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Many years ago, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in a tiny tenement apartment building, there lived a dog and his family, the Moores. Mr. Moore sold vegetables from a pushcart; Mrs. Moore was a washerwoman; and although their four children were always running between school and odd jobs around the neighborhood, the kids always found time to play with their beloved dog, whom they named Sammy after Uncle Sam. “Papa says that Uncle Sam stands for the United States. We’re going to have a better life here than we had in Ireland,” the oldest daughter, Kathleen, told Sammy as she brushed his shaggy brown fur. Sammy loved Kathleen the best of all. She had long, wavy red hair, and she always brought him an extra bone when she returned home from buying the family’s Sunday roast at the butcher shop. And although Mr. Moore told the children that Sammy needed to sleep in the courtyard of their tenement building, sometimes Kathleen would sneak him inside after her parents had gone to bed. “You’re my best friend, Sammy,” she would whisper as they snuggled in the cramped bedroom that all four kids shared.
Sammy liked to play with the younger kids, the little twins Michael and Matthew and middle sister Bridget, but he was the most loyal to Kathleen. She was kind and loving, and though the food on the table seemed to be getting scarcer and scarcer, Kathleen would always slip him some of her dinner. Sammy loved mealtimes, especially when he got scraps of meat followed by a scratch behind the ears. But after a while, there was no more meat on Sundays, and no more bones for Sammy. Then Kathleen seemed hardly ever to be around.
“I took a job washing dishes at the restaurant downstairs,” she told Sammy one night. “Mama and Papa say that they thought things would get better, but it’s been three years since the stock market crash, and everyone is still poor.” She sighed. “I had to drop out of school, too, so I can spend more time working.” Sammy didn’t quite understand, but it made him sad to see Kathleen so unhappy. Seeing the tears streaming from her eyes, Sammy jumped in her lap and licked at her face. Kathleen giggled. “As long as I have you, Sammy, I don’t care how poor we are!”
Sammy didn’t care much about being poor, either. Scraps from the table, a warm place to sleep, and Kathleen were all he needed.
But one day, after a long afternoon of chasing sticks with the twins, Sammy came in to find Mr. and Mrs. Moore hurriedly packing things into boxes while Kathleen scrubbed the kitchen.
“Mama, what’s going on?” Michael asked worriedly. Mrs. Moore looked up sadly and took the twins aside, speaking to them in a low voice. Kathleen rushed over to Sammy.
“Papa says we have to leave New York,” she cried into his fur. “There’s just no money anymore. Mama hasn’t had any customers in weeks—everyone is washing their own clothes now—and Papa can’t make enough at the vegetable cart. We’re moving to California to live with Mama’s brother. He’s going to get Papa a job.”
California! Sammy wagged his tail. The shaggy dog had never heard of California, but it sounded far away and fun. So why was Kathleen crying? He looked up at his redheaded friend.
Kathleen sniffled and hugged Sammy tighter. “The worst part is that we have to leave you, Sammy. Mama and Papa say it’s too far to take a dog.”
Leave me? Sammy didn’t understand. How could Kathleen leave him? Where would he go? Who would take care of him?
“Maybe we’ll come back to New York someday,” Kathleen told the dog, though she didn’t sound certain.
For the rest of the evening, Sammy watched sadly as his family packed all their belongings into boxes and bags. That night, Mr. and Mrs. Moore let him stay in the children’s room—but Sammy couldn’t sleep. He spent the night wide awake, tucked under Kathleen’s arm, worrying about what he would do when the Moores left the next day. And in the morning, after one last walk with the kids, Kathleen knelt down in the alley and threw her arms around her dog. “I’ll miss you so much, Sammy,” she sobbed. “But I know you’ll find someone who will love you as much as I do.”
I hope so, thought Sammy sadly.
“Kathleen! It’s time for us to go!” called Mrs. Moore.
Kathleen unwrapped her handkerchief and dropped its contents on the ground—a small boiled potato, her whole breakfast. “I’ll never forget you, my best puppy dog,” she said tearfully, and then she was gone. Sammy was left alone.