Jax and Sparticus

Photographer: Bernadette Cuvalo

This lovely black and golden furred mini-Doberman is Sparticus, he was named after the legendary gladiator (Spartacus) who earned the wooden sword which granted him freedom from his slave status. Sparticus was a street dog eleven years ago, with no apparent master. He survived fighting off larger dogs and probably coyotes as he weighed at the time closer to five pounds and was showing signs of emaciation.

Sparticus was barely surviving, weeks of watching this tiny animal hobble to trash cans in the neighborhood, Jax knew she had to adopt him or he wouldn’t survive the coming winter. Sparticus had a front leg which had been previously broken and not attended to, this gave him a certain swagger when he walked. He possessed the “pimp” walk and backed it up with a tough bark and an instinct to bite all in his path who showed any obstruction to his will. Jax took him on despite his aggressive tendencies.

From street dog he was transformed as MA’s mascot. In the above photo, Jax, who had been painting the outside of our museum, had her sidekick Sparticus at her side, his loyalty and gratitude toward Jax was endless, so much that he was happy to be painted on by accident, with his tail wagging regardless of a little paint on his body. If Jax was painting, he had to be a part of it.

Having learned a bit about Sparticus, his relationship to me gradually grew close and I too could pet him, but only if I approached him from an angle he could see, otherwise he would bite me, and he did with no damage simply to make his stand with me. What I noticed was that he had suffered much abuse. After nearly a year of living with him, I began to see behavioral traits which reminded me of dogs trained to fight each other, his aggressing was tied to environmental cues.

In time I adapted to handling him. An example of his character was when I first raised my voice to his barking. My shouting at him to “stop barking” was obeyed, mostly. As I  turned away from him having been satisfied at his silence, Sparticus barked back at me when my back was turned, so I turned back to face him and said, “No! Stop barking Sparticus” and again he silenced, until I had my back turned and then he again began barking, but not in a doggy way, but as a human. His bark was intentionally trying to provoke me as he was saying in barks to me was, “Oh don’t even think you made me shut up, I was only being polite but not now that you raised your voice at me!” And he would hurl out another bark which would cause me to laugh at his audacity. He understood words and he had an intractable memory. I knew instinctively that to try and “Alpha” him would never work, so I switched to positive reinforcements. I would use gentle words and speak softly; “Good boy, good boy, now stay in the yard.” It just went from there, he understood I was earnest and trustworthy. I also immediately fell in love with this seven pound mini-Doberman.

I had an accident two weeks ago, and while I was in ICU, Sparticus passed on from liver failure, as he slept beside Jax. Now, we have him buried on the property, we’ll be placing a marble head stone with hand engraving. Sparticus was part of our family, his absence is palpable.

– The Duchess

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