Spencer’s Gone and Part of Me Went With Him

I had to say goody-bye to Spencer today (9/20/13) – my best buddy, the smartest Dalmatian on the planet. He had a large and expanding tumor in his tongue and we lost the battle.

But we had a great life together of almost 14 years although it didn’t start out that way.

I learned a lot from my relationship with him. And he gave me great joy and an endless supply of unconditional love. While I like to think of myself as a writer, among other things, today I can’t find the words to describe how loud the silence is in our home; how my wounded heart can still beat.


Spencer Kelsey – the smartest Dalmatian on the planet

So, in memory of my buddy Spencer, I am re-publishing a post I wrote many years ago with some minor edits and updates.

I hope this makes you smile, inspires you, and helps you as much as it did me.

And, as a heads up, I’m taking a hiatus from writing. So, if you don’t hear from me for a week or whatever, that’s why. I’ll be back. I just need some time to get my head straight and find my way back in the saddle.

I love you buddy.

Enter Spencer

He dashed at nearly full speed around the living room spinning out of control as his feet hit the tile floor. Regaining his balance, he ran back through the living room then took the stairs two at a time. At the top of the stairs, he turned sharply left speeding down the hall. Then, he was back. Down the stairs, over the chair, running circle after circle around the dining room table. It was frightening. And, this was just his third day with us.

When Ellen and I brought Spencer home, we had no idea of a Dalmatian’s energy level. It was overwhelming. After a few weeks of these speed events, some at 2 or 3 in the morning, I began to wonder if it would ever change. I knew I needed to do something but had no idea what it was.

I started by teaching Spencer to listen to me but could not get his attention for longer than a few seconds. I even tried shouting thinking perhaps he didn’t hear me. I considered changing his name to “NO” as I seemed to say it a lot more than Spencer. I felt completely out of control with no possibility of change on the horizon. Finally, I went to get some help. I enrolled in a class at DogBoys in Austin. It turned out to be the best thing I ever did for Spencer and me.

The first thing I learned from Sherry, our teacher at DogBoys, was that the problem was me not Spencer. I did not understand Dog Speak and I did not know how to get control.

She asked me, “What do you want to get out of this school time?” I said, “Well, I want a well behaved dog.” Sherry paused and said, “Sure. What does that mean?” I replied, “Well, you know, not tear all over the house, run around barking like a mad man, jump up on people. Basically, do what I say.” “Yeah, well that’s obvious. What else?” I said, “I don’t like the way things are going and I have no clue how to change it. I want to be in control.” Sherry immediately replied, “Now, that we can do. And, you and Spencer will become great friends.”

I was excited to get started but the idea of getting Spencer to do something simple like sit down seemed overwhelming. I could not get his attention much less get him to sit down. It was my first request. “Sherry, when will Spencer know how to sit?” I asked.

“When you control his food,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Dogs control two things. Space and food. To teach Spencer to sit, you have to teach him first who controls his food. That is step number one. He has to sit and wait for you to say it’s okay to eat. Until you master this step, you do not have control and he will ignore you. No matter how long it takes, you must control food. You decide when, where and how much he eats. You decide. Not him.”

Armed with specific instructions from Sherry, I had one objective now. Control the food. I let go of the idea of sit, stay, come, and lie down. I let go of the notion of a well-behaved dog. I broke the insurmountable down into one, small thing. Food.

This sounds much easier than it actually is in practice. I found myself feeling frustrated as I struggled with something as simple as controlling his food. How hard could it be? Yet, it took nearly a week to reach the first objective. Spencer was to sit still, with a full bowl of food on the floor in front of him, for at least thirty seconds. He was not to move or eat until I said “Free”. After many, many attempts and failures, Spencer finally sat still for 30 seconds. It took many weeks for Spencer to achieve and master step one: sit still with food in front of him for two minutes. But, we did it. And today, while we still have other things to master together, he is a lot of fun and we have a great friendship. Sherry was right.

We have a saying at Sports Center “If you want A results, give an A effort”. An “A” effort to heal and rebuild your body requires action but sometimes the problems you face seem so big, like mine with Spencer, you don’t know where to begin. You feel overwhelmed and feeling overwhelmed leads to procrastination. You put it off because you don’t know what to do and have no idea who to talk to about it. But, the body only gets weaker while you wait and percolate. It’s slow to tell you about it too. You can lead a life of gradual physical decline until the number of problems you must overcome to feel good again seem insurmountable.

You can change. It is not too late. The secret is in making the insurmountable smaller. Give an “A” effort on one, smaller, easier to manage thing first. Teaching Spencer how to sit still was overwhelming because the task was too big and my knowledge of how to make it happen too little. I needed some help in first figuring out what to do and then what to focus on. I had to first let go of the overwhelming goal and instead master one little thing.

When obstacles seem too big and frustration runs high, break things down into small, simple, one step projects then give an “A” effort. You will be stunned at what you can achieve.

Make today count.

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About Doug Kelsey

DK_bball_post Doug Kelsey is a physical therapist and ActiveAge “guru”. Doug is formerly an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Clinical Affairs at the University of Oklahoma Health Science and is the founder of Sports Center Physical Therapy in Austin, Tx. He writes on how to “actively age” – how to get healthy and fit over your lifetime and take charge of your health. He and his brother Joshua created the ActiveAge Blueprint.

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