that they would) were perfect for Sammy to get out. For the first few months after bringing him home, we spent many hours searching neighbor’s yards as Sammy’s nose would lead him on great adventures. At the empty park where I’d let the dogs play off leash, he’d find his way into the edges of the woods and blend into the foliage. Every few weeks I’d have to call my wife to come to the park to help me find him and he was always just right there camouflaged in the brush. Nose down. Busy. 

One thing was clear from the outset – little girls loved Sammy. Back then our daughters had lots of friends who would come over and for years Sammy was the centerpiece of just about every sleepover. And he loved it. Whenever we’d have to run errands, Sammy tagged along. “He’s small. He can sit in my lap,” the girls would say. 

Sammy was an alpha, but because we had an older female shepherd who was the dominant alpha in our pack, Sammy kept to himself a lot. I used to joke how he was more like a cat than a dog – so independent. So finicky. So particular on how you could pet him – especially when he was comfortable. 

Sammy had a face that only a dog lover could love. A smushed face and pug nose. A missing eye. A dramatic underbite and freakishly long lower canine teeth that looked like little tusks. Oh, and his tongue would sometimes hang out of his mouth when he napped. He had such a peculiar face that I often said he looked like a Disney character. We even entered him in an “Ugly Dog Contest” in Charlotte in 2010, and Sammy won going away. They even had a little hat for him. He was so proud that day, and our daughters were too. After all, everyone knew that “ugly” meant “awesome.” 

After our shepherds passed on, Sammy became the elder statesman of a pack that saw two more dogs join it and for the rest of his life, he was happiest when we were all together. And even though we took trips as a human family to places we couldn’t take the dogs, every summer we vacationed together at the beach where Sammy loved to run free on the sand. 

In March 2020, Sammy and one of our Shepherds got into a scrape. Sammy came away with a laceration on his head so we rushed him to the emergency vet. They fixed him up and took some blood for testing where they determined he had advanced kidney disease. We made an appointment with our regular vet a few days later where she confirmed Sammy had kidney disease. We were told we’d be lucky if we had another six months with him. We changed his diet to prolong his life and waited for the other shoe to drop. From that point we knew that every day was precious. 

Over the years, the little girls became teenagers and their interests shifted to outside of our home. High school came and went for both, and then they each left for college. Both times, the goodbye to Sammy was the toughest part.

Finally, two years after the kidney diagnosis, Sammy, the one-eyed pug bulldog chihuahua left his earthly form. 

We weren’t supposed to get a dog. But there were little girls involved. And we were blessed to have Sammy Davis Jr. as part of our family during an important transitional period in all of our lives. Sammy was a one-of-a-kind dog that no one who ever met him forgot. A little ball of fire. A love bug. 

Unlike every other dog we’ve had the privilege of living with, it was clear that I wasn’t Sammy’s priority. Our daughters were. He knew they were his the second he met them. And for more than 12 years with us, he was definitely theirs. 

We weren’t supposed to get a dog. But man, I’m so happy we did. 

Love, Jim


Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.