Dalton’s General Store has been closed for about a year, and no doubt what most patrons miss most is seeing Sam, the dog who greeted customers for most of the last 17 years.
Sam was born just down the road from Dalton’s Store. One of a litter of coon hounds destined to be hunters, Sam was overlooked and not taken on the early morning training hunts with the other puppies. He’d follow the truck down the road, catching up just as the men and dogs were leaving the store. Who knows what made him decide to stay, but Sam made a career of greeting customers at the little general store.
Sam had a bed at the store and loved the treats people began bringing him. He wanted for nothing as he was so well loved that people donated money for his vet care, brought him food and anything else a he needed.
I met Sam at Dalton’s in the fall of 2011. He intrigued me and I knew he had a story to tell; I just had to find the human who could tell this dog’s story. Don Tessneer of Tessneer Farms knew all about Sam and his life at the Dalton Store. Don’s Dad and his son Donnie also shared a love of Sam and cared for him.
It was from the Tessneer’s I learned of Sam’s career as the Dalton Store Greeter. He’d appear there in the morning, and return to one the Tessneer’s homes at night. He loved getting into his bed on Don’s back porch and being covered with a blanket. I wrote about Sam for AOL’s popular pet website, Paw Nation. The story was hugely popular, getting over two million clicks within the first few weeks it was posted. Over the years the store changed ownership and sometimes was closed, but Sam would always be there for the re-opening and the new owner.
An artist from Michigan read my story and travelled to Lake Lure to meet Sam and see Dalton’s Store. She created a beautiful painting that realistically depicts Sam at the store in his relaxed mode waiting to greet the next customer.
Everyone that visited the store had a kind word or a pat on the head for this friendly dog. He was unique and a good example for people whose life didn’t work out the way they’d hoped. Sam bloomed where he was planted and blossomed in doing so. He had a curious air about him as if to ask you “What are you coming to the store for today?” He was a handsome and approachable dog, well suited for the role he chose. People loved him and as word spread about the Dalton Store dog, so did the number of visitors to meet Sam.
In 2012 when I came back to see Sam at Dalton’s he wasn’t feeling well. Huddled in his bed he seemed ill at ease if not in some pain. I brought him some warm ground sirloin and fed it to him. I didn’t make it to Lark Lure in 2013, but Don reported that Sam was doing well and had recovered. Last year, I returned to find Dalton’s closed and walked around the lot with my own dog Sadie remembering our first meeting with Sam.
When the store closed, Sam retired. He went to live in a lovely kennel at the Tessneers. I met Don there and had a great visit with Sam. We fed him Thanksgiving leftovers and he was wanting more after he quickly ate them. I couldn’t believe he was 16 years old; he moved without hesitation and clearly liked having visitors.
On Monday, June 15, 2015 I learned that Sam had passed away or as we dog lovers like to say, crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I was so sad to hear this, but through my tears I realized that it was time for Sam to move on. Grateful that he didn’t suffer, didn’t spend weeks or months in pain or unable to walk, I knew I had to write my last story about Sam…his obituary.
In his book, Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein writes about Enzo, a beloved Golden Retriever who had keen insight when it came to people. Enzo believed that if a dog was buried high in the Himalayan Mountains, close to God, and he wanted it badly enough…a dog could come back as a man. To me, Sam was a person with four legs and a tail, but if ever a dog wanted to come back as a person, I believe he could do it.
Sam’s resting place however is not in the Himalayas, but in Rutherford County where he was born, lived all his 119 human equivalent years, and whose spirit I believe will always be at the store he loved so much. Sam was buried in his bed, wrapped in his blanket, on the Tessneer Farm, the place he came home to after a day at his job. I think Sam is probably already a greeter at the Rainbow Bridge and was greeted himself with words of welcome and approval. I believe he was told, “Welcome, my good and loyal dog. Well done.”
As I visited with Sam and Don last fall, I got to hold him and sit with him as I listened to stories about him from Don. I have a video from that day and I didn’t remember saying it, but nothing was more true…”Sam is everybody’s dog.” Not a bad accomplishment for a puppy who wasn’t considered good enough to be a hunting dog. He will be missed and he will be remembered.
Sam, the dog who greeted customers at the Dalton General Store for many years, crossed the Rainbow Bridge on June 15, 2015. Sam was one of a litter of puppies born to a Redbone Coonhound in 1998. Sam was 17 years old, a remarkable age for a large dog, but Sam was a remarkable dog.
Loved by many who met him at the Dalton Store over the years, Sam was a sweet boy who lived out the days of his life at the store and on the Tessneer Farm. He had many loyal friends who over the years brought him gifts, provided money for vet care, and came to the store just to see him. Sam was buried on the Tessneer Farm, in Rutherford County where he lived his entire life.
Donations may be made in remembrance of Sam to an animal charity of your choice or to PAWS of Rutherford County.
PO BOX 399
Lake Lure, NC 28746
PAWS is a 501 (3)(c)