Spike, The World's Greatest Dog

by Harry T. Roman


When we first got him, he liked to sleep in one of Dad's work shoes. After all, he was only 6 weeks old and quite small. Often he cried at night. We solved that by putting a wind-up clock in his box at bedtime. The ticking sound comforted him, putting an end to his whimpering.

Of course I am talking about our dog.......Spike. Dad loved the TV cartoons that featured a big, tough bulldog named Spike, so he named our first dog Spike. Actually, he had another dog later on and that dog was Spike II. But the original Spike grew from that whimpering little beagle/hound mix into a 75- pound champion watchdog and family protector.

A funny memory I have of Spike is the first time Dad took him for a walk on a leash. I guess he felt the need to assert his male pride on the nearest tree. He selected a rather wide one just a house or two away and proudly sauntered up to that shag bark maple and thrust his hind leg up. Well, the tree was just too big for his still small puppy body. The angle of his leg threw him off balance, causing him to fall sideways onto his back, “pee-ing” straight up in the air and all over himself, right in front of the whole family. He walked hangdog back into the house and got his first bath. Our poor little baby was so embarrassed. But it did not stop him for long.

Spike soon outgrew his old box and took to sleeping at the foot of Mom and Dad's bed, that is until he was able to jump on the bed and snuggle up against Dad and Mom. They loved it. In the morning, we would find him with his head on Mom's leg or somehow wiggled into Dad's arms. He loved to be in contact with family members, nestled right up against us. When I came home from school, I might take a quick little nap lying on my back in my bedroom, and there was Spike, between my legs with his head on my belly, content as all get-out.

He wasn't too interested in dog food, so soon after he got out of the puppy phase, he simply ate whatever the family ate. I mean this literally. If we had say chicken, potatoes, string beans and lettuce, that's what he had....on his own plate and set out on the plate just like ours. He even had a salad bowl! He neatly ate around the plate and finished his salad as well. When Mom made tomato gravy, he just sat by the stove with visions of meatballs dancing in his head.

And did he love corn on the cob! We would put a little butter and salt on an ear and hold it sideways so he could eat it with his front teeth. Mom would laugh as he neatly moved across the corncob, taking out a chunk at a time, finishing the whole ear. Family members who had dinner with us roared when they saw Spike eat corn.

Dad would walk Spike all around our Newark neighborhood, any time of night, without fear. Spike tolerated no one getting near Dad. One time while I was with them, Dad came upon a bunch of wise-cracking teenagers who asked him if his dog bites. Dad simply said to Spike, "Show them your teeth!", whereupon Spike bared his teeth and growled. I almost came apart laughing as the teenagers quickly scattered. "Evening gentlemen", Dad intoned as we continued on our way.

This dog had more angles than a pool table. At Christmas when Mom would put the gifts under the tree she had to give Spike special instructions. Every year we wrapped some toys for him and he knew it. When the presents were there under the tree, Spike would go exploring to sniff out which ones were his. Sometimes we would catch him trying to nibble the paper off one of his presents. But he was told by Mom to wait, which he grudgingly did.

When it came time to open the gifts, Dad would say, "You know who goes first...Spike....OK boy, get your presents!". We'd all have a good laugh as he never failed to find his presents. Usually, there were 3 or so toys wrapped up for him and he tore the boxes apart with great gusto to extract them. After we watched him have his fun we then opened ours while he happily chewed on his. This ritual went on for years.

Did you know that a dog can tell time? They can-----somehow. Spike certainly could. Every day at about 4:15 he would become uneasy and start pacing, going to the back door. He knew Dad was going to be coming home from work; and this happened from the earliest days that Spike lived with us. He was a fast learner.

Dad carried a small basketball air horn in his car to give Spike a special signal that he was near. To get down 5th Street where we lived was one way heading out to Bloomfield Avenue, so Dad had to go down 6th Street a one way in the opposite direction and come around the corner at 3rd Avenue. When he was behind our house on 6th Street, Dad would give a blast or two from that air horn and Spike soon came to associate that blast with Dad's car pulling up front. When Dad came walking up the alley, you could hear Spike beagle-baying all the way down the block. His daddy was home and the whole neighborhood knew it.

My favorite Spike story deals with a very funny episode where my Dad got me real good. I don't know how he knew I planned to come in late that night, but I am sure Spike was in on the gambit.

With his superior watchdog skills, it was hard to sneak into the house late without him barking or maybe yipping to be petted when you got home. Before I left for my evening of fun, I stuffed a couple of Spike's favorite dog yummies in my shirt pocket. My girlfriend saw them and asked what they were for and I explained my plan to sneak in late by bribing Spike at the door not to bark or yip.

When I arrived home, very late of course, I carefully opened the front screen door and scratched on the bottom of the front door until I heard Spike sniffing furiously on the other side----

"It's me boy, don't bark", I whispered, "Good boy, I got something special for you".

Well that yummy stuff did it and he let me in without barking or making any noise. I did not turn the lights on. I gave Spike his treats and a kiss and proceeded to head for the bedroom in the dark. All of a sudden....trip,.... fall,... splat!!! I went head over heels onto the floor! My father was laughing up in the bedroom.....

"I got you Mr. Sneak." {actually, he called me a few other choice things.}

I turned on the lights and found that Dad had placed the two footrests for the couch around the door so I would have to encounter one or the other---

"How the hell did you know, I screamed back!" laughing myself.

"You'll know when you have your own", he said with great wisdom. Then he
said to the dog, "Nice job Spike!", whereupon the dog barked and ran upstairs to be with him. I was double-teamed, and still don't know how it was done.

Dogs teach you as much as you teach them. I learned an incredible lesson from both my Dad and Spike one late summer Sunday afternoon. Spike always pulled at the leash when taken for a walk. He loved to sniff and smell everything along the way. I asked Dad why he couldn't be trained not to do that. Dad simply explained that Spike was like a little kid who strains at his parents’ control, pulling hard on their love, just to make sure there was something pulling back at the other end. It's a form of false bravery.

All the while he was giving me his words of wisdom, Spike was pulling at the leash something awful. To demonstrate his theory, Dad simply dropped the leash. Spike tumbled forward, looked around somewhat confused and walked back to Dad and sat at his feet, looking up for a pet. Dad reached down and scratched his neck and picked up the leash----

"Parenting", he said, "Is knowing when to drop the leash, and when to pick it up again."

I am still amazed at the profound analogy taught to me that warm afternoon, by a man who never made it past the 10th grade, and a middle-aged dog. How I thought of that lesson over the years as I raised my daughter.

It was a sad time for the family when Spike passed. For fourteen years he cared for us unconditionally and gave us his love and protection. Don't let anyone tell you differently, dogs have souls.

Dad had Spike cremated and his ashes sealed in a small copper box that sat on a table in our living room along with his collar, dog tags, and our favorite picture of him. Right behind this collection was our family statue of St. Gerard, and a votive candle.

Spike is with Dad now-- that copper box buried with him, 20 years later. I imagine them walking and meeting old friends and neighbors.

My wife and I have had dogs as long as we have been married, and every one has slept in the bed with us. We wouldn't have it any other way. I talk to my dog now like I talked to Spike. I have no doubts whatsoever that he understands me. And judging by this dog’s antics, he could have been related to old Spike,……then again,…….I wouldn’t put it past Spike to try and make a comeback.

I’ll see you later boy.


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