JACKSON — In many ways, Sparky was the worst dog I ever had.
A rat terrier, he would bark, growl and snip at not only strangers, but his family as well. He loved to mark his territory, including all our furniture.
When we first picked him up at age 2, a favor to a friend whose elderly aunt had passed away, he growled and snarled at us like a wild raccoon. We had brought our own doggie cage to carry him back home, but nobody had enough courage to try to pick him up. “Just take our cage,” our dog donor said as she hurriedly shook our hands and left.
We got Sparky because we thought a family with three young children needed a dog. “You should have done a little more research before agreeing to take this dog,” I chided Ginny. She had to agree.
As we passed young children on walks, they would run up and say, “Can we pet your dog!” But they soon changed their minds as Sparky bared his teeth, barked and growled, straining his leash to attack.
I sympathized with Sparky, having concluded that he was Napoleon Bonaparte reincarnated into the body of a small dog. “One minute you are ruling all of Europe, and the next minute you are trapped in the body of a little dog. Have a little sympathy,” I would tell my friends.
Sparky, convinced he ruled the roost, loved to sneak onto my bed and sleep right on top of my favorite pillow. This sparked a huge battle in the Emmerich family about who was going to be the alpha male. I won, but it took very thick gloves to seal the deal.
When Sally arrived, Sparky calmed down a bit. Our yardman, seeing that we had children, sneakily left Sally in our yard, denying it for years until finally fessing up.
Sally was a beagle mix trained to hunt rabbits until she became lame and ended up in our yard. Sally was bigger, and she was tough and calm, further adding insult to injury for poor mentally ill Sparky.
I was the one member of our family who didn’t want any dogs, but somehow I was the one who always ended up walking them. Walks were quite a scene. Sally would start her ear-splitting baying after she sniffed a rabbit trail, while Sparky tried to conquer the neighborhood with his urine.
We spoiled the dogs terribly, feeding them food right from the table. Sally was a bit picky, but Sparky would eat anything, including asparagus. They loved hot dogs, which I would chop up and feed to them piece by piece to prevent them from inhaling it whole. They loved beer.
As the years passed, the Sparkinator got used to his family. He would hop in my lap, and I would make my hand out to be a pretend doggie jaw, and we would growl and pretend to bite each other. He loved this.
He must have had some mountain goat in him. He would perch on top of the rim of our sofa and watch us all intently, ready to bark and growl if anything was amiss. He terrified our friends, but everybody eventually came to terms with Sparky. Once he got to know you, he would hop on your lap, which confounded everybody. “One minute you think he’s going to bite you, and the next, he’s sitting in your lap.” That was Sparky.
Our family often debated whether Sparky caused everybody in our family to be mentally ill or whether we caused him to be mentally ill.
No doubt, life was a struggle for poor Sparky. He did everything the hard way, causing much grief. Meanwhile, Sally was completely together. We aren’t all dealt the same cards in life.
Later in life, Sparky’s breath was horrific, another topic of running family commentary. His eyes glazed over with cataracts.
One day he keeled over while eating, knocking over his water bowls. He lay there trembling in an unconscious seizure. After five minutes, I said, “OK, let’s take him to the vet and have him put to sleep.” Sparky immediately popped up in a miraculous recovery. In fact, we often had to spell words out, lest Sparky overhear and overreact.
After his seizure, Spark declined rapidly, refusing to go on walks and sleeping more than usual. He was about 85 in doggie years. Suddenly he stopped eating or drinking.
One beautiful spring morning, I saw him sitting in the middle of the lush grass of our backyard, basking in sparkling sunlight. He sat like that all morning, slowly gazing around the yard, as though he was saying goodbye to his world.
That afternoon, he crawled under a bush to die. I moved him inside, surrounded by the whole Emmerich family.
We all petted him and told him how much we loved him.
Early the next day, his breathing became labored. He took his last gasp as I rubbed his neck, saying, “Sparky you were a good dog. You protected the whole family from all those mean robbers.”
Lawrence was most upset and insisted on digging the grave and making a shrine. The tears flowed from all our eyes as we laid him down and began covering him with earth.
The children were grown. Sparky’s role in life was over. Sally stood next to the grave and whimpered.
As Lawrence said in the eulogy, “Sparky, you may have not been the best dog in the world, but you were our dog and, in a way, you were perfect for us.”
So strange, after all our years of complaining about Sparky, it seemed in the end, it was all meant to be. For us, Sparky was perfect.