FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ Sam the Hermit, an abandoned and injured German shepherd that lived along a country road, shunned human contact and attracted donations from well-wishers across the nation has been nabbed by the county dogcatcher.

''When they put him in the cage to take him away, he didn't fight, and I had to leave because I was crying so hard. I petted him for the first time. He was stiff as a statue,'' said Eunice Bandoni, who plans to keep the dog.

Sam the Hermit was the name given to the dog by the 2,000 residents of the town of Tranquillity, 30 miles west of Fresno. Bandoni and Donna Blackwood, who spearheaded efforts to care for the once abused animal, said there was no choice but to end Sam's freedom.

Besides numerous complaints that authorities were ignoring the stray, Bandoni said that Sam recently began chasing cars and lying in the middle of the road.

But some still think the dog should be set free.

''I hope he is returned back to the wide-open fields of the San Joaquin Valley, where he had really found a happy home,'' said Jennifer Quails of Berkeley, who said her children sent money after reading about the dog in January.

''If he wanted or needed to be confined for the rest of his life, he wouldn't have kept his distance from people for so long,'' said Doug Simpson of Fresno, who heard about the dog's plight in a television report.

People began noticing Sam about five years ago lying alongside the main road into town. He slept beneath a tree in a ditch and peered into cars from the roadside, leading residents to speculate he was looking for his departed master.

Sam, believed to be about 8 years old, avoided human contact, and sometime last year his left eye was injured by a pellet gun.

He gained nationwide publicity during efforts by townsfolk to care for the injured eye and gather money for a lifetime supply of dog food. Hundreds of animal-lovers sent donations totaling $3,000 from more than 20 states and Canada.

Efforts to tranquilize him so a veterinarian could treat his eye failed because he didn't respond to drugs slipped into his food.

The Fresno County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took the dog into custody Thursday. To capture Sam, the SPCA used a metal cage baited with food, weekend supervisor Joyce Minson said Saturday The door is triggered so that it shuts when the animal steps on a metal plate.

Once Sam's eye is healed he will live in Bandoni's fenced-in back yard.

''I don't know how he will like it, but it's for his own good,'' she said.