So I am dedicating one more post to Spencer. My kids asked if I would write a brief obituary. Spencer was born June 18, 2001. His life slipped away through the night, and his lifeless body was found at the foot of the bed yesterday morning. Painful as that was, it would have been far more heartrending to have had to put him down. He’s only a dog, I know, but ten years of companionship leaves an impact on a family.
Gene Weingarten wrote a wonderful article sometime back, “Why Old Dogs are the Best Dogs”. It is the story of his dog, Harry, and rereading it, I find I can identify with much of what he wrote. While “old” can gradually sneak up, Spencer became an old dog rather suddenly. It happened in July of last year, when a wire haired fox terrier pup became part of our home. Anticipating Spencer’s eventual decline, our hope was that Sherlock would insure Spencer would stay young for a longer stretch. It didn’t work that way. To our surprise, Spencer ran from Sherlock, would step aside whenever food was set out, and had absolutely no desire to hangout and play with Sherlock. It seems an alpha dog had usurped Spencer’s role, and Spencer suddenly became old and crotchety.
He became less mischievous, a hallmark of terriers. He began to walk with a little less enthusiasm. There was a time the sight of other dogs compelled Spencer to strut his stuff, requiring that I hold the leash with all my might. Spencer had this knack of actually walking on his hind legs at the sight of the neighborhood bouvier, which was disgusting. But by mid summer of last year, he simply noted their presence and looked for the closest bush. As with Harry, Spencer transformed his walk into a simple process of elimination, a “dutiful, utilitarian, head down trudge.” Coming back, his first instinct was to find his worn bed and curl up. Going out into the back was no longer intriguing. Meeting me when I came home from work was hit and miss.
Spencer went through all of the predictable stages in his ten years. He once had that curious puppy smell, as well as a boundless energy that at first entertained and by adolescence, moved you to want to kill. Spencer seemed to find most things an edible possibility. We often found lost items on the backyard lawn after Spencer did his thing—a lost earring, a part to some appliance. He became horribly sick one day after eating a bag of balloons. Spencer gave me some of my best sermon illustrations. I hated the idea of a large dog at first, but I truly came to love Spencer as my favorite of all the dogs we have owned.
In Weingarten’s description of older dogs, some of it applies to Spencer. “…it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce. Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these flaws are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But, above all, they seem at peace.” I think Spencer was at peace, all of the way to the end.
Like Harry, he was “ a few bubbles off plumb”. As my dad likes to say, not all the dots were on the dice. But this has been true with all of my dogs (for whatever reason). Spencer once knocked over a small plastic child’s gate when he was young, and the noise so unnerved him that putting it across a door kept Spencer obediently behind it. A small nudge, an easy jump would have made the gate inconsequential, but Spencer could never figure that out. It was a barrier the size of Mt. Hood.
In the last four weeks, Spencer aged before our eyes, almost by the hour. It wasn’t the gray around the muzzle or the cloudy eyes. Whatever it was, a tumor or lymphoma, it began to suck the life away, and there was nothing we could do but watch his body shrink each day. No longer would he choose to go outside. He went out dragging. His only desire was to stay in his old worn bed. The sound “walk” no longer inspired any movement. The smell of a warm cookie no longer was enticing.
Weingarten makes this observation: “Some people who seem unmoved by the deaths of tens of thousands through war or natural disaster will nonetheless grieve inconsolably over the loss of the family dog. People who find this behavior distasteful are often the ones without pets. It is hard to understand, in the abstract, the degree to which a companion animal, particularly after a long life, becomes a part of you.”
It can be hard to explain one’s feelings at the loss of a pet. Maybe it is part of what Weingarten observes: “In our dogs, we see ourselves. Dogs exhibit almost all of our emotions; if you think a dog cannot register envy or pity or pride or melancholia, you have never lived with one for any length of time. What dogs lack is our ability to dissimulate. They wear their emotions nakedly, and so, in watching them, we see ourselves as we would be if we were stripped of posture and pretense. Their innocence is enormously appealing. When we watch a dog progress from puppyhood to old age, we are watching our own lives in microcosm. Our dogs become old, frail, crotchety, and vulnerable, just as Grandma did, just as we surely will, come the day. When we grieve for them, we grieve for ourselves.”
What I know for sure is that Spencer was part of God's good gifts.