Well, I was planning on writing a follow-up to Seeing Through Solid Earth that was going to deal with the more real, practical, day-to-day things we experience despite the more abstract and significant realities, but have become sidetracked. You might remember that Spencer, our little Golden Retriever, recently developed epilepsy, shortly after his first birthday. It was never very bad at all, and we were hoping to get by without even having to medicate him since the seizures happened so infrequently. But yesterday Spencer died.
The poor thing went into a seizure, and then another, and another, and continuously. The vet could do nothing to stop them, and we had him put to sleep. It seems that many pure-bred dogs have problems with canine epilepsy, and it can be managed in about 2/3 cases. My sister sent some good information on it yesterday, in the event that any of you have the misfortune of running into something similar. Spencer had a wonderful life for the brief time he was here, at least, and we miss him very much.
Shortly after mom’s death, my sister Kim and brother-in-law Jon gave my dad a Golden Retriever puppy. Kim had named him Spencer already, but said we should come up with our own name. Well, tricky sister, Spencer seemed to fit him perfectly.
He definitely kept dad occupied with his constant pooping, peeing and obsession with chewing on everything he could. This worked out well since our father was so accustomed to caring for our mom at all hours of the day and night, and this purpose for him had suddenly ended.
Spencer became spoiled in the extreme, even sleeping on the bed with my father. He always had a dollop of cottage cheese on his puppy food, and broccoli to munch on throughout the day. Apparently broccoli is a very good thing for puppies to munch on.
We have a good deal of space around our house, despite the ever-encroaching housing developments. We always had dogs while Kim and I were growing up. During these earlier years there was no need to fence them in, nor have them on a leash. Letting them run free was just fine since the nearest houses were quite far away and traffic on the main road was sparse.
Now, this same road has nearly constant traffic and a large housing development has taken the place of the Evergreen forest I used to play in, pushing hard up against our property line. Similarly, across the creek behind our house, yet another housing development has sprung up. We have one house that is very close to us, and has been since my father and his friend from work, Bill, built their houses together so many years ago. My dad had found this property and sold him a chunk for practically nothing so that he could live here too. Bill died when I had gone off to college, but now one of his sons lives in this same house with his family. People from across the stream have actually come all the way over to his house, complaining about his dogs barking at night. It seems so incredible.
So, with all these extra people and their cars milling about, we had little choice but to keep Spencer on a leash while outside, and make him primarily an indoor pet. Both my dad and I were bothered by this, so during the first summer dad took on a project of building a fence around the side yard. This gave Spencer plenty of room to go running freely, even through a large section of bushes, and freed him from his leash while outside. He never liked going outside alone, though, always staring at us and waiting until we came along too.
I spend a good deal of time working away at the computers here, in an isolated area of the house. The basement is pretty much a second home, with all the amenities. So Spencer and my father were constant companions, especially considering Spencer’s attachment. He would follow my dad around everywhere. When my father would leave for some reason, Spencer would not even eat his food until dad returned home, then would punish him for leaving by excitedly chewing on his sleeves.
That was how Spencer most often showed his affection, this friendly, easy, chewing on sleeves, with little growls and a wildly wagging tail. But he was ornery, too. He was a digger, and there are holes all over in the side yard now. At one point, he chewed completely loose a large cabinet panel on which the stove in the kitchen sat. I would get mad at my dad for this, telling him that he must train and discipline Spencer. But he never could. I worked with Spencer whenever I could on training, and he eventually learned to listen and obey on some necessary things, like “stay” and “no”. On the other hand, he was very good and intelligent when it came to listening to the other side of things, like “good boy” and “want to go to the store?”
But, despite his obstinance, Spencer was incredibly affectionate. He could never be close enough to you, always pushing tightly up against you, and sitting on your feet. If you got down on your hands and knees, he would stick his head and shoulders underneath you, raising his head up to yours and licking your face like crazy. He also could be calm, too, just laying around happily as you did, or as you were doing something, and almost always watching you. Whenever he needed to get your attention, he would tickle your feet.
Jon has a Golden Retriever himself named Tanner, who was with him even before he met Kim. We ended up babysitting Tanner fairly often while Jon and/or Kim were away. So I suppose it made sense to get us a Golden Retriever — and it worked out nicely, because Tanner ended up being like an older brother to Spencer. Tanner didn’t like sharing the attention at all, though, but eventually tolerated Spencer’s idolizing.
Tanner had a very different personality from Spencer, though. He is most certainly a retriever and is downright obsessed with playing fetch. He’ll hound you until you finally give in to go play with him, and he’ll run back and forth and back and forth, endlessly, even when he’s starting to foam at the mouth from exhaustion. Spencer, on the other hand, was more the artist. He liked pruning trees and bushes, doing landscaping, and was into yoga. I have never seen a dog as flexible as Spencer, constantly stretching, laying with his hind legs stretched out behind him, and loving so much when you gently helped him to stretch. Laying on his side, you could just lift his front paws up to his head, and he would arch his back in luxuriation, licking your hands gently, then when you release, he would roll over on his back, stretching more, and, making little grunting noises, then just rest on his back with his legs dangling and relaxed in the air, and fall asleep.
He may have been a Retriever, but he was not a retriever. If you through a ball, he would happily fetch it twice, and sometimes a third time, but then he would hide the ball from you so that you couldn’t make him go do this silliness any more. It’s a shame, really — I love playing fetch with Tanner. But I soon just accepted this as who Spencer was.
It was wonderful seeing Spencer experience his first, and his last, snowfall. He didn’t know what to make of it. The coldness on his paws made him springy, and he liked sticking his nose in the cold, powdery snow, then snorting it out. He loved eating snowballs, too. I found early on that he loved ice cubes. The first time he experienced one he treated it like an adversary after he put it into his mouth. He shook it out suddenly and stared at it, then pawed at it quickly as if it were biting him, sending it flinging across the floor. He soon started loving them, just to chew on.
A strange dog, too, Spencer was. He had unusual, inexplicable fears. For example, he would put down his ears and cower from an olive oil bottle. Also, grocery sacks would make him run. If you held a paper or plastic sack out toward him, he would run around a corner, then poke his head back around staring at you. Several times I tried to get him comfortable with them, but I would just end up chasing him around the house with an empty bag in my hand. I suppose I could have restrained him with his leash and forced him to confront his fear, but it just never seemed important enough. Just another strange aspect of him. He did not like the vacuum cleaner at all.
He loved playing chase, too, whether you were chasing him, or he was chasing you. It was a little comical in the house since we have slick, hardwood floors and slick kitchen tile. He finger nails would send his legs skittering around corners really fast, but he loved it. One of the advantages of having flesh feet in this situation, I suppose: I could always catch him or get away from him on the corners.
I think dad will miss him most, though. He went to bed when dad did, and woke when dad did. Dad used to drive him to Dairy Queen even to get him an ice cream cone from time to time. He got a lot of people food, too, even though it was probably not good for him. Dad really did love that dog.
I know Jon felt a little guilty for having given him a dog that died after a year and a half, especially considering my mom’s death. Dad told him, though, that he was so happy having Spencer even for the short time he was around. Dad’s an old Kansas farm boy, accustomed to the realities of nature. I know it’s true — dad wouldn’t have traded Spencer for anything. And neither would I.
When Spencer had his first seizure, dad had taken him along with him to the store. He came running in to me from outside, yelling that Spencer was dying. But it was just a seizure. The vet said to track the seizure times. He had another a few weeks later, and then had a couple more, a little over a month apart. We discussed medicating him for seizures, but didn’t want to damage his liver, either. It has been a good amount of time since the last, but early this month he had one. Then he had another one, not a week later. We should probably have started medicating him at that time. But we hoped — and I had told myself that one more soon, and we will.
Then, the day before yesterday, in the evening, he had one, and a few hours later, another. The next day he had a couple more, and we took him to the vet who gave him an anti-seizure shot. We brought him home, and he was walking around as if he was blind, just running into things. Not even an hour later, he had another seizure. He managed to stand up again, and wandered around, knocking into things, with his eyes wide. A few minutes later he had another. He ended up standing again, moving just a little, coming toward the stair in the garage, which he just bumped into. There was no response when you spoke to him or petted him. He had another. Then he was just standing motionless in one of my dad’s tool chests. Dad tried to move him out of it, and he backed up looking terrified, cowering in the corner. He smelled terrible, there was foam all over himself, an urine everywhere. After this, it was just one seizure after another, with no break in between them. The vet could do nothing, and we had him put to sleep.
He came home yesterday in a big blue bag, with a little white paw on it, all zipped up. It was a nice bag, and biodegradable. My dad wanted to bury him next to where my mom’s ashes are, under the Japanese maple tree that her mom had given her. I wouldn’t let him though. I told him that mom didn’t even know Spencer. He said that she liked dogs. I said, I know she did, but she also knew that dogs had their own place separate from her. He agreed finally, and we dug up a nice deep grave for Spencer out near dad’s toolshed. I still don’t know if I did right on insisting on this, but it seemed better to me that having this area of concentrated loss in one place. Spencer was something that happened in his own life, separated from mom.
After all that hard work digging, I thought it was a good idea to mop the house and scrub out the garage where Spencer had spent his last bit of time. I could smell him everywhere, and this was like a tangible presence that needed to be put aside. Dad says his sense of smell doesn’t even really exist any more with all the chemicals he’d worked with over the years at Boeing. But he lies, too, and I wanted the smell to be gone, and have the house “reset”. I forgot about the stairs going downstairs, though. I smell Spencer whenever I go up or down them. They’ll be gone over today.
Dad had been planning a trip back to Kansas, California and Texas for a few weeks to visit relatives. He thought he might put it off for a while, but I told him he should go. Now that I think about it, I think he was going to put it off more for me, than for himself. So, this morning around 4am he left, driving the minivan. Tonight, Kim and Jon will be out here with Bennett and Tanner. Tanner will be staying here for me to babysit as they head off on vacation for a few weeks, too. It will be a little strange, having just Tanner here, but I’m very happy he will be.
Our neighbors I mentioned earlier have two dogs, Angel and Dakota. Angel is an elderly golden-lab-ish dog who is really more eating machine than dog. Dakota was Spencer’s playmate, over every day, several times a day, to play and wrestle around. Tanner doesn’t really like playing with him that much. So, the dog dynamics have fundamentally shifted.
I wanted to go get another dog, to be here for my dad, when he gets back. Jon has asked me to hold off, though. I think he has plans.
Ah, but little Spencer. Only a year and half. I sure do miss him.
It’s strange as I go through photos of Spencer, choosing the ones I might want to put here, placing them in a folder, then editing them down to size. After I edit one, and include it, I delete the image from his folder, leaving less of a jumble to choose from. now, there are just a very few left. And I think of my mom, and how Rick made this DVD that is a compilation of videos and images he took, or has gathered of my mom, all in once place. As I piece together these images and thoughts of Spencer, it surprises me a little how I can do it, with a tear now and again as one thing or another surfaces. But it reminds me now, too, of how I have yet to watch that DVD Rick left a couple years ago of my mom. It reminds me of how I avoid even thinking that it’s there, even though I keep it. It reminds me of how I have yet to make any fudge, that I used to so often, that was the little secret conspiracy that my mom and I shared.