Friends on four legs


Dog lover Cheryl Spencer snuggles up with her dogs, Whiskey (left) and Brandy (right) on her back porch. After becoming a widow in 2015, Spencer found hope and comfort in her dogs as the three grieved their loss together. Photo by Allie Pigg.

Allie Pigg

For a month they paced the house. Their paws clicked the hardwood floors like tap shoes from room to room as they searched for a smell that faded more and more by the day. Finally, they stopped searching. They gave up. He wasn’t there anymore.
Cheryl Spencer watched her two dogs grieve the loss of her husband, Kenneth Spencer, who they all three lost to lung cancer in August of 2015.
“You could tell they were grieving,” Mrs. Spencer said. “They didn’t want to play anymore and they didn’t want to get their toys. They pretty much didn’t want to do their normal activities.”
Witnessing her dogs mope around, searching for their smell of someone not there, made Mrs. Spencer reminisce on the beginning of her journey with her beloved pets, who she calls her “kids.” The Spencers added their first dog, Brandy, to the family after Mr. Spencer retired. Brandy quickly took over the household with her authoritarian and anxious presence. After a year of her “Triple A” personality, the Spencers added their second dog, Whiskey.
“We thought, ‘maybe she needs a friend or something,” Mrs. Spencer said.
Whiskey proved to be Brandy’s opposite, an easygoing chilliholic with an old man’s soul.
“He’ll pick up his head and look at things and decide ‘nah, that’s not important,’” Mrs. Spencer said. “Whiskey balances Brandy out. She tries to run everything and he just lets her.”
Despite their differences, they formed a great partnership. For example, Brandy potty-trained Whiskey before he knew to bark when he wanted to go out, and they created a system of switching off who was going to ask for a treat each day. And when Mr. Spencer got sick, they each picked up different jobs to take care of him.
“If dad needed something, she’d be out here barking at me or she’d sit on the bed and bark, and that’s how I knew he needed something,” Mrs. Spencer said. “Whiskey would just stay there and keep him company…they gave him something to cheer him up just by being there. They were always there for him.”
One day, however, Mr. Spencer was no longer there, and the dogs were lost. They began to cling onto their mom, and she clung right back. Mrs. Spencer turned to her dogs as a source of healing and as something to care for as she transitioned away from her primary responsibility of being her husband’s caregiver.

“They were here and it gave me a reason to get up everyday,” Mrs. Spencer said. “They needed to go outside and they needed to eat. [Taking care of them] took the attention away from how I felt.”
If it had not been for the constant presence of her dogs, Mrs. Spencer said the initial grieving process would have been much harder for her to cope with. Brandy and Whiskey never said anything, yet, they’d let her talk and cry to them and would cuddle up with her when she needed it most.
“They never abandoned me,” Mrs. Spencer said.
Since Mr. Spencer’s passing, Mrs. Spencer and her dogs have traveled on a two-way street of helping one another heal. The presence of her husband will always be a missing aspect of Mrs. Spencer’s life, but she knows a piece of him will always remain with her as long as she has Brandy and Whiskey by her side.
“They were so important to him and me too,” Mrs. Spencer said. “They just gave me somebody else to focus on…they gave me a purpose, and I needed a purpose.”
What special bonds do you have with your own pets? Let us know in the comments below.