Prince, A Submarine Sailor’s Best Friend
by Joe Spencer
I first met Prince in late 2001, while stationed at Point Loma Naval Submarine Base (San Diego, California, USA). The Twin Towers had fallen a few weeks prior, and amidst the upheaval that changed the boring, daily routine of a naval submariner, days and nights became busy with preparations for war. Dave, a close friend, had informed me that his Lhasa Apso, April, had recently had a litter of puppies, and the runt was not cut out for being a show dog like the rest. “Pee-Wee”, they called him, and he was a little black-and-white troublemaker even when he was barely able to open his new eyes. He asked if I was interested in adopting the little guy and taking him into my home.
I was newly married, having just celebrated my first wedding anniversary, and knew that the war would mean I would be away from home even more than a submariner usually can expect. That loneliness can take its toll on a new wife, so I thought bringing little Pee-Wee home would be a nice Christmas present for my wife. So, I said yes, and Dave took a picture of the little guy wearing a Santa Claus hat, and we sent it over to Liz to see her new best friend.
While awaiting his weaning, we didn’t have much time to visit with our new family addition. Liz was busy working a new job at a prestigious hotel in downtown San Diego, and I spent almost every waking moment preparing for my upcoming deployment overseas. We did, however, decide that the name Pee-Wee wasn’t going to work, and gave him a name befitting his pure bred, regal status: Edward, the Black Prince of Anjou and Wales (I am a bit of a history buff)…which we shortened simply to “Prince”.
(Honesty Note: as I am also a bit of a nerd, “Prince” barely edged out “Wicket”, the Ewok of Star Wars fame…)
Prince, aka Pee-Wee (Nov. 2001)
At first, Prince and Liz had a tumultuous relationship. He was a rambunctious puppy, and was prone to getting into things he really shouldn’t. Being smarter than your average dog, he was pretty creative with his antics…including figuring out the perfect way to slip out of the door when Mommy or Daddy came home, and to silently make his way down the stairs and out to explore the courtyard of our townhouse complex. As he grew, however, he seemed to grow more attached to me. After I returned to San Diego in September of 2002, I settled down into a more structured routine, and Prince and I began to spend a lot of time together. Liz had to head back East for almost a month to help care for her mother after heart surgery, and this cemented the relationship between the Prince and I. We spent many an afternoon at “Dog Beach” (a beach north of San Diego solely devoted to letting dogs play in the Pacific Ocean), with Prince scampering around in the waves, and chasing the bigger dogs.
In October of 2003, I was honorably discharged from the Navy, and made my way back home to New Jersey. The 2,000+ mile journey by car with Prince was an interesting experience, with my little dog seeing (and peeing on) more of America than most citizens ever have the chance. I could go on for hours just about the adventures we shared on that 4-day trip, but those are tales for another time. Shortly after arriving home in New Jersey, Prince experienced his first snowfall…again, an adventure that I will take with me forever. The memory of watching my little guy bound around in the fresh snow for the first time is one of my greatest treasures.
As a kid, I loved New Jersey. Returning there as a war veteran, however, opened my eyes to a side of my home state that I didn’t like. I didn’t feel that there were many opportunities for me in my hometown, so we decided to move to Houston, Texas to pursue some career opportunities. I began working for a large insurance company while Liz finished up her degree, with the intent on becoming a kindergarten teacher. Prince, of course, was right there with us for yet another cross-country drive.
Houston is HOT and HUMID. I intentionally capitalize those words, as that is the only way to do the climate justice. Growing up in the temperate Northeastern US, then living in beautiful, sunny San Diego, I found adapting to Houston’s boiler-room temperature somewhat difficult. Prince, with his surfer-boy attitude, could care less. As long as he had an air conditioned room and a comfy couch to rest upon, he was fine. This was 2005, and Prince seemed to start mellowing out around this time. While he still had tremendous physical energy, he became almost contemplative and a little more ‘zen’ in his mannerisms, spending time on walks sniffing things and taking time to lay down on a neighbor’s grass rather than pull at the leash and try to ‘win the race’. I liked this Prince, and his calmness actually helped me to rein in my own overbearing attitude.
Pillow Fort! (2005)
As the years went by, life went on and more changes came. I moved (temporarily) to Utah, and Prince came with me on yet ANOTHER long road trip (this one around the Rocky Mountains) for a work project. We were there for almost a year, and he loved playing in the mountain air. Since my wife did not accompany us on this trip, we were able to have numerous “daddy and me” adventures out in the wilds of that part of the country, including Prince’s first and only run-in with an American Bison. I wish I had a camera to take a picture of this little Lhasa Apso wiggling his tail and acting like a playful puppy towards this tremendous behemoth (who calmly stared at Prince, chuffed a few times, then sauntered away).
Upon returning home to Texas, more life changes came. I opened my own insurance agency, and was able to spend every day with my little furry friend. When I went out to see clients, he came with me (he is a better salesman than I can ever hope to be). We went on twice-daily walks around the ‘bayou’ (that is Southern for ‘drainage ditch’) behind our home, and spent many an evening cuddled up together in our lounge chair reading history books. Well, I read…he just snored.
About this time, our neighbors found a near-dead puppy wandering our neighborhood. He was a dachshund/chihuahua mix, and we decided to rescue him. We named him Duke. Prince instantly approved of his new ‘brother’ and they have had a great relationship. Duke is very happy-go-lucky (we frequently say “Prince owns the house…Duke? He’s just happy to be here!”), and loves EVERY living creature he has ever met, despite the cruelty he received from the world prior to living with us (again, another story for another time). Having Duke around helped keep Prince occupied after I had to close down my insurance agency and return to the workforce in 2012.
Getting married young (we were both 19) can be amazing, but it can also be very stressful…especially when one spouse spends the majority of their time away from home for military service/work. Liz and I divorced, finding that we were better friends than we were ever soulmates. It was an easy split (as easy as it can be), and I kept both dogs, since we knew Prince and I couldn’t live without each other, and Duke would never want to leave his brother.
Around his 11th birthday, Prince started developing frequent ear infections. Our vet told us that as he was getting on in years, he was developing food allergies, and we began cycling him through various special diets. He wasn’t overweight, or having any stomach problems…it just seemed to effect his ears. Some medications helped, and we tried some ‘home’ remedies when those didn’t work (apple cider vinegar, etc), but they seemed to keep popping up. It broke my heart to see my little guy in such discomfort. We were finally able to get it somewhat under control about a year ago, lowering the frequency of the outbreaks to every 2-3 months. Recently, he hadn’t had an outbreak for almost three months. Then just a few weeks ago, he developed a series of ear infections that just wouldn’t go away.
Prince & Daddy sleeping in late (May ’12)
The combination of old age and frequent ear infections took its toll on my best friend. I noticed that he wasn’t responding to my calls, and snapping my fingers right next to his ears generated no response whatsoever. A trip to the vet confirmed my fears.
My best friend is deaf.
I feel very guilty about that, despite all of the kinds words from friends and professionals telling me that this isn’t my fault. He is my responsibility, and I keep feeling like there is something I could have done, should have done. I am not ashamed to say that I wept the night I realized he would never again hear me tell him what a good boy he is, or how much I love him. Never again would he come running to greet me when he heard the front door open.
It has been an adjustment for us both. I am learning to communicate with him using hand signals and body language more than words, and he is adapting (much better than I am) to his new situation. Occasionally, I will bump his head with something on accident (door, cabinet, etc) forgetting that he cannot hear it opening and respond as he used to. Now, I let him know, more than ever, how much I love him by touch and visible praise. I am now keenly aware of when he is confused or disoriented because he cannot hear what is happening around him.
Entering into this new stage of life with each other, I have been reminded just how much I love and need my best friend, and how much he loves and needs me. I am re-dedicating myself to spending as much quality time I can with him, and making every day of every year to come something special to remember.
Prince smiling for the camera after his latest haircut (Sep. ’14)