Sparky, my best friend, except for my wife, died today
Time of death – July 18, 2017 2:15PM
Sparky is a Catahoula. They are bred to herd cattle. He was abandoned on our ranch by some ingrate and kept hanging around the barn, so we took him in. That was 14 years ago, which means he is about 98 years old in human years. At first we though Sparky was slow. He’d been roaming the desert around our house for some weeks, according to the neighbors. One Sunday morning as Grace Ann (my wife) went to the barn to feed the horses, she turned around and saw this dog with strange-looking eyes following her. He stayed around the property so we took him in. He did not bark, was unresponsive, and mostly looked down, and paid us no never mind. A few days in the house, and he’d chewed through the back of my chair. Not a house dog, for sure. When I called to him, and he did not seem to notice. Then Grace Ann got up behind him and clapped, and nothing. Sparky was deaf. He also had a crooked tail. Looked like it had been caught in a car door.
My best friend, except for Grace Ann, is about to pass away. Grace Ann and I took him for a short walk. I held him one last time. We let Honey participate, since to find her soul mate just gone, would have been too traumatic.
Sparky on my lap, with Honey, as we both look after Sparky on his last day
Deaf dogs need language. We got a trainer and she taught us all some hand signal commands. Sparky was quick witted, and picked it up quickly. Trouble was, he would growl at us if we tried to cross the room. Also growled and snarled if we tried to play with him. This dog was bred to be a cattle herder, and with no cows around, he decided to herd us around, whenever we crossed the back yard, or looked like we were playing around indoors or out. He would growl and nip and try to “herd” us.
Sparky was always happy. He was always happy to go on a walk, happy to poop, happy to have a treat, happy to eat his meals, and happy to be with me. He loved me unconditionally. He is definitely man’s best friend, my best friend. We did many walks in the desert but recently he could not go very far. We used to walk for an hour, but lately 10 minutes he all he can do. We had to use a horse halter on him, because he would simply chew through the store-bought doggy ones. Besides you needed something sturdy to hold onto while he dragged you around.
As I held Sparky on his last day, I came to terms, a bit, not totally, with his leaving.
Sparky is not a name for a grown man’s dog. There is a story here. I named him Sparky, after a dog I had as a child, when I was about 6 years old. That Sparky was a Cocker Spaniel, and did shed even more hair than the Catahoula (Sparky’s breed). My parents told me the old Sparky ran away. Next day he came back home. I went off to kindergarten and when I go home, my mother told me, “Sparky ran away again.” Two days later, Sparky was back at our doorstep. I was so very glad to see him. I went off to kindergarten, and when I got home, again my mother said, “Sparky ran away.” I was gullible and believed her. Years later, as a teenager, she told me they took Sparky to the pound, and he got loose, then took him to a pound the other side of town, and he got loose again. The third time they made sure he’d never come back, and he didn’t. Mom said, “I got tired of all the hair. Hair was everywhere on all the furniture. Had to be done.” Mom was all about keeping a tidy house, and Sparky did not fit in.
What does it do to a child to have his dog sent away, or to be accurate, to be killed? For me the result was I did not bond with animals ever again, not until this Sparky. I also did not exactly trust my parents after that. Who would?
Some time with Sparky, and I am adjusting to the Situation. Honey is there tending him too
I used to walk Sparky, and tell him, “I cannot bond with animals!” “Sorry, I will do the best I can!” He just came up and licked my head, licked any part, an arm, a leg, a hand. If he could not get at a bare part, he’d lick my jeans, and eventually bite through, and create holes. It was gentle, and distracted, you wouldn’t notice till the hole was there.
After a few months he stopped chewing furniture. He loved his walks, but he’d drag a full-grown man down the desert trail, going wherever he wanted, stopping to smell the same bushes, over and over again. I used to walk him anyway, and eventually he settled in, walking at my side.
We have a cat at our ranch, a fluffy longhair white cat. We named him ‘Tiger.’ He was an outdoor cat that came eventually to live indoors but went out during the day. We called him ‘Tiger’ not because of his looks, but his personality: he hunted mice, rabbits, birds, and reptiles of all sorts. He’d leave the trophies on our front door step. This would drive Sparky crazy.
The cat trained Sparky. How? When Sparky first showed up, he slowly approached Tiger until they were real close, nose to nose. Then Tiger grabbed Sparky’s snout with both paws, claws out! Sparky yelped a leaped back, and gave Tiger a wide berth after that. It is only in the last few years that Sparky could get close enough to give Tiger a friendly (but still cautious) sniff.
Tiger seemed to be the only creature that could back Sparky down. One evening, I heard barking outside, and it was dark, no moon at all. There was Sparky, lunging at a Western Diamondback Rattle Snake, a big one. The snake would strike at Sparky, and Sparky would jump back, then growl and lunge again at the snake. It just went on like that for a very long time, so I grabbed a shovel and took off the snake’s head. Sparky never backed down from a fight, except with Tiger. Tiger is unique, a whole other story.
I am a Vietnam Veteran, with some mild PTSD. Anyone who goes to a war zone has it. It’s just a fact of life! To me Sparky was like a service dog. Unconditional love, always glad to see me, always coming around to check up on me when I writing, sleeping, or relaxing. It took a few years, but eventually we bonded. As he got older he started to bark. First few years, we enjoyed the peace and quiet, except for the growling when we tried to cross the yard without his express permission.
He also walked by my side, on our journeys. But you had to watch him close. He would bolt out the door, and not look back. You could call after him. What good would that do? He’s deaf! Several times he escaped the house, and we’d drive up and down every street in a two-mile search radius. Sometimes we’d find him at the middle school, herding the children around on the playground, and they all liked him. Other times, we’d get a call from the pound, “Found Sparky, come and claim him.” The deal is, every time they pick him up, the fine is doubled. $30 to $60 to $120. Liked it better when some neighbor or a school would call, “You want to come and get Sparky.” In his later years, I could actually catch him.
(Photo below: When Grace Ann’s brother Phil (Chup) was visiting us, he woke up to Sparky staring at his face—and took this picture!)
A second dog was abandoned on our property. She’s a boxer, and some other stuff. We named her “Honey,” cause of her hair color. You can see her in the pictures. She has short hair and barely sheds at all–My mom would have loved her. Everyone loves Honey. She is athletic, so strong she could pull a dog sled, and yet very respectful. If a door is a bit open but not to the width of her head, she won’t open it, and will just sit there. Sparky, on the other hand, will work the handle if he can, or push on the door till he can squeeze through. Sparky and Honey grew to be the best of friends. When Honey had her spaying operation and was returning from surgery, for a while she could not move yet to get out of the car in the garage and go into the house. Sparky came over to the car, jumped inside, and stayed in there next to her, comforting her, until she was ready to move.
Grace Ann and I used to watch a movie in the evening and sit in our easy chairs. When Honey was very young, one evening she just wiggled her way into Grace Ann’s lap, and then sometimes into mine. She was so limber and soft you wouldn’t notice and when you did she was so cuddly, how could you refuse. Sparky would be in the room laying on a dog mattress. After a few weeks of this, Sparky, now in his barking phase, would bark at us, and we did not know why. After a few evenings (humans are slow) we figured it out. Sparky wanted to be up on the chair too, but he could not figure out how to do it. We would motion him to jump up, and nothing. Finally, we had to pick him up and plant him on our lap. Unlike Honey, Sparky is all bony, and not at all comfortable. But Sparky wanted up, and that was that. Eventually, he learned to put his front end on your lap, and you’d have to bring the rear bits up there too. He was still bony, and he shed hair all over, but definitely gave lots of love. He’d lick you all over clothes and all. After he saw Honey do it, Sparky even began to look for hugs.
Sparky could never catch Honey in the back yard. Honey was fast, could have kept up with a Grey Hound. Sparky would lite out after her, and she would weave and bob, and keep ahead of him with a burst of speedy. Sparky got so frustrated, he would go in his outside dog house (not that he ever slept outside, not after the snake incident), and he’d scratch and claw and make a racket, one he did not hear, but we sure did. It got to be a ritual, and he’d work out whatever stressed him, Honey or Tiger, or whatever, and scratch at the inside of the dog house, then calm down.
Ok, so you get the storyline. Sparky was part of the family, a member of the family: Grace Ann, Sparky, Honey, Tiger, and me. We were a family unit. Losing a member of the family is a big deal.
Sparky had been feeling poorly. He was on arthritis medicine, and then he developed this reverse cough. When a hound like Sparky has a reverse cough you know all about it. He was getting more congested. We took him to the emergency veterinary hospital, and got some meds. He was wheezing at night and most of the day. Seemed a bit better for a day on meds, then, his lungs filled with fluids. A decision had to be made. We call the animal psychic, called the veterinarian, and talked to other dog lovers. The consensus was that he was suffering, and some medical procedures could be tried, but he was about 100 in human years, so best to end it.
I dug a grave in the back yard. Grace Ann called a veterinarian to come to the house and do the deed. It took hours to dig through the caliche and rocks, and get down three feet. The veterinarian was a kind and caring person. She told us the options. We agreed to the procedure. She gave him a local, then a drip. I am a shamanic practitioner. So I did drumming when the veterinarian applied the drip.
After he passed on, the veterinarian made a paw print in clay. I liked the thoughtfulness of that. She told us we could scribe his name on it and bake it, if we like, as memento.
Sparky’s Paw Print in Clay
We wrapped him in a soft knit pillowcase. We spit it up along one side so his head would tuck into it, and it actually fit his whole body, when we put him in the fetal position. He weighed about 50 pounds, a bit less, since he’d lost some weight.
We carried Sparky’s lifeless body to the grave site. It is located on the Medicine Wheel, where I think the heart chakra is. On walks with Sparky, and then with Honey too, we’d find stones shaped like a heart, and put them along the medicine wheel. I thought he would like to be there, and I can find more heart stones and put them on his grave.
(Photo below: Sparky’s place near the Medicine Wheel by the larger white stone)
Honey is visiting Sparky (beneath the tree branch) and looking at the heart-shaped rocks
I drummed outside along the medicine wheel before we put Sparky there, and again I drummed after he was buried. I wanted to be there for him the way he had always been there for me. I wanted him to have an easy journey to Lower World. I told him he could become a Power Animal, once he crossed from Middle World where we all live, into Lower World, where Power Animals live on. I will check in the morning, during my shamanic drumming meditation, journey to Lower World to check in on Sparky, and make sure he arrived. Some spirits linger, stay in Middle World, or in-between worlds, wanting to take care of ones they left behind. I wanted Sparky to know that he would be able to hear again, and he was going to a place where he would have many Power Animal friends. I would visit him. Would he like to be my Power Animal, or move along and be that for someone else?
Time will tell.