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.

Chris Besonis says

Sorry to hear about you and Ellen’s loss. I enjoyed getting to know Spencer the few times we hung out. Of coure, I didn’t get to know him until much later in his life, but he was a good dog. I know he’s already missed. My condolences.

    DD Kelsey says

    Thanks Chris – I appreciate it. He was indeed a good dog.

Lynn Bjorklund says

My deepest sympathies to you. I know the pain of loss from such a friend as that, but it can never take away the years of love, and laughter and fun and learning that you were blessed with. It seems so unfair that their lives are so short, but they pack in so much life in their short stay with us on this planet. We are always the better for having known them. They teach us about unconditional love and acceptance, and living in the moment, and adaptability, and fun, and they bring their very special type of happiness and challenges into our lives. Know that Spencer would want you to continue in these traits that he taught you throughout his life.

    DD Kelsey says

    Thank you Lynn – you described it well. I appreciate your kind words.

Debbie dent says

So sorry about Spencer. He looks beautiful in his picture. They are family to us and it hurts a lot when we lose them. Hang in there.

Nancy L says

So sorry to hear about your loss of Spencer.

Vicki molbeck says

I am so very sorry for your loss, Doug. When I first starting reading your blogs, I felt connected to you through Spencer. I, too, had a Dalmatian. I rescued her from a shelter as a graduation gift to myself after PT school. I, like you, did not realize the amount of energy contained in that spotted body!! I wanted to give up on her so many times early on, but I stuck with it and she became my best friend. I always thought that she was a human trapped in a dog’s body. We lost her way too soon – at 10, from a heart condition. I like to say … it wasn’t the years, it was the mileage!! Your comment “how loud the silence is” goes straight to my heart. Thank you for sharing your story and your pain, and please know that there are many of us out here that share your sorrow and wish you the best.
“…. Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you … I loved you so – ’twas Heaven here with you.” – Isla Paschal Richardson

    DD Kelsey says

    Thank you Vicki – I love the quote. Dalmatians are a special breed. I had no idea just how special until I met Spencer.

Patti clifford says

Doug, I, too, lost my best buddy about a year ago. Roadie had nose cancer and we had to put him down. It was the hardest things I’ve ever done. Even though it’s been a year, my heart still aches for Roadie. I get closer everyday to going to rescue a new buddy, but the pain of losing Roadie holds me back. I know getting “back into the saddle” will heal my heart, as we have had many dogs over the years. But, Roadie was special. Of course, no other dog will “replace” Roadie. But, I know another dog deserves my love. So, maybe soon I’ll visit the humane society. I know you, too, have lots of love in your heart. Just look at what your teachings do for all of your followers. I hope, you, too, will fill the void in your heart with unconditional love from another deserving animal. With sympathy, Patti Clifford

    DD Kelsey says

    Thank you Patti – I’m sorry to hear about Roadie. Loss is hard but I know things get better. Takes time.

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