Spring is a time when New England surges back to life after a bleak winter, but in my family it has also become a time of sorrow.
My wife and I experienced deep grief on April 27 when the time had come to put Sparky, out beloved dog of 15 years, out of her misery.
Sparky was a purebred keeshond. She looked remarkably like the dog depicted in UConn's familiar Husky logo. And smart? I have never known a smarter dog. She slept with us, ate with us, helped us bring up our children and provided comic relief.
She would watch the television screen intently for animals and unleash her shrill bark whenever a dog, or horse (she knew them as "big doggies") or most nototiously, a cat, would come onto the screen. Our little sentinel would climb the stairs that lead from our living room to the second-floor bedrooms to the fifth step, where she could see out three of the windows to see who or what was coming or going.
Indeed, our home was Sparky's realm. Squirrels, cats and other dogs were not invited.
Sparky was obviously getting old. Keeshonds, know as Dutch barge dogs because they would help unload boats using their small but sturdy frames, generally live to be 12 but Sparky persevered. She persevered through Cushing's disease, which ravaged her skin among other things. She recovered quickly from surgeries on her patella and the removal of a growth from her back side.
Our vet, Dr. Tanya Batterson, called Sparky a "trouper." All Sparky wanted to do was please us and be with us and to that end she staved off disease and discomfort, discouraged strangers from entering our midst and lived to a ripe old age.
But that didn't make it any easier to say good-bye. Yes, the muscle in Sparky's back legs had atrophied to the point where she struggled to get to her feet. She had stopped climbing the stairs long ago. Yet she was nobly fighting off the sure signs of old age.
On April 27, something went terribly wrong. Lisa came back from their daily walk crying uncontrollably. Sparky simply could not walk. She could no longer squat to do her business. She began vomiting up a thick yellow substance. She held her head crooked.
Our "trouper" had suffered an ischemic stroke as a direct result of the Cushing's disease.
We brought her to an emergency clinic in Avon, where the youngsters working there and the veterinarian were gentle, understanding and kind. They gave us some options, but in all fairness to our dear companion, Sparky's time had come.
The doctor put a catheter into her forearm. She laid on the table panting heavily, seeming without knowledge of what was going on around her. He injected a pink gel into her and within 20 seconds, her loving heart stopped beating. I watched the life drift out of her. A cold, distant look came into her eyes. She no longer responded to my touch.
All dogs go to heaven, I kept repeating to myself. We walked out of the room and into the parking lot. A guttural noise emanated from deep within as I leaned against my truck and tried to come to grips with what had just happened. I hadn't heard that sound roll up from my stomach since my mother was suffering with cancer and on her death bed exactly 19 years earlier. I was not the same person after my mom died. I am not the same person I was on April 26, 2009.
Just over a week has passed since our gut-wrenching loss and reminders of Sparky's incredible life abound.
The soft spring breeze tinkles the mobile that hangs in the porch and it sounds like that familiar jingle her dog tags made. The house groans when the stormy winds blow and it seems like she'll come around the corner with her beautiful, soft head bobbing back and forth. Everything keeshond still decorates our living quarters. The fifth step is empty.
Unanswerable questions, forever the bane of humankind, continue to fog my mind: Does Sparky's spirit still live? Does she know how much we loved her? Does she know how much we miss her?
Lisa and I look ahead, trying to survive our terrible loss. We hope there is another dog -- almost certainly another keeshond -- in our future, but right now, there is no replacement for Sparky.
She was a treasure beyond what any human could possibly provide.