Spike 1998-2010

Our much loved 12 year old Doberman passed tonight. It’s been a horrible day spent going back and forth to the emergency vet, but he went fast, which was a blessing. Right now we’re blindsided. The house feels like it has a crater in the middle of it. He’s been with us since he was a puppy, so we really don’t know how to get along without him anymore.

His name was Spike, unless it was Deiter, which was also his name. He was intelligent, intense, and as fiercely attached to us as we were to him. He was also gorgeous. We never tired of looking at him.

He was very healthy all his life, and only began to slow down in his last year. We attribute his longevity to the vast quantities of avocados and heirloom tomatoes he pilfered from our garden. He might have died of pancreatitis, but we’re not sure, and probably will never know. 12 is quite old for a big Doberman male, so intellectually we know we had a good run with him. But right now all we want is to have our dog back.

Homegrown Evolution will be on hiatus for a couple of days.

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ETA: Our friend Doug has posted a photo tribute to Spike at his website.

Can’t sleep so had come back to eulogize a bit. Just sending this out into the ether. It has to go somewhere.

Spike loved people, more so in the second half of his life when he gave up on his innate, guard dog aloofness. Any visitor to our house was greeted by a 95 lb, pointy eared demon dog, barking deep chested from the porch. I’d have to shout over the barks that this was simply him saying “Pet me! Pet me now!” to the terrified visitors. And sure enough, as soon as they came in he’d stop barking and demand admiration.

He loved little dogs and puppies more than anything, more than people perhaps. He was good with all dogs, never aggressive, but he’d get particularly excited whenever he saw a puppy. With puppies and little dogs he’d lay down on his belly so he could be eye to eye with them, and so they would not be as afraid of him.

He was terrified of cords. Phone cords, computer cables, etc. Wouldn’t cross them. Treated them like snakes. When he wanted to cross over a cord, or needed something on the other side of the cord, he’d bark this particular high pitched bark at it until we came and took it away.  Similarly, he would not nose or paw open doors, so would also bark at any door not open sufficiently wide for him.

His greatest love was perhaps the sofa. His sofa. When I think of him, one of the predominant images is of him sprawled across the sofa on his back, front paws in the air, back legs spread obscenely wide.

He purred. Especially when you rubbed his ears. It sounded like a soft growl. In fact, the first time I heard him do it (the habit started later in life) I thought he was growling at me, and scolded him for it. But we figured it out and made up. 

They call Dobermans “velcro dogs” because they have to be by your side. Where ever I was in the house, he was next to me. He’d wake out of a deep nap to follow me. Even in his last days when it was hard for him to move around, he’d heave himself up and follow. Lately I started trying to stay in the same place as much as possible to save him steps. This velcro nature had a darker side. He was deeply unhappy when Erik and I were away from home. He couldn’t stand to be separated from us. So of course we were always uneasy when we had to leave him. Which is one of many reasons why it is so painful to be separated from him tonight. I think it was hard for him to leave us.

Spike was driven to learn and work. He went to many dog classes in his time, and if we weren’t so lazy, could doubtlessly have been trained to do anything: work calculus problems, drive a cab–anything.  The last thing he learned was a sport called “fun nose work” wherein dogs search for targets of scented oil. He loved sniffing for treats, and got his sniffing title (NW1) at age 11.

He never harassed our chickens, or even looked at them sideways. He seemed to get that they were not food from the very beginning, and we could let them all wander around our yard together. Often I’d see big old leggy Spike standing in the middle of the yard, slightly befuddled, while hens pecked at the ground between his legs.

Sometimes I’d find him sniffing around the beehive, which always made my heart stop, but the bees seemed to understand that he meant no harm. I certainly couldn’t have come that close to them with impunity. Creatures are smart that way.

Spike slept on the floor (well, on his own bed) next to my side of the bed. Every night he needed petting before he’d lay down and go to sleep. If I tried to ignore him and play possum, he’d nudge his nose under my arm. I called this ritual “night time reassurances.” If I was gone, Erik would substitute. It started when he was a puppy, when I’d have to lean out and down from the edge of the bed to stroke his little head. It continued all his life, though when he was an adult, he loomed over me when I was laying in bed, so I had to reach up slightly for the mandatory chin scratching and ear stroking.

He became hard of hearing in his last year or so, and that was difficult for all of us, because prior to that he’d been so word-oriented. I’d never met a dog who listened so intently, or knew so many words. What was extra amazing was that he eavesdropped. He knew the name of our friends and their dogs. If we mentioned any of them in conversation he’d coming wagging up to us, all excited, because he thought if we mentioned them, they must be on their way over.

Our regular, somewhat cruel, language game with him was to start the sentence: “Do you want to go…?”  He knew the correct ending was “…for a walk?” But instead of ending it with “walk”, we’d tease him by ending it with things like “…to the bank?” “….to the Netherlands?” And he’d go from thrilled to consternated when the sentence didn’t end right. Doberman consternation is a sight to see. The brow wrinkles. The pointy ears spin and twitch. You can almost hear him saying, “Whaa??” After teasing him a couple times with false endings, we’d finally say the magic word–walk– and then he’d bound around for joy.

For the last year of his life he was on steroids, and those made him hungry all the time. He became a consummate food thief. What was so stunning about his thievery was the timing of it. He watched and waited for the perfect moment, and then struck with the speed of a shark. And I don’t mean he waited til we left the room. He’d wait until all human attention was well focused elsewhere–a distraction or some such. It’s hard to explain unless you saw it, but his timing was breathtakingly clever. I couldn’t even be mad because it was so brilliant.

Spike had a third name, Dorr’s Braveheart. This is the name on his registry papers. He was the last in a line of a superb family of Dobermans.  Within moments of meeting his parents, they were curled up on the breeder’s couch with me. I knew I had to have one of their babies.

We have one small car, a hatchback. On car trips, Spike had to make due with the narrow back seat. Mostly he insisted on balancing his front paws on the arm rest between the two front seats, while his hind end was on the back seat. Positioned this way, he’d car surf. The goal, I think, was to have his nose line up with ours, because a car ride was like running with the pack. The last time we took a ride with him (other than the rush to the vet today) his balance was not so good, so he leaned against me as we drove. Shoulder to shoulder and cheek to cheek.

While I hope one day to know another dog as special as Spike, I know such gifts don’t come frequently. I’ve met few dogs so sensitive and intelligent and sweet. We were blessed to spend 12 years with him at our side.

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59 Comments

  1. My thoughts are with you during your very sad time :( We have a big 10.5 year old dog and he is our big baby. You were blessed to have each other. He was a good looking alright.

  2. I’m very sorry to hear about Spike. I think that that anyone who had the privilege of spending any time at all with him could see that he was an uniquely wonderful and well-loved creature.

  3. Sympathies. It sucks to lose a pet. In my experience, the pain is no less intense than when a family member dies, though it does tend to be shorter lived, at least.

  4. Many sympathies. We lost our husky girl this spring. It was also very shocking – she slowed in about a month and passed too quickly, and on my birthday. Too many conflicting and awful emotions.
    I wish you all the best. It is a special thing to love an animal, and they always leave too soon. Try and focus on all the happy memories, but don’t be surprised if you continue to randomly burst into tears years later.
    http://anaustinhomestead.blogspot.com/2010/03/eulogy.html

  5. I’m so sorry for your loss. Your words about Spike are really beautiful and moving to me (I’m a dog person with a large, male, protective cuddle bug of a GSD and he greets visitors in just the same way as Spike). It’s so hard to lose a pet, they really are family members – except people family rarely loves so unconditionally and with such abandon. Peace to you and to Spike.

  6. My thoughts and blessings are with you, I have had many beautiful souls pass through my life and attach themselves to my heart and not a day goes by without me thinking about them..Be blessed in the knowledge that he chose YOU to share his life with…as we all know animals choose their owners and he chose you <3
    Enjoy the memories of Spike and don’t forget he will be waiting on the otherside of Rainbow Bridge for you to be united one day again and he will greet you with waggy tail and the biggest doggy slurpy kiss and you will run into the reen lush fields to play once again and this time it will be forever..take comfort that he has not gone from you just to another plane at this time..Bless you sweet <3

  7. So so sorry to hear about your Spike. I remember meeting you all on your front porch, and seeing this GIANT dog come out. I’m not afraid of dogs, but he was SO big, I couldn’t help pausing. It took only a few seconds to see how amazingly sweet and gentle he was. Our thoughts are with you.

  8. I am so very sorry for your loss. We had to put down our beloved Maine Coon a few weeks ago, and we have still not recovered. It’s remarkable how our pets become such an integral part of our families. It sounds like you have lots of fantastic memories of Spike to cherish. Big hugs to you and your family.

  9. very very sorry to hear about your loss. i said goodbye to my 19-year old Siamese a couple weeks ago, and i know what you mean about the house feeling empty. my condolences to you.

  10. My sympathies to you. My 15-year-old shelter dog died 5 years ago, and it’s still painful to think about. I have two more shelter dogs now. Your description of Spike is beautiful and really gets to the heart of the feelings of humans for their companion animals.
    Take care.

  11. Hug hug hug.

    Our sweet baby of a black lab had to be put down just over a week ago. They are such treasures in our lives and he sounds wonderful.

  12. Well, we can only relate what we know, right? My family of four lost our pet of 16 years in 2007. He was such a part of the family that we hadn’t actually considered that he would ever pass. That was a mistake, eh? We went on for about three months swearing we were not going to repeat this pain. Then, one day, my wife said, “okay, it’s time for another pet”. And so we did. It’s been three years now, the animals we’ve ended up with have been nothing short of absurd, and none of us would have done any different. We still can’t get over how wonderful that first friend of 16 years was, but now we’re driven crazy by a new set of appetites begging for even more food, barfing it up, getting their fur gummed up with “exactly what is that?”, paying the vet bills, and the whole time laughing at/with and loving these fur covered nut-balls.

    Sorry Spike’s time came. It was inevitable, and so damned full of hurt. Wait until it’s time, then go ahead and try again.

    Best of luck.

  13. oh homegrown people, I am so very sorry for the hole in your lives with which you now have to deal. I lost my lovely boy earlier this year, and there is no greater void left after a dog leaves you. I makes me hope that I will die before my husband because I just don’t think I could stand to find out if it would be worse.

    the good news is that there are lots of lovely boys and girls out there, and one day you will find each other again. maybe not exactly the same, but some clever little creature with a trowel and a full hod will patch up your hole, and fix you again. good as new.

    until then, take care of each other. much peace to you.

  14. Very sorry for your loss. At least he made the decision instead of you having to decide for him. I hope this will open an opportunity for you to “save” another deserving dog when the time is right for you. There are so many animals in need. What does it say about us all that we are so affected by the loss of a well loved pet?

  15. I am so sorry about Spike. We must make the decision soon about our Rudy. It is so hard to imagine a time without our loved ones. They really are a huge part of our lives. We will miss Spike and you have our love and sympathy today and always.

  16. We’ve never met but I find your work totally inspiring, and I’m really sorry to hear of your loss. I’ve been there, too, and I know it’s awful. Big hugs from the Caribbean.

  17. Prayers coming to you from Central CA. I know it’s hard, and I hope your friends and family is around to give you comfort while you grieve. (((hugs)))

  18. My heart goes out to you at your loss, it is so very hard to lose a beloved friend. May the memory of all the happy years eventually ease your pain. I had to say goodbye to my own beloved compainon last year, and so have a small idea of how you must be feeling. Hugs and kindly thoughts to you from Portland

  19. I am sorry for your loss. Our Cocker-Retriever Happy is getting on his his years, he’s 12 too. He’s starting to slow down quite a bit and we worry about him too. He’s the gentlest dog we’ve known. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  20. My doberman passed away yesterday, she was like my little sister to me, she was 14,5 years old and already really weak because of tumours. I came back at university few days before she died, I can’t imagine my home without her, this Easter will be the worst ever :(

  21. @Anonymous: I’m so sorry for your loss. All dogs wrap themselves around your heart, but I think there’s something extra special about dobies. Just today I was talking about how much I miss Spike. The pain fades, but you always miss them.

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