I retired from my job building cars back in December of 2020, a year historians everywhere will regard as "a really crappy one." For a while, I just kicked back and didn't wake up early. I piddled about, fixing things and changing lightbulbs. About three months into my retirement, I was beginning to grow restless. I wanted something to do, some kind of challenge.
Enter an owner-surrendered Corso from New Jersey named Samson.
Samson had been approved for adoption to a family, but that family lived on the completely opposite side of the country in Bremerton, Washington. The rescue my wife and I work with, Cane Corso Rescue, is a national rescue, so long distance transports aren't too uncommon. But not like this. If you transport a dog from, say, New York to Florida, you have a lot of volunteers along the way. Through the upper Plains states and through the mountainous west, the help is scarce.
Luckily for me, I had been wanting to take a solo trip somewhere, and I loved the scenery out there. In addition, I also have in-laws that live in that precise location, so I would simply turn the transport into a road trip/vacation. Liz, the CCR director, appreciated my offer, but thought it might be too much. Pish posh! I assured Liz that I would not only take Samson to his new home, but that it would be my pleasure. So the transport was set, watches synchronized and bags packed.
Since it was very late February, my in-laws were concerned about driving through the mountains, especially the Snoqualmie Pass, which is in the Cascade Mountains. (More on that later.) Deferring to their wisdom, I ordered four new snow tires for the trip. I drove about twenty-five miles to a nearby town and had them installed. When I drove back, I noticed a significant bulge in one of the tires. Uh oh.
The place where I bought them was already closed, and they were not open on my departure date, which was the next day, a Sunday. Thankfully, a tire place in another near town was open that day. I put my old tires in the car (they still had a lot of tread left) and hauled them up to the second tire shop. There they swapped the new for the old, and I made it back home with about four hours to spare before I picked up Samson.
The transfer took place at a Cracker Barrel in Cambridge, Ohio, which is located right on I-70. The woman who had Samson was waiting on me in the parking lot, and he looked like a typical black Corso. Cropped ears and tail, thick muscular body, and those long legs. As I walked over to him, he gave me a look-over, but didn't show too much interest. I knew enough about Corsos to let Samson approach me on his terms. I let him sniff me a bit as I kept my arms down, and then I took his leash.
He followed me around the lot until he found a nice, safe place to poop. After he finished, he went back with me to my car and hopped right in the back seat. So far, so good. The woman gave me his supplies, said her good byes and drove off. At that point, it was just me and Samson and about two full days of non-stop driving. I reset my trip odometer, noted the time of departure (7:18 PM, EST) and started our trip.
Samson was pleasantly subdued in my back seat. He had been traveling all day, so he must have been very tired. Before too long, I could hear him snoring back there. It was night time, the car was humming along, and all was good in the world.
I made it to somewhere in Indiana before I had to fill up again. I pulled into a truck stop, grabbed a Pepsi (shameless product placement), filled up my car and let Samson have a brief walk. By this time he was familiar enough with me to pull hard on the leash, which he did. Corsos are a strong breed, and he was no exception. He made it clear that he wanted to sniff this thing and that thing, so I let him. A few minutes later, we were both back in the car and back on the road.
While I am capable of driving for long periods of time, I do have my limits. Some time around 1 AM, I pulled into a rest area in Illinois and tried to take a nap. Since I didn't feel comfortable enough with Samson at this point, I didn't put my seat back at all. I didn't want Samson to feel threatened in any way, so I just leaned my head against the glass and tried to sleep.
As you can imagine, I wasn't very successful in my attempt. After about a half-hour of shuffling in my seat, I called it quits and decided to keep driving. When I opened my eyes, Samson's head was right next to my seat, and I realized that he had been keeping watch over me. He was constantly looking around, trying to see some danger in the dark, a danger he would already take on for me. I took him for a potty break, thanked him with a handful of sliced ham I had in the front seat, and then we continued on our way.
The first time I drove out to the Tacoma area, my wife was with me, and we were shipping a small U-Haul trucks' worth of her grandmother's belongings to her family out there. That time, we took a highway south of Chicago, and had to contend with heavy traffic and a toll booth every 17.2 yards. This time I decided to skip that mess and drive through Iowa.
Listen. I have nothing against Iowa or Iowans. They are hard working farmers that feed an awful lot of people. The land is beautiful in a way that massive, plowed fields are a sign of effort and dedication. But the people who make the highway signs in that state need to be imprisoned. They are the size of a postage stamp, and three times I drove right by my exit. Finally, I stuffed my man-card deep inside my wallet and asked my wife for help.
It turned out I had been driving north east for a while. In fact, I was almost back to the Illinois state line. With a bit of help and a few, well-placed swear words, I got back on track. I drove about an extra 100 miles out of my way, and when I finally got on 90 West, I was never happier to be out of a state as much as I was glad to be out of Iowa.
I drove through Minnesota, through South Dakota, and made it as far as Gillette, Wyoming before I had to get some legitimate sleep. I found a Motel 6 in Gillette and booked a room for the night. At this point, it was about 8:30 PM on Monday, March 1, and I had only about 30 minutes rest since I had left Cambridge. Let's just say that I was tired. I went in, paid for the room, and went back out to get Samson.
At the very beginning of the trip, I was informed that Samson was a flight risk, so every time I got him from the car, I made sure I had a firm grasp on his leash before I let him out. Except this time. As soon as he landed on the ground, his leash just slid through my hands. I looked at him and he looked at me, and then he came to understand that I was no longer in charge of the situation. Before I could do anything, he trotted away. Instantly I panicked, as every worst-case scenario flashed before my eyes.
Luckily for me, I had that bag of sliced ham in my left hand, and I began to toss meat towards him in an effort to appeal to his stomach. He looked back a few times, sniffed the ham, but kept going towards the very busy road. Eventually he came back towards me, and I threw a few more slices his way. When he stopped to eat them, I calmly but quickly walked over and picked up his leash.
Thank you Jesus.
The two of us made our way inside the motel, took the stairs to the second floor, and went inside the room. If you've never been to a Motel 6, they are quite Spartan in their approach to rooms. A clean bed, bathroom and that's about it. But they are cheap and they allow dogs for no extra money. Samson leapt upon the bed as if he owned the place, which in my way of thinking, is a good sign. I took off my shoes and socks, turned out the lights, and laid down next to Samson.
While I didn't feel comfortable putting my seat back in Indiana, I now felt safe enough in our relationship to sleep next to him. Except, once again, I didn't get much sleep.
Samson was a timid dog. Actually, you could say that he was a frightened dog. As I tried to sleep, every little noise made him bark. Like most Corsos, his bark was deep and commanding of respect. I kept waking up almost as soon as I fell asleep. Sometime about two hours later, I woke up to the sound of Samson peeing on the floor.
"Oh no," I said. "Samson don't do that."
I wasn't harsh, but something about what I said made him cower with absolute fear. He assumed the most submissive posture a dog can muster. His little nub of a tail was tucked down low, and his back was arched like a frightened cat. His eyes were wide open, and the look of fear was all over his face.
When I moved towards him, he scampered to another corner and began to pee again.
"Come here, buddy," I gently said as I slowly held out my hand. He stopped peeing and he inched his way towards me. I led him to the bed, and we both laid down together. He was on his right side, and I was on my right side. I held him tight to me and gently stroked his side. He was still scared, but eventually he came to understand that I wasn't angry, and that there would be no punishment.
It was then, in that exact moment, that Samson and I bonded. Up until this time, I was just the guy that was feeding him ham and letting him get out of the car every so often. But now I was the human who had a gentle, safe hand. I was the person who cared about him, who trusted him. Before long he fell asleep in my arms, and for that moment all was right in the world.
Not too long after that, though, I woke up again to the sound of Samson peeing, only this time it was the full extent of his bladder. Again, I wasn't angry, as it was my fault that I didn't take him outside to let him relieve himself. I let him finish, took all the towels in the room and wiped it up as well as I could. (Hardwood floors.) I then realized that the time to move on was upon me. I took Samson out to the car, went back in to get my things, and checked out. It was about 1AM, and I realized that my sleep for the night was over.
I also realized that no matter what lay ahead, Samson and I would meet it head on.
Story to continue...