Scott Steele: Remembering Spunky
Through 3 long term relationships, 2 moves, health issues, career and job changes there was one constant in my life. He was my best friend, my baby boy, my companion. I used to tell him, “Spunky and daddy, together forever.”
Forever ended in the early morning hours on Saturday, September 22, 2007. He passed away in his sleep.
I want to share something that is at once profoundly personal, but in this case, I think should be appropriately public, too; the loss of Spunky.
My ubiquitous companion and a part of Milwaukee television history is gone.
I recognize and respect those of you who may find my thoughts or feelings ridiculous, but I hope you will also respect my perspective as well. Those of us who are pet people or more specifically dog people will understand; others may not. As one friend put it, “you either get it or you don’t.”
Spunky would’ve been 15 years old this January. He and I were together through thick and thin. He was one of my life’s true blessings. I remember the day, I received a call from a friend at the Fox Valley Humane Society. She told me I absolutely had to drive up to see this “special guy” she had for me. I was reluctant, but I relented and my life was changed forever.
She brought this handsome little guy out to meet me. She told me to go take him for a walk and much as I resisted, he had my heart.
There’s this word and definition I remember from high school honors biology class, “anthropomorphism, attributing a human characteristic to something that is not human.” Still, I can’t help but do that when it comes to describing Spunky.
Sure he had fur, a tiny tail, and walked on all 4’s, but Spunky was more human than some people I know.
His personality was unique.
He seemed to exhibit human-like behavior and understanding. He was remarkably bright. He learned dozens of typical dog tricks with ease and was proud to show them off. Spunky seemed to have a remarkable vocabulary. He knew the names of all his toys. I could line up all of them and ask him to bring me a specific one, and with out fail he’d make the right choice.
The conversations were one-sided, but there’s little doubt in my mind he often understood what I was saying and more importantly what I was feeling.
Spunky was my dog, but on some level he was shared by tens of thousands of people: young and old, men and women, boys and girls.
I won’t bore you with how he came to be a TV star. You can read about it if you like. Here’s a link to a feature story about Spunky and me which appeared in the Milwaukee Journal many years ago. (Click on the related content link on the left hand side at the top of the page to view the article).
It was not calculated, and like many of the most satisfying things in life, occurred by accident.
I will tell you that from the moment he entered the television station, he boosted morale and became beloved by many of our coworkers. It was hard not to love him.
Once he made a few appearances on air, the letters and calls came pouring in. It was overwhelmingly positive, but even the critics talked about him and watched.
Spunky became a unifying theme in the routine of many families each morning and helped parents and kids connect.
He also helped make my work more pleasant. Who wouldn’t hate getting up at 3:00 in the morning, but who wouldn’t love bringing their dog into the office.
He’d be soundly sleeping while I was getting ready but like a trooper, when I said, “Spunky, we’ve got to go to work,” he’d get up (some days more slowly than others) and go wait for me to put on his leash.
His “professionalism” was most notable outside the station during personal appearances. Hundreds of people would swarm him at State Fair and Summerfest, thousands would line up to see him during the week. It could feel claustrophobic at times and while just about any animal might be threatened, Spunky appeared to be so pleased at all the petting and “pawtographs” he signed with me.
Our visits to and “Live Shots” from dozens of schools and retirement communities, contest winners homes and businesses were so much fun.
I was so proud of him as he happily performed for each and every crowd.
What made me happiest was the connection people shared with this special animal. Those who couldn’t have a pet, children or seniors, seemed to adopt Spunky as their own.
Few knew his whole name. Spunky Jack Steele.
I’m still processing this loss in my life.
My home literally feels different.
It is empty.
A neighbor of mine tells me that in the Hebrew language, the words dog and heart are quite similar because of how close we feel to the animal.
Who knew 15 pounds of fur could make me feel this way.
I could spend the day listing thousands of things I’ll miss about Spunky, but here are just a few:
•Taking him for walks, we only started doing this regularly in the last few years
•Playing “ropey, toy-toy, socky, bally” or any of those silly named things
•Watching him comfort himself into a trance by chewing and sucking on his stuffed animals
•Watching him tear around the neighbor’s fenced in backyard, he was lightning fast
•Seeing him play with children, any children
•Watching him perk up when I’d ask if he wanted to go for a ride to see: Bohbie and Zaide (Grandma and Grandpa), Carl and Chickie (the couple who watched him when I was away), Bo and Jeannie (our neighbors who always gave him lots of treats), Bessie (his basset hound friend), “Doggies.” He knew all of these words!
•Seeing my father who suffers from Alzheimer’s respond to him or watching him snuggle next to my mother.
•Watching him play keep away and tease people with his toys
•Hearing him snore
•Feeling him backing up into me when I went to bed, he always had to be touching
•That little face looking at me
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank each and every person who took the time to call, visit, write, fax, or email us over the years. Spunky led an extraordinary life in large part because of you.
I think there was an animated movie entitled, “All Dogs Go To Heaven.”
I pray that to be the case and hope my dearest Spunky is watching over me knowing how much I love and miss him.
Email your thoughts and memories of Spunky to: firstname.lastname@example.org.