There was no doubt that Sparky had some social problems: attacking pretty much anything that moved unless it had been given my good housekeeping seal of approval leaps to mind. But he was fiercely devoted to the family; and as I was traveling a good deal of the time back then, having a snarling, menacing presence patrolling the driveway round the clock was, in a strange way, a source of comfort – even if it did wreak havoc with my home owner’s insurance. Truth be told, he only ever bit two humans hard enough to trigger legal proceedings. And in both cases he had not only my sanction, but also my quiet applause. That, however, is the stuff of which other stories are made. Just for now, I’d like to share with you this reminiscence.
Had it not been raining so hard, I would probably not have seen him; not have had a chance to say my goodbyes. But because our driveway turns to mud on rainy days, and because I was not in the mood at that moment for the rally sport effort that’s required under these weather conditions to gun the car and battle my way up the slope of the driveway, I decided to park at the bottom, and to enter the house through the basement door.
At any rate, I’m glad I made the decision I did because there, lying on the lawn in the pouring rain, not ten feet from the basement door, was my dog – immobile.
“Sparky,” I greeted him. But already I knew that there would be no response. “Spark. Sparky.” Nothing. I kneeled down beside him. His breathing was shallow, irregular. I patted his head; rubbed behind his ear. His left eye opened just a hair; then closed again.
What could have happened? I lay down on the ground beside him and began to stroke his shoulder and withers. No blood; no sign of injury. But it was patently clear that Sparky was breathing his last. I stayed by his side and continued to try to comfort him.
“Goodbye, pal,” I said. God, I’m going to miss you … Don’t tell the others -- but you’ve always been my favorite.” The rain came down, colder and harder.
I’d guess that I’d been lying there for about an hour, and, while Sparky hadn’t expired, he certainly wasn’t getting any better. It was then that Katie, my daughter, must have looked out the window and seen her father and her dog, lying side by side in the pouring rain.
Katie, it could be argued, is smarter than me. No sooner did she see us than did she go to the linen closet, grab an old quilt, and join us in the yard. “What’s wrong with him, Daddy?”
Mustering all the strength I had, I managed to vocalize that it looked like Sparky was on his way out; and that I was just lying with him and trying to make him feel comfortable.
“Don’t you think he’d feel more comfortable in the house?” she offered, spreading the quilt out next to him and inviting me to help her move him onto it.
Together we managed to get our eighty-pound friend into the shelter of the house. Katie went off to get towels, and soon both Sparky and I were on our way to being warm and dry.
The vigil continued in the basement until I decided to try to lure Spark back from the brink with food and water. It was while I was upstairs, grabbing some bologna and a bowl of water from the kitchen, that I heard movement from below. I looked down the stairwell and saw that my best friend had inched his way toward the staircase and was trying, in vain, to climb the stairs. I hurried back to him.
“Let’s take him to the vet,” Katie suggested after he had refused to eat or drink. “Maybe he won’t die, Daddy.”
“Alright,” I said, and together we put Sparky back on the quilt, struggled with him from basement to car, and headed for Dr. Sequist’s office. The rain had stopped.
The doctor was not in. He was out vetting a sick cow, and wasn’t expected back until about five. “We’ll be back,” I told the receptionist, and off we went to pick up my son, Ben, from little league practice. Sparky lay quietly in the back of the station wagon, getting nearer and nearer the end.
“You stay here with Sparky. Alright?” I said to Katie. And off I started across the soggy little league field, on the other side of which I saw Ben, who was gathering balls and bats and stuffing them into the equipment bag. How was I going to tell my seven-year old that his dog, who had been perfectly fine when Ben had left for school that morning, was about to die?
“Daddy!” I heard Katie scream from behind. “Daddy. Come here, quick!” I turned and ran back toward the car. Ran hard; ran fast -- just fast enough to get there in time to see Sparky leap off the tailgate and take off after a squirrel.
“What happened?” I asked Katie, watching as Sparky gained on the squirrel. “What did you do?”
She shrugged nonchalantly. “I don’t know. I patted his head, and gave him a piece of bologna. And he ate it. Then he ate all the other pieces; and then he drank all the water; then he kind of yawned. Then he saw the squirrel; and he just jumped out and chased it.”
Well, Sparky did die. But not for another three years. The vet reckoned that he’d probably had a stroke that day, or maybe he’d eaten something poisonous that had caused him to lie low.
The squirrel got away.