A Dog Life Remembered: Lillie Beatrice Spilman


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It was a beautiful, quiet Midwestern spring afternoon. The windows were open and the intoxicating scent of lilacs filled the house. I sat down with a turkey sandwich, tall glass of blackberry iced tea and the weekly small town newspaper. As I settled in, Dogzilla jumped on the table out of nowhere, like in a slasher movie. Iced tea flowed like a river on the table while Dogzilla savagely ate my sandwich leaving only a lonely dill pickle on the tea-soaked newspaper. That was a pretty typical day with our golden retriever, Lillie Beatrice a.k.a “The Bean,” “Lil Spil,” or “that damn dog.”

A desert dweller, Lillie was born in the foothills of Ahwatukee, Arizona as part of a “surprise” litter to a young Golden Retriever couple, Niles and Daphne named after the hit television show, “Frazier.” John my husband told the breeder, “I want a dog with some personality.” The breeder said, “How about this one? We call her Spunky.” And, Spunky she was. There wasn’t anything Lillie didn’t eat — the laundry room wall, underground sprinkler system, furniture — just to name a few of the more costlier items. Lillie’s one particular talent was devouring a roll of toilet paper in five seconds flat.

Contrary to the docile personality of most dogs of Lillie’s breed, she had a wild look in her eyes and took no prisoners when looking for a playmate. We were shocked when we took her to puppy socialization class and she hid under the chairs. The trainer did not believe we were having so many problems. Two weeks after Lillie’s arrival, we found out we were expecting a baby after several changes in our personal and professional lives that included a miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. Lillie never napped and delighted in waking at 4 AM. In hindsight, she was training us for early morning feedings and long nights with a fussy baby.

Lillie enjoyed bye-bye rides in the cargo area of her Jeep Cherokee. Before her baby sister was born, Lillie took the bye-bye ride of a lifetime across country riding shotgun with her daddy in an “On the Road” type adventure to her new home in Union, Kentucky. She enjoyed thousands of miles of fast food cheeseburgers and listened to hours of sports talk radio which likely inspired her love of playing football in the backyard.

Lillie’s life changed dramatically upon the arrival of her new baby sister, Grace. We would now have a set of Irish Twins in our family. Only, one had two legs and strawberry blonde hair and the other had strawberry blonde hair, four legs and a tail.

“How come I only have a dog for a sister?” was the question asked on a regular basis by the two-legged child. The two were nine-months apart in age. Lillie continued to eat her way through the house the way a gopher tunnels through a bountiful garden. Despite the carnage, our four-legged child was a huge source of entertainment for the two-legged child.

“Let’s play eat the baby’s socks.”

“Let’s play take the baby’s shirt off while she giggles incessantly.”

“And, let’s play gnaw on a raw hide bone loudly every night in the nursery while we listen to mommy read, Guess How Much I Love You.”

Our two golden peas in a pod were the cat’s meow until the two-legged child squatted in the neighbor’s lawn during an evening stroll mirroring the four-legged child relieving herself as only canine’s do. The two-legged child even learned how to table surf as she crawled onto the top of the counter to snatch a piece of pizza. One of my biggest fears was that my toddler daughter would grow up thinking her name was “Damn it Lillie!”

The invisible fence repairman affectionately nicknamed Lillie, “Crazy,” this coming from a man who has a permanent smile on his face from ear-to-ear as a result of hundreds of electrical shocks over the years. Lillie’s deafening bark drove neighbors to write numerous complaint letters, even suggesting training facilities. She ate enough crayons and plastic toys to poop out a Fisher-Price village complete with a rainbow overhead.

About a year after Grace was born, out of pure desperation we took Lillie to the equivalent of a dogie Betty Ford Clinic. After two weeks as an “inpatient,” they refunded our money and diagnosed Lillie as the most severe Type A golden retriever the trainer had ever seen. We were close to giving her away, but we are dog people and we just couldn’t do it. She was part of the family and we all had to learn how to co-exist peacefully.

We had a major turning point with Lillie after we read the book, “Marley and Me” by John Grogan. Maybe she was just wired a little differently and she was only capable of controlling herself to a certain point. At this point, we were the ones being trained by Lillie.

Lillie moved to Carmel, Indiana where she began her reign as the bus stop dog when Grace entered grade school. Known for her beauty, Lillie once strutted the catwalk with Grace and her daddy in a Hamilton County Humane Society fashion show touting her football catching talent. She also holds the record for the longest butt scoot on the living room carpet. Lillie had the quickness of a Cobra and the precision of a stealth missile when grabbing food off the dinner table. She had amazing bladder control taking on the nickname, “Frank the tank.”

Lillie always ruled the roost and eventually over the years that wild look in her eyes gave way to a loving glance. Our walls remained in-tact as long as the goodie jar was filled, there was a steady supply of raw hides and she got her nightly walk with her daddy. The Barbie townhouse even remained untouched after being considered a canine Golden Corral buffet by a younger, more rebellious and quite frankly, hungrier Lillie.

In Lillie’s later years, her arthritis and an ACL injury may have severely limited her mobility, however, her demanding bark remained in-tact along with her mind. Her world was temporarily rocked when she gained an English Cream Golden Retriever for a little brother. Murphy breathed life into Lillie and in return, she gave him the space to love her and be loved by us.

Lillie lived life on her own terms for fourteen years and she showed us how to do the same. She taught us how to be better parents and patient caregivers. Her antics and companionship gave Grace immense bravery as well as a silky ear for telling secrets.

Her last day was filled with cheeseburgers, tears and love. We’d like to thank all of our friends, family, and dog sitters over the years who braved her feistiness and tolerated her vociferous nature.

She was our Underdog, our hero and we will miss her.

5 thoughts on “A Dog Life Remembered: Lillie Beatrice Spilman

  1. Love it – what a joy Lillie brought got to your lives!

    Marilyn

    “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”

  2. So very sad to read of Lillie’s passage over rainbow bridge😢my darling tiny “Beauty” a Yorkie-poo lleft our family 12 years ago! She was my “lap-dog” and best friend, going through many life changes with me! When John entered our lives I so worried she would prove a problem when I’d have him but they became best buddies! Sharing toys, bones ,food and Beds!! John still remembers her ! Dogs are so Special😊. One day when we aren’t traveling so much .. there’s another little dog in my future!! Aren’t we lucky to have had them in our lives??

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