Spice came with a reputation: she was a biter. As her foster pet parent, I was to keep a long, rope-leash on her at all times so I could grab her at any moment if there was need.
But there was a back story: Spice was 9 months old and hiding under a bed in her home when a 7-year-old boy pulled her out. As the story goes, she was not pulled out by her collar. So she bit his hand and returned to her hiding place underneath the bed. Her owner was not in the house at the time and the boy was not her son.
Being a chow / terrier mix, Spice naturally had a fear of tiny humans (children) and many breeds are fear-biters. For puppy-aged dogs, biting is a good option.
So, when Spice came to my home at about 18 months, my responsibility was to assess this behavior. Thankfully, my good friends have kids AND dogs and they helped Spice see that tiny humans are lots of fun because they have the best toys and even better, they leave crumbs!
The bigger problem was men. No kidding. Spice growled at every man who came near the house. She even growled at Auntie Linda when she came over and had laryngitis and her voice sounded rather deep. She even growled at Uncle Pete, a favorite among all the canines in my home and with big sister, Kae (one of her fav dog sitters, in fact). So we had to practice a lot with the male gender because growling at that species in my home is a rather unpopular behavior. After a year or so, Spice realized Uncle Pete and Uncle Patrick were OK (altho’ they were not about crumbs, they were pretty good with toys).
Anyone who met Spice enjoyed her cuteness: she was a female Benji. Fluffy, bangs, kind of orange with blond undercoat, long spice so she sashayed down the street. As one of her fav dog walkers Serena Donovan once said, “Kae is graceful and Spice is so … not!” Once she was cleaned up (she was matted, muddy, heavy in addition to being afraid of everything, even a dog bowl. We had to hand feed her for weeks) she grew into a beautiful and affectionate dog who could sense upsetness in a crowd, human or canine. She would approach the trauma and sit, give her paw and try to calm the situation. Perhaps it was because big sister Kae was such an Alpha canine as a German Shepherd or because was just about love and food, Spice lacked Alpha personality traits. She just loved everyone. Eventually.
And everyone loved her: she became an ambassador for people who didn’t know dogs. Parents often said, “may I? My child doesn’t know dogs yet.” The best was Yonatan Sternberg. He was asleep in his stroller. Mom Ilyse Gellar Sternberg let Kae and Spice wake him up with kisses!
As long as you didn’t make noise over her head. Or near the house. Our very good friend of Puppy Love Rescue, Dr. Lisa Boyer Miller, treated a lot of our rescue dogs and suppprted me as a foster parent. She and her husband, Robert Miller, often invited me on hikes to assess dogs. Dr. Boyer right away saw Spice would be a great companion. As a vet student at UC Davis, she led therapy-dog training courses, inviting me to act out scenarios. Years later, I recalled Dr. Boyer’s thoughts and enrolled Spice and I in a therapy-dog training course and voila! Spice became a Library Dog. She visited college libraries during midterm and final exam weeks and also public libraries during days when children with developmental disabilities had programming and might need a little calming. Senior centers were a fav spot, too, during big events.
Much of a successful therapy dog visit involves the relationship between Mom and Pup. So I had to be cautious Spice was not around anything that made noise over her head. So crutches and sometimes motorized scooters made her nervous. But we set a classroom for her in advance and she loved spreading her joy every visit.
Most of my family will remember Spice’s greatest moment in my life: she became persnickety when carpeting at a rental house (OK, it was a dive but it had just become habitable after many months of work) was shampooed. Her sleeping arrangements were disrupted: the dog bed was not in my bedroom, but in the office and the bedroom furniture was in the family room and oh my goodness, there was a big tree in the family room with blinking lights!
So Spice slept on her bed in my office as protest.
Her decision saved all of our lives.
The building was a U-shaped duplex. My office window fronted the entrance of the other tenants. When their decisions led to the building catching on fire and the flames shooting out the front door, Spice smelled, heard, and saw everything. She began squeaking, a sound that I can only identify as a combination of distress and inquiry. I used to call it, “should I be concerned or excited?” But it was loud. I was in a minimalist bedroom, but had placed a headlamp and flashlight and cellphone next to me. Kae slept on a bedsheet next to me. She jumped on top of me at this point (which she would never, never do. She was a lady, after all).
I sat up and sniffed.
I laid back down. “Please, no,” I prayed.
I sat back up. Crawled on the floor to my office and found Spice in a room flamed in orange. The fire department was already there, hoses aiming at the building, fans blowing. My door was just 5 feet away, but around three rooms. How were we going to get out? And would the girls follow me?
Lucky for me, they did. And lucky for me, I had packed boots, coat and leashes by the front door. It was a maze getting past bedroom furniture in the family room and kitchen furniture stacked up in the hallway. Thanks to the headlamp, we could see. The smoke detectors kept up a good but belated cadence.
But were it not for Spice’s squeaking at 6 a.m. – had we woken up with the smoke detector – I am not sure any of us would have survived in a reasonable fashion.
Both Spice and Kae suffered extreme eye and lung infections for their exposure. Hemangiosarcoma came a few months later, just six weeks apart. Kae’s diagnosis was determined through some symptoms, Spice was acute. While I was in Florida. At a conference. On a weekend. The best dogsitter in the world and her family saved Spice. But Spice was so mad at me while in ICU, she gave me stink eye every visit. Auntie Lynn Compas Macdougall would call on the phone and Spice would eat and drink a little if the receptionist was in the room. If I was there alone? Nothing.
The most precious moment of Spice’s hospital stay came when Kae was allowed to visit. The techs all knew Kae so they were happy to see her looking well. It was nearly 10 p.m. and a gorgeous fall night. I dropped Kae’s lead and she ran to Spice at the end of the hall where the tech had just walked out of the ICU with her. They jumped and pawed each other. What a reunion.
But Spice had a reputation. While I tended to visit around 10 p.m., the donor dogs (about 18-22 months old, young strapping male dogs) got their walks around that time. Spice liked these young men. She would shake her little behind and straighten her fur, plant herself in the hall, and toss her head demurely when these young fellas walked by. Was she saying ‘thank you’? After all, she had plenty of their blood.
“She’s a cougar!” one of the techs laughed.
The girls had a poor prognosis: 6 months with chemotherapy, three months without.
Spice lived 2 ½ more years and Kae lived nearly more 2 years. They were miracle dogs, doing what they did, with joy and love, just being dogs, just being Kae and Spice.
Spice even came out of retirement when I changed jobs to rejoin a crew of Library Dogs. She loved visiting the students and they loved her. When she passed last July 29, 2014, the Andersen Library staff made a collage of Spice’s therapy days. She looks darling.
Now that we are approaching the first anniversary of Spice’s passing (July 29) and the second anniversary of Kae’s passing (July 27) I still find it incredibly sweet that they passed on nearly the same day. I would like to think that Kae was waiting for Spice, telling her it was time to rest, that Mom would be OK, that Grandma and Grandpa were a lot of fun, and guess what, Aunt Joan had just arrived and she was waiting to see her.
My girls passed the same month Schoep and John had their goodbye and for that I am grateful. I am glad to know that it’s OK to grieve these milestone losses while other relationships form. I am glad to know I am not the only one who reaches out every morning to pet two dogs who are no longer there.