Our kids were little, and we wanted a small dog, for our small house with our small kids. At the time, most dogs at the SPCA were pit-bull mixes and big (this was before Chihuaha’s became popular). We wanted a dog that didn’t shed and had a good reputation with kids and that we knew what to expect (somewhat.) The agreement with dad was that he could get a new car – a sports car – and we could get a dog.
Minature Schnauzers have a reputation for being energetic, loyal, good with kids — but often very barky.
I despise badly behaved, jumpy or barky dogs – Sparky was none of these.
We found a minature schnauzer breeder in the area and went to visit them. It was a suburban tract house and these people had TWENTY SEVEN dogs living in their house – parent dogs, puppies and their own, all living all over this house. In retrospect it all was quite weird and shady.
But they set up a pen in their garage for us to play and visit with their latest “batch” of puppies. My son, Julian, was about 6 years old and loved/loves dogs and animals. While Julian sat in the pen with little puppies hopping and biting and yipping all over him, the littlest (runt of the litter, who could be distinguished from the others by his small size and outsized large floppy triangular ears) simply crawled into Julian’s lap and fell asleep while the others continued their chaos. I really, really liked this super mellow puppy. We noted that this puppy “chose” Julian and all agreed he was the pup for our family.
Fortunately, the weird breeder didn’t clip his ears, but unfortunately, his tail was cropped at birth so he just had a little stump of a tail. But that stump wagged very hard. Our family imitated him by holding up our index finger and wagging it in isolation while keeping the hand still. This small hand gesture became our sign imitating Sparky being very happy.
As a puppy Sparky went everywhere with us – at school drop off and pick up, in the car to lessons, sports, classes. At the time few family friends had dogs so he was adopted by everyone and, in all honesty, everyone’s favorite dog. We usually hung out at the school playground after picking up the kids and he was always there being picked up, cuddled, squeezed and carried. He was always sweet, never snapped or bit (although the few times he did we knew he meant business as someone had gone too far.). Looking at photos from that era I can’t believe what that little guy put up with.
I started working in nonprofits and for most of his life was able to bring him to work with me. He always became a staff favorite. Not being a barker, he never interfered with work. He just liked to hang around with his people and usually felt content to just sleep nearby.
At home we had a doggy door to the backyard so he was free to roam the house and manage himself when he needed to go outside in the back yard. For most of his life, until he got too old to hop up on the couch, he sat in the window and watched the world go by. We have a lot of foot traffic with City College and several elementary schools nearby – and lots of neighbors walking dogs. Again – he didn’t bark, just watched. Friends used to laugh that they always drive down the street and noted Sparky guarding in the window.
Sparky was also everyone’s favorite dog to “Sparky-sit”. I had so many takers for watching him when we went out of town. He was SO easy, sweet and chill. Plus he was so cute, everyone loved taking him on walks because he got a lot of attention.
As he aged, he still looked very puppy-ish. Part of it was his small size – other Schnauzer owners would think he was a puppy. But he also was just so sweet and happy – never a grumpy temperamental dog who just loved and welcomed everybody. He always had a little “shake” to him. As he got older his back legs were very shaky and wobbly. We said he had “Puppy Parkinsons”. It didn’t seem to hurt. But people would often remark “oh, your poor dog must be SO cold!” or people though was was scared and terrified. He just looked at them, shaking, and wagged his stump.
He loved when we had parties or people over – he was very excited by it. One of the last big events was a house party I had for our (now) San Francisco Mayor, London Breed. We had a very packed house and it must have been intimidating to be so small in a sea of legs. But Sparky greeted everyone at the door (never ever hopping on people – because that would be rude!) and just waited or looked at people to notice him. He was, as usual, a group favorite.
As he got older and slowed down, it seemed that his Schnauzer compulsion for smelling and scent became much more intense. As we’d leave the house, he would get stuck just smelling around every busy or tree and not budge to walk – just wanted to absorb every single other animal smell. He wasn’t a great dog if you wanted to get some exercise by walking in his later years.
I was very sad at Halloween thinking of him -he used to be part of trick or treating with the kids as we went around the neighborhood on a leash. In more recent years, he was excited to stand on the porch at the top of the stairs to greet every kid.
He was most notable and different from most other dogs because he really never barked. Seriously, we can almost count the times we actually heard him bark. We laughed that he’d probably just happily greet anyone that broke into the house. In later years, when we came in the door and he was really happy, he’d hop around and a few times would let out a single yelp. I actually got one on video last fall – I was so excited to actually capture it.
One of the only times I heard him bark or growl at someone was when he I heard him do a few yips at something I had in the living room prior to a fundraising party. I heard him making little noises and couldn’t figure out what it was. I went into the living room and he kept looking at me sort of worried as he thought there was a stranger in the house. It was a life-sized cardboard cutout of Obama. I became worried that maybe Sparky was a secret Republican all this time.
The most exciting day of Sparky’s life was when the cat brought a live mouse into the house and deposited in Julian’s room. Julian had just had a bath and was naked (he was a little kid) and jumped on his bunk bed and yelled out that there was a mouse in his room. The mouse ran around the room, between and under furniture and Sparky had never experienced the excitement of a mouse (schnauzers were bred to be rat-catchers). Between the screaming and yelling and laughing and hopping of our entire family, I’m sure we really got him revved up. John eventually caught it under a metal bowl and euphemistically “set him free” in the backyard. For days Sparky kept perkily looking in Julian’s room and smelling all over for the mouse that I’m sure he believed he’d rescued us from. We have the whole thing on video and it’s a family treasure. I’m crying laughing. Adrienne wanted to keep the mouse as a pet and I think Julian was reluctant to go back into his room, wondering what else the cat dragged in. Julian is interviewed on video and notes that it was the most exciting day of Sparky’s life. It probably was.
When we got him all those years ago I calculated and would always remember that his life span would be until about when Adrienne went to college. As it happened, he lasted into the middle of her sophomore year, a pretty long schnauzer life of almost 16 years. He got old very quickly – really slowed down and after all the years of independence in the house, had to be carried down the stairs to go to the bathroom or down to the front yard to smell the smells. When Julian was home from college, he’d always take him out to the beach for long walks. He often had to carry him back to the car in the last year as he just got worn out – but he always tried to keep up and forgot he wasn’t a puppy. Both kids once they went to college always thought it might be the last time they saw him when they said goodbye to go back to their respective schools. I think to them they’d been saying goodbye for a few years already by the time it was the actual end.
But we finally had to say goodbye in February 2019 when it was clear something had gone wrong and he couldn’t walk, couldn’t really eat or get up. It was so very sad. We made an appointment on a Saturday afternoon with a vet that euthanizes your family pet in the comfort of his bed in your home (a god-send.) Both kids came home from the day before. They slept on the floor with him that night. It was a cold and stormy winter day here. I was so grateful we could all be at home to be together with Sparky and that we didn’t have to go out into the cold rain to take him to a vet table or office to say goodbye.
The kids went back to college the next day and, while still sad, I think may have moved on more quickly that John and I did. We just see Sparky everywhere – when we come in the door after work we still expect to see him excited to see us and wagging his stump. The doggy door to the back yard is permanently closed. I usually sew in our garage with the door open to the neighbors and he would hang out with me sitting in the driveway watching the world. Glimpses into rooms where I expect to see him laying down. Scraps of leftover chicken I think I’ll give to him as a treat but he’s not there.
In summary, it’s hard to imagine a dog that could ever be as easy, sweet, quiet and friendly as our Sparky in our hearts. He was perky, energetic, always forgiving and so very loving and happy.
No one ever called him a “damn dog”