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Life with Spencer

Journal, January 9, 2015

I am still struggling with Spencer being gone; I can’t believe he will no longer be here to follow me around on the farm.  It seems so empty without Spencer. When I told Jesse this, he replied, “He was quite the presence! Physically and emotionally.” That was true. I keep expecting and waiting for Spencer to walk into the living room. Perhaps I should have petted him more, snuggled and hugged him far more than I did. But I did do this often, and I can’t beat myself up over it. There is always that self doubt when a loved one dies; you wonder if you took them for granted, you think that you really should have spent more time with them, especially in their final hours. But I think that is unnecessary guilt, they know before they were dying how much you loved them. I am so very glad I was able to say my goodbyes to Spencer.

Spencer wasn’t just a “good” dog, he was an extra-ordinary dog! He was a pure bred golden retriever with beautiful, golden red fur, about forty pounds heavier than the average golden and taller than average with huge paws and head, and a beautiful tail with the force to knock a young child over when he was overly excited. He had a deep, fierce bark that could terrify strangers but endear and amuse friends. He loved people, especially kids and babies. Not just his own people, but friends and visitors too. If there was a person he didn’t like, he had good reason. Spencer was self-proclaimed protector of the farm and us; he had taken on the role by his own initiative.

Summer 047

Excitement isn’t a strong enough word to describe Spencer’s joy when kids came to play. He was always so gentle and patient with babies and toddlers tugging on his ears, pulling his fur, poking his nose and climbing, stepping or sitting on him. Following the kids around the farm kept him busy. He felt it was his job to baby sit the kids when they were playing on the farm, but babies where his primary concern. When a baby started crying, Spencer would run to investigate. He seemed to be convinced that no one else was paying attention. If Aleesha or her husband, Jason came to the farm without bringing the kids, Spencer would be very disappointed. Everyone who knew Spencer liked him. Visitors to the farm remembered Spencer and, once they realized he wasn’t as scary as his bark suggested, liked him. The regular UPS and FedEx drivers would be happy to see Spencer (and Allie) and spoil them with treats.

Spencer was far more than a dog, the best and most loyal companions and the best of listeners. He was an extremely intelligent dog, he understood us, and nothing got past him. I talked to Spencer through streaming tears about my pain, struggles and fleeting friendships. He understood me when no one else did. He would put his head in my lap and nudge my hand, not bothered, annoyed or angered by my tears, just sympathetic, understanding, and reassuring. He brought me so much comfort and love at those times; he kept me from sinking too low. His love and acceptance of me brought courage and strength, even joy. I am pretty sure Spencer was a friend in this way to Mom and Jonathan as well.  Mom is especially feeling lost without him, since he was her constant companion and helper for milking and the other chores. Without ever being trained, Spencer guarded the gates when Mom opened them and wouldn’t let the cows get through.

Spencer became a part of the family when he was only a few weeks old. He was small then and so cute and incredibly soft. He gave puppy kisses. We enjoyed watching him play, he’d chew on things and grow. After exhausting himself, he would curl up or stretch out wherever he was and fall asleep. He was so little and round. I remember his house training; the newspaper on the kitchen floor. As soon as we met Spencer, we were attached and adored him. He loved to swim. And he loved riding in vehicles. Spencer adjusted well to the new farm and adopted Grandma and Grandpa as his people too. We had to teach him to resist the temptation of chasing cats but even in his last year he never really gave it up, finding it great fun to run toward them so they would streak away.

He came to greet us when we came home from anywhere, and had a sense of what time the bus dropped us off; he was always waiting for us. Spencer preferred to stay outside, but if we were in the kitchen or dining room, Spencer was on the deck or below it in the front of the house. If we were in the living room he was on the landing (or under) at the back of the house, always staying as near to us as he could get. He snored so loudly, we could always tell he was nearby whether watching a movie in the house or working in the garden.

Many times we would see Grandpa drive around the farm on his five wheeler with Spencer riding in the back, seeming to be on no other mission then to give Spencer his desired ride. Sensing Grandpas failing health and fragility, Spencer spent a great deal of time following him around. One day Grandpa fell on a patch of ice, Spencer stood by him and barked until Mom came. After that, Spencer often walked near enough so Grandpa could lean on him for support if need be. When Grandpa died (five years after we moved to his farm), Spencer grieved for days.

Christmas 281Spencer was so full of life and enthusiastic about people. Often he would jump on someone to greet them, putting his great, big paws on a person’s chest or shoulder. We tried to train him not to but many times he was so excited he forgot. When he got older, standing up on his hind legs was too difficult, so instead he would sit as tall as he could and reach up with his paws. I forgot to mention his love of balls as a young dog. He liked to play fetch, though he didn’t always drop the ball for you. He loved playing soccer, kicking the ball with his paws, sometimes nudging it with his muzzle. He was extremely good at defense and stealing the ball. Trying to get the ball past him was nearly impossible, he stopped it with his legs and chest or mouth. If we tossed a volleyball in the air, he would bump it with his nose, sometimes even with his paws. When we played baseball/softball he would chase after the balls we hit and would bring them back most of the way (great in outfield) but he didn’t always return them or give them up to us easily. When Isaiah or Jonathan lost baseballs because they hit them too far, Spencer often found them, sometimes days later. He was never interested in football (perhaps because the ball wasn’t round), but he always stayed near us while we played. He had tennis balls all over the place and a flat basketball that he carried all over.

Fruit 012When we packed the van, to take me to college, Spencer was extremely sad. After two months absence, I was coming home. Jonathan made the mistake of telling Spencer at the beginning of the week that I was coming home on Friday. His excitement turned into disappointment when he checked every vehicle all week long, and I wasn’t there. Finally Friday night, I arrived, he was so excited to see me, he couldn’t contain his joy. One of my visits home, he was so excited to see me, he nearly fell off the deck steps. They were more careful about not telling him too soon that I was coming home. After college, I came back to farm. Spencer and I went on many long walks together. Spencer tagged along or scouted up ahead of me. Sometimes I’d find a place to just sit, Spencer was quick to sit down beside me and lick my face. Whenever we were on the ground he tried to give us doggy kisses.

Fence Post 080Spencer found squirrels fun to chase. One time he actually caught one and accidently killed it, he felt so bad afterwards that he buried it in the field close to the trees. He was just as good as a cat, if not better, at catching mice, voles, and rats. Raccoons were an enemy in his mind after he fought with a very large one and was injured and sick for awhile as a result. When he recovered, he seemed to have it out for any raccoon. He killed a pretty good sized once that had been wandering through the yard last winter. Spencer took his job as protector of the farm very seriously. There were many mornings he went with Mom to get the cows from the pasture. One stormy morning when the lighting was fierce, he kept walking in front of Mom, trying to stop her from going up the hill. After trying to stop her several times with her not heeding him, he quickly disappeared up the hill and shortly came back down with all the cows ahead of him; just to keep Mom off that hill in the storm. There was another time Spencer accompanied me up the hill, the cows were nowhere in sight and I didn’t relish the idea of trying to find them. I asked Spencer to help me find the cows. He jogged ahead of me, and promptly guided me to the cows. (He was never trained as a cattle dog.) If cows were lose, running around in the yard, Spencer was quick to bark, notifying us that something was wrong. He didn’t like the pigs, he always became very worried whenever we had to go into the pig pen. He often barked at them to remind them who was in charge.

We had to be watchful of him in the raspberry patch. He’d stick his lips around a berry and pluck it off like a bear, delighting in its taste. Bacon was, without a doubt, his favorite food, he wasn’t above begging for people food given the chance, especially when it involved pork. He absolutely loved cheese too. Being a bit of a stinker sometimes, he’d steal food out of children’s hands, being very careful when he did so. Sometimes when Mom was scolding him, Spencer would squeeze his eyes shut and turn away, pretending that if he couldn’t see her he couldn’t hear her and wouldn’t have to obey. And sometimes he would pretend to sleep. It was so funny, Mom always ended up laughing instead of scolding him.

When old age was starting to take its toll on him, he didn’t play much anymore, slept most the time, and had begun to just slow down in general. Spencer had already reached the average life span of a golden. Then we got Allie. At first he didn’t like her, she was too energetic and he may have thought she was replacing him in our affections. He would constantly growl at her and we’d have to be careful he didn’t bite her. Slowly though he began to warm up to her. He regained his youthful energy by playing with her. It’s very likely he would have died sooner if it wasn’t for Allie. Over the next couple years they became very close. They would sometimes sleep side by side or nose to nose or paws touching. Allie was eager to be like Spencer and often mimicked him.

All his life, Spencer was master of sad, pathetic looks, which he used to great effect Many times I was on the couch trying to read and Spencer would come lay his head a top my book and beg for attention, I often found it pesky at the time but now I really miss that. In his last weeks, he would sit by the door, waiting for someone to put his coat on before he went outside. And then upon coming in the house, Spencer would patiently stand, waiting for someone to take his coat off. There is so much more I could say about him, however, this is a good summary of his fantastic life. I can’t believe we reached the end.

Monarch 044I’d like to conclude this chronicle with words spoken about Spencer on Sunday, January 11. Jesse and I were talking about Spencer as we were coming home from church. Jesse commented that the timing of the goodbyes were perfect. I replied, “It was like he just held on long enough for everyone to say goodbye,” his will power was incredible.  Jesse said, “Spencer was an amazing man”, it was a balm to hear him say that. I agreed except I said, “Spencer was even more than that.”

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