Tucker, the dog proclaimed a hero by the Purina Animal Hall of Fame for saving the family he loved, has died.
Rachel Spiewak, who came close to losing that family in a 2018 fire, says he died at peace, just one week after finally leaving that chapter of their lives behind.
When their Annmarie Drive home was
destroyed, she and then-partner Jason Chafe were home with their young son, Keegan, and his son from a previous marriage. Rachel’s two older boys, Ayden and Kalan, were with their dad. Tucker, she says, “saved my life and three others that night.”
Tucker, after awakening the adults and seeing the four of them out of the house, ran back in to the burning basement before they could stop him. Rachel ran after Tucker, dragging him out again. She believes he was trying to save Ayden, whose bedroom was downstairs.
She and Chafe set about rebuilding the house, and when it was done, moved back into a beautiful new home, and continued to live there with their family. But Rachel says she was never comfortable there, and was eventually diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome, for which she has been receiving counselling.
She and Chafe separated, and her older boys, Ayden, now 17, and Kalan, 14, have been fine, able to put the loss of all their material possessions behind them, concentrate on family and move forward with their lives. Little Keegan is also okay, but she has been ridden with anxiety, never feeling settled.
“From the time we moved back in, it never seemed like my house,” she says, and Tucker, had been the same, following her around, worrying about her and seeming to feel the same anxiety. “It seemed like he fed off it.”
Until the day about three weeks ago when she, the three boys and Tucker moved out of that house and back to the family farm, into the house that had been her grandparents, having sold the
Annmarie Drive house.
Rachel grew up right across the street from the farm, and spent a good bit of her childhood there with her grandparents. After moving back, she says she immediately felt like a different person.
“I feel like I’ve come home.”
And for the first time since the fire, she says, “Tucker was wagging his tail. He was a different dog. He was happy, and we had a fabulous week. He was flying around outside, loving it.
And then, just 10 days after moving in, when they were doing some work outside and Tucker was with them, he seemed a little slower than usual, Rachel says, and went to his bed to lie down. She saw him there a while later, sleeping peacefully with his paws crossed and looking so sweet, she went to take a photo, and then realized he was too still.
Although she’s heart-broken he’s gone, she says, “he’s at peace in heaven.”
She’s sure he felt he had done his job, getting the family away from the house and to a safe place. “He was telling us he knew we’re okay. He knew we were settled.”
Tucker, a shepherd-rottweiler mix, was six years old when he woke Rachel up the night of the fire with uncharacteristic barking and whining, pawing at her bed and making her realize something was wrong.
He was just eight when he died, and had shown no signs of any problems with his health, she says.
With the Annmarie Drive house now a good home for the next family who lives there, and Rachel feeling “amazing” now she’s back on the farm, she says, “I feel in some ways this was meant to be. The fire changed me, taught me lessons I’d never have learned. This community picked me up and carried me through it. I’ll never leave Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is my home.”
The techniques she has learned are helping her deal with PTSD, but being back on the farm is also a tonic. “I feel like a changed person. I haven’t felt this kind of peace in a long time. I wasn’t myself at the house.
Long before the fire she taught her kids that all that matters is family, and that was a reinforcement that “you don’t need a lot in life.” Things don’t matter, memories do, and those they have taken with them, she says.
“You just have to live every day your best life, for the moment and with gratitude.”
And the memory of Tucker will live on, as a hero, recognized with induction into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame. An American researcher into pet behaviour, working with Purina, said Tucker did everything he could do the night of the fire to use his “great communication skills” until he was successful in alerting his family to danger. “It shows the strong bond to his family,” she said, adding that dogs such as Tucker “put the lives of their families before their own self-preservation, out of loyalty and love for their family members.”