Our pet affection: Samson, Pepper

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's easy to have a love affair with a pet dog or cat. As is said of dogs, what more loyal companion is there in this world?

Until a few years ago, it was uncertain just how the dog evolved from a wild creature. But due to the wonders of DNA testing, we now know that the dog is biologically just the same as the wolf. The only slight difference I've read is that the dog over the millennia has become able to digest vegetables, which the wolf is unable to do.

Sometimes the first encounter with your pet can be memorable.

Pepper was abandoned in Alabama and showed up at my wife Sally's farm house in Crenshaw County, hungry and afraid. We had to leave for a weekend but left a pail of water and some food behind. When we returned, she was there but still frightened and aloof. I coaxed her to come to me. When she did, she laid her head on my lap.

We've had a hard time figuring out her pedigree. We think she is a purebred because she is so unusual for Alabama. She has a double set of fur, an inner gray coat with a black outer covering.

Some have said that she is a Tibetan Terrier or a Hungarian Puli. But last week a woman stopped by the store and said Pepper might be a Portuguese water dog.

"Does Pepper have webbed feet?" she asked.

I didn't know.

She picked up a paw and announced, "Yes, she has webbed feet."

That convinced me.

According to a Portuguese Water Dog Web site, "The dog herded and caught fish, carried messages between ships, retrieved anything that fell overboard, and guarded the catch and the boat when in port. The dogs were valuable enough to be considered part of the crew and were given their share of both the fish and the money earned for the catch."

There is another well-known story from Crenshaw County, Alabama. It is about a famous, giant tomcat called Samson, named after the Biblical strong man. He tips the scale at 21 pounds. His owner is Regina Grayson, the managing editor of the Luverne Journal.

Regina was stopping for gas about seven or eight years ago, when she saw a gaunt, frightened black and gray stripped cat, who was mewing softly. She caught a look of recognition in his eyes.

She went inside and asked if anyone owned the cat.

"That 'ol scrawny cat?

"Naw, someone threw that thing out about three days ago."

"Someone's going to run over it before long."

That was Regina's invitation to pick up Samson and take him home. As the adage goes, it was the start of a beautiful friendship.

• Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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