Spanky has stepped into leadership role


“On the farm, I’d come to see that my animals managed to avoid, almost entirely by instinct, the dramas that humans create for themselves. I envied them.”

— Jon Katz, Izzy & Lenore

I once heard the comment that animals don’t have nearly the troubles that humans have, mostly because they cannot talk. Wow. Truer words were never spoken!

But, it goes even beyond the spoken word. Have you ever noticed how animals seem to figure out quite instinctively just when to step away or when to jump in to the fray?


I have seen this repeatedly over my lifetime with all animals, but with my own dogs, especially. After we lost Miss Murphy, our wonderful matriarch English Shepherd, it took no time at all for Murphy’s sidekick, our white Pekingese, Spanky, to step in to the leadership role. With a simple look, he could roll a puppy over on its back in to that doggy submission, while sometimes it required simply a step in the pup’s direction.

Just this morning, Spanky had scratched at a door with his paw to let me know he wanted to go out. This was an entirely different door than he typically wants to use to explore the farm, complete his morning trek around the barn, but Spanky always has his own reasons for such things.

Just as I opened the door and Spanky started to step outside, he heard a tussle going on between two of my young Yorkies who he had been keeping close tabs on. This stopped Spanky in his tracks, and he did a complete turn-around, heading where his instincts took him. He simply stood over these two tiny dogs and glared at them. They stopped their bickering nonsense, then followed Spanky outside to run off some steam.

After a long day of this, Spanky will sometimes look worn out, totally spent. He often comes to me asking for some special attention. Oh, if only he could talk! And yet, because he is so expressive in so many ways, he really doesn’t need to.


Everyone who comes here falls in love with Spanky because he is such a happy little showoff. He will go through his tricks and then sit up on his back haunches to be praised. He is soon to turn 12, and I would give anything to have him with us at least that much longer.

In Jon Katz’s latest book, Izzy & Lenore, he tells of taking in a long-abandoned border collie, Izzy, and eventually taking Izzy through training to become a Hospice volunteer. It is an amazing story, as Izzy goes from wild-eyed and filthy to a nurturing, loving companion. The stories of Izzy’s visits to the terminally ill are moving, touching upon the miraculous.

Ability to connect

There has never been a doubt in my mind that animals have the ability to connect with us in ways that cannot be explained. Dad felt a connection to his cattle, and would not abide a cruel hand used on them. As a result, we had a calm, productive herd.

He questioned aloud why young feeder pigs felt the need to attack the weakest in the lot, and urged us to keep an open eye for such behavior. Often it would take all of us to help sort out the pig with the bloodied ear, placing it in a safe pen, because once the attack was on, there was no stopping it.

I grew up watching animals work out their own pecking order, and as I continue raising puppies, I am still amazed by this quietly orchestrated production. There is always a bossy pup in the litter, a somewhat shy one, and the others find their place somewhere in between. It still fascinates me after all these years.

Spanky, who was neutered as a young pup, recently welcomed the only other male dog in to our family, a beautiful little Yorkie pup named Sully. I am happy to see that the two get along great, with Spanky often playing a running game of tag with the little guy. When Spanky is ready to take a break, he often will place a paw over Sully, as if to say, “OK, let’s rest.”

It is in moments like this one when Spanky’s eyes meet mine, his panting with joyful exhaustion filling the quiet of the moment. As he tips his head, I can almost hear him say, “Oh, Mom, what would you do without me?”

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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