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  Remembering Chispa
May 9, 2013

Chispa, our sweet dog of nearly nine years, left us this morning after a five-month decline due to cranial nerve deficits that left her ultimately unable to use her tongue, swallow or drink water. Although she had lost over half her body weight and was getting increasingly weaker, she had her indomitable spirit until the end.

Watching her go these last two weeks has really been hard. Every day, she would lose something else that previously gave her pleasure. I remember the last ball she chased, the last gopher hole she dug up, the last walk we took to the end of the road and the last time she made a playful jump at Tess.

The last time we lost a dog was in 2004, when Lodi died of Salmon Poisoning (Lodi – A Real Gentleman, August 28, 2004).

We acquired Chispa through Lab Rescue shortly after Lodi died. She came from a family in Los Altos who gave her up because found they just did not have time to take care of a dog. She already had the name “Chispa,” and we kept it. In Spanish, Chispa means lively, frisky or vivacious, which turned out to fit her perfectly.

She was beautiful and had the softest coat of any lab we’ve ever had and eyes that were a unique color of light brown.

We already had Tess, another Lab Rescue dog, who, like Lodi, had also contracted Salmon Poisoning and nearly died (Something Fishy, August 23, 2004). We found Chispa after Lodi died.

Tess and Chispa have been best buddies and inseparable for the past eight and a half years. Both love swimming and retrieving sticks, and we often walked them over the hill to the beach. They were always so excited; when they saw a leash being taken down, they knew a walk to the beach was coming up, and they would both leap and bark with uncontained joy. For a while last year, they started digging under the fences and escaping to the beach by themselves. Some kind person or a ranger would call us to come pick them up. The last time they escaped was in March.

I think one of the reasons Chispa was given up by her original guardians was her energy level. Some might describe her as hyper, but I always described her as “enthusiastic.” She had only two speeds, full ahead and so sound asleep you couldn’t wake her. Her passion was chasing balls, or sticks if a ball wasn’t available. She could catch a tennis ball in the air 30 or 40 feet away. She would pester you endlessly to throw anything for her, and her favorite game was to park herself at the top of our stairs and wait patiently for someone to kick a ball toward her where she would stop it like a goalie. Then she would roll it toward you with her nose for another round. The ball rarely got past her.

While Tess was mellow, Chispa was non-stop. Before she got sick, Chispa would finish her food in what seemed like one big slurp, while Tess would take several minutes.

When Chispa arrived, we finally let our house go to the dogs, letting her sleep on our bed where she spent every night for the next eight and a half years, including last night.

Chispa was loquacious, with a large vocabulary of sounds. She started early in the morning by rolling on her back on the floor while making happy moans of pleasure. Then she would bark at you until you either got up or invited her back into bed for a belly rub. She had a whole range of barks, each of which meant something different, including:

  • “There is a raccoon in the tree.”
  • “Welcome home.”
  • “Don’t’ leave me.”
  • “Throw the ball.”
  • “Get out of bed and come play with me.”
  • “Feed me.”


She slowly lost all her barks except for a raspy “feed me” bark that was still there yesterday when I gave her what turned out to be her last meal of medium rare ground beef.

We first noticed Chispa’s condition back in December 2012 when she seemed to be drinking water endlessly, and then we noticed the water level wasn’t dropping.  Dr. Prutton of Abbey Pet Hospital ruled out other possible causes and determined that it was a neurological issue. We took her to UC Davis at the end of January, where for a very modest fee, they did an extensive examination and confirmed that because of damage to several cranial nerves, including those controlling her tongue and swallowing, she was having trouble taking up water and swallowing food. They did not know the cause without extensive testing, but their best guess was that it was lymphoma or some other cancer.

In early February, while we were in Kansas City for a Conference, we got a phone call that she seemed to be taking a turn for the worse. We rushed home, expecting to see her dying, but instead she rallied for nearly two months and was almost her old self. She seemed to be getting enough water from dog kibbles that we soaked like little sponges. She was chasing balls, eating heartily and even ran off over the hill to the beach with Tess one last time.

A couple of weeks ago, she took a turn for the worse. We had to give her subcutaneous fluids to keep her hydrated, and although she still “ate” voraciously, the food just wasn’t going down. She got weaker and weaker until she gave up the fight today.

Following is a gallery of remembrances of Chispa along with a couple of YouTube videos.

The first, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfQuv1Mv6-0, is Chispa playing with our pygmy goat, Little G.

The second, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-sMyAAnT0M, is of Little G swimming at the beach with Tess and Chispa.

Below, Tess and Chispa relaxing
Tess and Chispa
Below, when Tess and Chispa were young, also shown are Andrew’s dogs Bailey and Kaya, who both died last year, and Daniel’s dog Seamus
Dog Family
Below, Chispa on the Russian River last year barking for a stick to be thrown. Tess beyond the raft swimming
Russian River
Just before Christmas last year
Daniel et al
Below, Chispa was still catching balls a month ago.
Catching ball
Chispa a couple of months ago looking pretty good.
Chispa and Tess
Chispa Tess
Chispa on couch
Little G, Chispa and Tess on our last walk to the beach over Nicholl Knob.
Nicholl Knob
Chispa’s last ball
last ball
Below, Tess and Chispa a few days ago
Last time wi Tess
Below, our last goodbye this morning. Shirley, Tom, Andrew, Seamus (Daniel’s dog) and Tess
Whole family
Below, Tess lingers at Chispa’s grave The white pot holds Chispa’s tennis ball collection.
Grave site
Goodbye, Chispa. We love you!