Monday, June 29, 2009

Alpha Male to the End


I lost a best friend today. I knew him for over 15 years. He wasn't the only friend I had during this time, he was fiercely loyal, and loved me and my family more than humans are able. He was our 15 year old Jack Russel Terrier Spunky. I got the call around lunch time today and after holding on and fighting for so long, he was ready to let go. Unfortunately although he may have been ready I'm not sure my parents or I were ready to let him go. This always leads to a difficult decision and phone call to the vet to make sure that he would not suffer any longer. Sadly, it was time.

My mom was the first to talk to me on the phone because as she said to me, it was the two of us who started our family's journey with Spunky and she felt she needed to be the one to let me know his amazing journey had now ended. Knowing how difficult that news was to receive I couldn't imagine how hard it was to deliver. After the fact my mom wrote me one of the most amazing and eloquent emails I have ever read - she really coudln't have put Spunk's life and our experiences with him into words any better. She was right in saying that writing is cathartic and now I must attempt to do the same.

Spunky chose us over 15 years ago while I was recovering from Chicken Pox during the sixth grade. I couldn't really be around many people so this was going to be a great chance for me to get out of the house and have a chance to play some. We knew what breed we were looking for so my mom and I headed out to the farm in Plant City to see a new litter of pups. There was only one hard and fast rule that was discussed while on the way - "we are not getting a male dog." Our previous two dogs were both female and there were plenty of reasons to stick with that trend.

Once we arrived at the farm we were informed that there were two tri-color Jack Russel pups still available - one male and one female. That was a perfect fit, just what we were looking for! Spunk had other ideas. As soon as we were introduced to the two dogs I had been chosen by Spunk to be his boy. Much to my mom's dismay Spunk and I immediately started playing and running around with each other in the field. While all of this was going on the female puppy had immediately walked over to my mom and even fell asleep in her lap. She knew that this puppy was not going to be a fit for me so she began asking about the next litter of pups. Once we were done running around and playing we headed back to where my mom and the breeder were sitting. Spunk had chosen me but somehow he knew his job wasn't done and there was one other very important person left to win over. He trotted over to where my mom was sitting and began his work. His first order of business was to push his sister out of my mom's lap and start charming. My mom was having none of it and was doing her absolute best to completely ignore him. He was not deterred and continued to demand attention and began nosing her hand until finally she had to acknowledge his existence. Once he got his nose in the door, that was all she wrote and before long we were on our way home with our newest family member.

When we arrived home Spunk had to jump over one last hurdle before making it in the house - my dad. I'm not sure if my dad knew we were actually going to get a pup during this outing or if it had been agreed upon that we would wait, but I do remember a bit of shock on his face when he saw Spunk for the first time. Dad was easy compared to the challenge Spunk faced with mom and within minutes he was welcomed with open arms. Sooner than later dad was giving Spunk his first Oreo which would become one of his favorite treats, and the rest was history.

Another fond memory from my dad and Spunk was at the first vet visit, for follow up immunizations and a check up. He told Spunk that he would "never let anything bad happen to him and would always take care of him" and he and my mom both more than lived up to that stated mission up until the very end. Spunk quickly established himself as the "Alpha Male" dog in the house and as my mom so perfectly put it in a recent email he "ruled the roost" whether it was when and what to eat, how and when he wanted to play, or if he wanted to take us on a walk. He was definitely his own dog and he was in charge.

Spunk and I literally grew up together. He was my best friend, and before long he was my brother. As most of you know I am an only child but once Spunk was around he quickly became "Bubba." Looking back I couldn't think of a better friend for a kid to have during those times of his life. It was a typical "boy and his dog" story. Friends came and went, but Mom, Dad, and Spunk were always there for me. My day started with Spunk jumping up into my bed and rough housing me until I would wake up, and my day would end with Spunk being the last one out of my room before the door was closed. We did a ton of things together and he was always there for me, even in my teenage years when my parents weren't being reasonable, or even on the not so rare occasion when I was being unreasonable, Spunk was always there for me to talk to. He was such a great listener and always shared the love I needed to get me through any difficult times I was dealing with. He was one thing my parent's couldn't take away from me even when I was grounded ;-)

I can remember so many great stories about Spunk and the fun we would have but I feel the need to share at least a few. This blog entry does not even come close to paying tribute to his life and I feel guilty for trying, but I must press on.

One memory involved us all sitting around watching a TV show we had taped that was one of our favorites at the time but sadly didn't last for long called The Dana Carvey Show. This one skit came on called "Waiters Who Are Nauseated By Food" starring the one and only Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert WAY before they were well known. I have no idea what was so funny about the skit to us all but we could not stop laughing and replaying it. The more we would replay it the more we would laugh and gag because we were starting to get grossed out a bit. Spunk was sitting on my dad's lap and was either grossed out or was tired of not being the center of attention. During the last playing of the skit Spunk coughed and then vomited all over my dad's lap - guess he was grossed out too. I still remember how hard we all laughed at that. Here is the skit if you dare:

The Dana Carvery Show - Waiters Who Are Nauseated By Food

I also fondly remember when he would take me or my dad on a walk - Spunk was always leading the way and pulling us along wherever he pleased. He was amazingly strong for a "small" dog and it was always a good workout. Some of the best parts of the walks were when he would decide to "hunt" lizards in the tall grass in our yard. He would always get into a pointer's stance and then pounce headfirst into whatever was waiting for him in that grass. He was SO tough and fearless it is hard to describe. He was a skilled hunter and managed to bag more species of animals than the normal trailer back yard hunter taking out lizards, rats, squirrels, birds, snakes, opossums, and even an Osprey at the young age of 14 - thats 98 in people years for those of you scoring at home.

Spunk was the guard dog and gate keeper and guard dog at home. He wasn't trusting of many outside of his gate and even if we let them in he would keep an eye on what was going on with an occasional bark. He was also our #1 idiot tester. The idiot test was for those who came to the house and stood at Spunk's gate while he would jump up to (and almost over) the 4 foot plus tall rod iron gate, constantly. Failing the idiot test would consist of those who somehow thought it would be a good idea to reach over the gate and try to "pet" the dog that is barking and jumping trying to scare off the intruder. It's embarrassing to say how many people have failed the idiot test. One pizza delivery guy stood and watched for a few minutes and finally asked my mom how long he would jump like that. She quickly and honestly replied: "as long as you will stand there and watch him." I still laugh thinking about that because it is so true - he was that tenacious and strong willed.

Spunk loved his grandparents, and of course, so did I. We would go for lunch or dinner every Sunday. Being the family member he was, he would always be in attendance. He would get more treats than he could handle and would literally bark at my grandmother while standing at the refrigerator until she would open it and give him something - usually a piece of ham. I'm telling you, this dog was in charge! Once it was time for dessert, all my dad would have to do is scoot back in his chair and Spunk would jump up ready for his. The "family tradition" evolved over the years but usually involved spunk licking up some icing or miracle whip off of my dad's dessert plate. Spunk loved it, mom hated it, and Pawpaw always thought it was hilarious. Usually when guests were present he would say something to the effect of "saves washin" (referring to the plate Spunk was licking). Here is a shot of him with some of the family after a great Easter lunch (and dessert):


Spunk was also a therapeutic dog. He could always tell if you were upset, concerned, or sick and went out of his way to stay near you and keep an eye on you as well as physical contact with you at all times until you were feeling/acting better. I can't tell you how many times he has been there laying next to me on the couch when I was sick or in my room when I was mad at the world. He may not have known what was wrong but he knew how to fix it with his love and attention.

There are so many more funny stories to share of Spunk. Some involving eating an earplug, and another involving a very unlucky rodent with Spunk in a gladiator vs. Lion type match up staged in a bathroom, but most of those stories should be reserved for chats and story time over a beer or three.

As the years went by we both grew up. Spunk was a big part of my life as a young adult and was with me every step of the way but now it was time for me to move on and head to college. Sometimes it hurt (especially looking back on it now) for me to wonder what he thought about my obvious and usually extended absence from home during those years. He chose me, and we spent so much time together it was hard to say goodbye every time I had to return to Gainesville after a visit home. I would always pack my car and get everything ready and then get everyone outside before heading back in for an extended goodbye with Spunk which usually involved a hug or two and some treats. I know he didn't know where I was going or why, but he did know I would always come home again. It was VERY hard for me to leave, but I was blessed to know that my parents were taking care of him and Spunk was taking care of them.

After UF, we continued to grow up and I wasn't done. Law school, marriage and passing the bar were in my future. Spunk was always there waiting and ready for my return. He would always greet me with the love and happiness he would only give to the people he had chosen - his family. Spunk immediately accepted my wife and she went from normal house guest to family member and sister in law pretty quickly. I'm not sure how, but he just knew she was now part of the family.

Soon after that Spunk became an uncle to not one but TWO dogs. At first we were concerned about how he would react being an older alpha male dealing with two young dogs, but he was himself as always and still the boss at his age. God he loved them and would always perk up and act 10 years younger when we would all come to visit and boy did they ever love him:

0811Dogs @ Home012-20



Spunk took a particular liking to our female Shiba Inu Kohana. She knew he was an alpha male and liked it while Spunk knew she was a female and liked it. They were a match made in heaven and she quickly became his "girlfriend."


Lakeland 3-14-08-107

0811Dogs @ Home012-55

0811Dogs @ Home012-112

During each visit I would notice that Spunk was slowing down a bit each time but it was really hard to gauge since the 2 younger dogs would always bring out the best in him. Our last visit would be one week ago on Father's Day weekend. As usual Spunk was doing his best to keep up with the other dogs and he showed us all so much love and happiness. When it was time to leave on Sunday night it was time to say goodbye once again, the older he got the harder and longer the goodbyes got for me. This Sunday was different, I don't know why, and can't explain the feeling, but it was just different. I didn't have any premonition or anything but every time I would think about leaving or start to get up I would kneel back down and talk to him some more and just hold him. I tried to give him a treat but he just didn't want it and I don't think he was ready for me to leave. The tears were definitely flowing as they are right now as I hugged him and thanked him for being my "Bubba."

A few days later Spunk grew weaker and stopped eating and it became obvious that he was having difficulty enjoying his life as he did for so many years. Last night after he refused dinner once again my dad gave him one last Oreo, which he did eat and enjoy. Unfortunately we weren't ready for him to leave, but he decided it was time. Spunk was always in charge.

As I sit here and write this with Otis in my lap (his normal spot when I am on this computer) I am reminded of my Bubba (the original computer dog - another inside story - sorry) being here for me when I needed him the most. Thinking of him and remembering all the amazing times we had and the love he gave to me warms my heart. I can't help but smile knowing that Spunk chose me to spend his life on this earth with. I couldn't be any more blessed.

Spunky - May the sun always shine on you as your spirit, companionship, and love was such a shining light in all of our lives.


You were an alpha male to the end Spunky. I will always miss you and love you Bubba.


RowdyReptile said...

That was a great read, and a great tribute to Spunky. Sounds like you had some great times together and he'll surely be missed.

Sharon said...

Oh man...I asked for this, and the first thing I come in and read makes me cry!! Beautiful writing as always, and as you probably know from flickr, I have a JRT too. I was smiling or laughing at so many of your descriptions of Spunky's behavior, those undeniable Jack traits :) I know you'll miss him, it's amazing how they become a part of your family and your heart.

Velvet said...

Aww, Tim, I'm sorry to hear about this. :-( This is a great post, and a wonderful tribute.