By Jim Hagerty
When Rodney and Jane Shaw were looking for a dog to adopt, bringing home the worst-looking animal they saw at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Rockford was not what they were thinking.
But, as fate would have it, that’s exactly what they did in February 2012 when they saw a 1-year-old shih-poo that looked like anything but a loyal companion. Sores from hair matting were still healing, and his constant trembles were tell-tale of his timidness.
“I asked Jane, ‘Why him?’” Rodney said. “She said, ‘Because he’s so scared.’ I knew then that Mom found her baby.”
Jane named the dog Sam. Today, he answers to Sammy and “Sammy the Dog.” In most ways, he’s a typical pooch. He eats, sleeps, goes outside and repeats the routine. But, in the last two years, Sammy has become a special member of the family. He’s training to be an epilepsy service dog and has taken a unique liking to life on the road alongside Rodney when he fires up his Harley-Davidson Road King.
“I was going to Alpine Bank, about 2 miles away,” Shaw said about the dog’s first ride. “I started the bike, and Sam went right over by the exhaust pipes. The more I revved it up, the more excited he became. He was ready to go.”
To test the level of Sam’s excitement, Rodney tucked the 8-pound dog in his jacket and started for the bank. The faster they went, the more Sammy exposed his head. Sammy was soon bearded face-forward, riding the wind like a true biker. A 4-mile trip became an afternoon on the hog for Rodney and his new little buddy.
“Four hours later, he hadn’t moved,” Shaw recounted. “It was like he is a born biker. He may not always respond to my vocal commands, but when I start the Harley and rap the pipes, he’s right there.”
Since that first ride, Sammy and Rodney have been up city streets and down country roads. They’ve gotten so comfortable together, they now share the seat.
“When we ride now, Sam wears a harness that is tethered to me by a nylon collar I wear around my neck,” Shaw said. “Kelly’s Leathers, in Richmond, Ill., made me a custom-leather paw grip for Sammy so he can rest his feet on the gas tank while he leans on my left leg.”
That’s where Sammy was perched June 7, during what started out as a typical night on the bike.
“We rode to Poplar Grove,” Shaw said. “I bought two hamburgers and was heading home to eat with my wife when it started raining very hard.”
As the storm grew more intense, Rodney’s biker instincts took over to ensure he remained upright for the rest of the route. He began focusing on the taillights of nearby cars.
“Bikers do this to look for how bad the imperfections and puddles are in the road,” he said.
Deep water aside, the Road King had new tires that were channeling the water nicely. The car behind was traveling at safe distance in the 4700 block of Spring Creek Road. No worries. They were almost home.
Drenched but content, Sammy looked forward. That’s when the trip took an unexpected turn.
“I heard what I thought was an explosion,” he said.
There was no explosion. A car clipped the back of the bike. Spinning out of control, a curb, tree and unmanned handlebars flashed before Rodney’s eyes.
Shaw snapped back toward the length of the seat and rear fender. That’s the last thing he remembered about the crash.
“I don’t know how long I was unconscious,” Shaw, 56, said. “But, the bike somehow stayed upright. My feet were trapped, the back of my head was on the license plate and the rest of me was thrown over my saddlebags. I started to come to when I heard Sammy barking and felt him pouncing on my chest. He woke me up just in time for me to grab him and try to focus on what the hell was going on.”
In the rain, Shaw, along with a biker following behind him before the crash, limped and shuffled his way to the driver of the 2014 Nissan Altima that struck his Harley.
According to Shaw, the man was also shaken and slightly disoriented. It wasn’t clear if flash flooding, poor visibility or a possible hydroplane caused the accident.
However, it became clear what occurred when police arrived, and the 29-year-old driver was arrested for DUI. As the driver was transported to the Winnebago County Jail, Rodney went to the hospital to be treated for head injuries. Jane was at the scene and attended to Sammy.
Shaw says he plans to attend the accused drunk driver’s court hearings — not as a victim who demands justice, but out of concern for the defendant. As an epileptic, Shaw knows limitations well and how to overcome them.
“I don’t want to see him get a maximum penalty or anything like that,” Rodney said. “I hope that this is a lesson for him and that if he has a drinking problem, he will take care of it and get help.”
Shaw, who says he is lucky to be alive because of Sammy, continues to see doctors. The headaches come and go, but are subsiding with time.
For Sammy the Dog, he’s again touring the streets of Rockford on the now-repaired Road King.
The staff at Noah’s Ark was not surprised to hear about the dog’s heroism. They recalled Sammy’s poor condition when he came to the shelter, and Jane Shaw’s love when she adopted him.
Manger Dena Gates said, “An adopted animal is often the best animal.”
From the July 23-29, 2014, issue