Alicia Paulet was heading home from a long day's work when her headlights caught a small, dark form huddled at the side of the Harbor Freeway. It was outlined against a row of white concrete slabs separating traffic from a construction area near the El Segundo Boulevard ramp.
"I knew it was a puppy because I could see the fur flying in the wind," said Paulet, 25, of El Segundo. "It moved a little, so I knew it was still alive."
Then Paulet did something that few motorists will risk on busy metropolitan freeways, especially at night. She stopped to help.
"Because of the construction, I had to drive down a ways before I could find a place to park off the freeway," she said in an interview last week. "Then I walked back on the construction side and looked over the slab. This cute little dog was peering up at me, with all that traffic rushing by a few feet away, and I could see he was hurt bad."
His wounds, she learned later, included a broken hind leg, severe cuts and burns, apparently from being hit by a car and dragged on the pavement.
Paulet was afraid the injured dog would bite her, so she returned to her car to get something to pick it up with. She works as a pattern maker in the garment industry, so she usually has a few boxes of cloth samples in the back seat, she said.
"I used a piece of Irish linen and sort of slid it under the dog and picked him up that way," Paulet said. "He didn't snarl or try to bite or anything. He just seemed grateful that I was trying to help him."
When Paulet and her roommate, Linda Coykendall, took a closer look at the freeway waif in their El Segundo apartment, they realized the puppy was seriously injured and immediately called around for a veterinarian. They found Robert Kaufman at the El Segundo Pet Hospital.
"The dog was very scared, obviously in intense pain, when they brought him in," Kaufman said. "But he's a very sweet, cooperative fellow."
Kaufman said the dog apparently had been run over a day or two before he was brought in on Feb. 12. "The little guy was out there fending for himself all that time," he said. "We named him Sampson because he's such a tough little kid."
When someone asked about the dog's gender, Kaufman made a closer inspection and discovered that Sampson is a female. But everybody still refers to her as Sampson or uses a male pronoun.
Paulet said she is concerned about paying Sampson's bill, which could run as high as $1,000 by the time the dog is able to leave the hospital. "It's totally beyond my means financially," she said. "Linda and I paid $65 when we took him in, but that's all we had."
To help pay the bill, Paulet and Coykendall are doing a little fund raising among their friends and co-workers and have come up with about $150 so far. But Kaufman said Sampson's fate won't depend on whether the bill is paid.
"After getting to know the little guy and seeing his spirit, there is no way we're going to put him to sleep" rather than complete his care, Kaufman said. In fact, several of his staff are donating their time to help care for Sampson.
"He's facing a long battle against infection," Kaufman said. "But after that's under control, we'll go in and fix the broken leg."
Paulet said she took time off last week from her night classes at El Camino College, where she is studying for a degree in product design, to visit Sampson at the clinic.
"He was still in pain and kind of in shock, but he tries hard to be a pleasant pup," she said. "He's such a little cutie-pie."
There may be a family out there, maybe with children, who loves and misses Sampson, Paulet said. And if that's the case, she hopes they will claim the dog, but if not, several people have offered a home. Dogs are not allowed in her apartment complex.
Paulet, who moved from the Boston area two years ago, said she deplores the tendency of most motorists to just keep going when they hit a dog or see one lying along the freeway.
"If it's not safe to stop, people should at least take the trouble to call the humane society when they can get to a phone," she said.
"When people get into trouble on the freeway, they can do something to help themselves. But a dog can't call the AAA or an ambulance. If he isn't killed outright, he has to lie there alone and suffer until he dies. I'm just glad that didn't happen to Sampson."