When Ashley Niels was 19, she volunteered at an animal shelter in northern Wisconsin. It was there, when asked to select a dog to bring to an adoption event, that she met Spunky. Slightly off put at first by the cute, young pup’s energy, by day’s end, she’d fallen in love and decided he’d be her dog forever. That was in 2004.
They lived in snowy Wisconsin for four years until Ashley graduated college.
“He LOVED snow,” Niels told CBS News. “He could play in snow drifts for hours and be just fine. He also liked eating it. He would come in with ice crystals all over him, but be so happy about it!”
Post-grad, she and Spunky — whom she called her “bodhisattva,” her teacher — moved first to Tennessee, then settled into life in Austin, TX.
“He has a special, ‘old soul’ quality about him,” she explains. “You don’t have to know Spunky long at all to feel it. It’s a presence. Wise and loving. Calming. He radiates a gentle knowing that just lets you know that everything is going to be all right and the world is good.”
And all was good. Until last week, when Spunky’s appetite disappeared.
“He always inhales his food, so I knew something was off.”
A visit to the veterinarian came with a terrible diagnosis: hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive, invasive cancer. Spunky’s liver and spleen were covered. He was already bleeding internally. There was nothing — not surgery, not chemo — that could help.
“At that point, I collapsed to the ground and didn’t actually hear anything else she said,” Niels recalled. “After setting up an appointment to have my vet come to my house Friday evening, I decided I wanted to do everything I could with him. My sister and girlfriend came over and we took him to one of his favorite parks. Then we got puppy cups from Dairy Queen for him to eat.”
And then she posted a pic on social media that would mobilize an army of do-gooders.
“I suddenly remembered that I had promised him I would take him to see snow again. It had been a few years since the promise, but it had never worked out. Now, facing breaking that promise to him, I panicked. I posted a photo of him [online], writing, “Help! I need snow! I promised him he’d see snow again! Where can I get some?”
Some research by a friend at the local Austin shelter found a company that rented snow machines, a GoFundMe campaign was set up. By morning, there was enough in the virtual cookie jar to fund a pizza party for Spunky, along with the most important ingredient: snow.
“It may not have been real snow,” Niels told CBS News, “but there was so much love and devotion behind what they did for me and for him. It’s pretty incredible. I can’t even fully express how much it meant to me that all these people rallied around us.”
She expressed a belief that Spunky could feel that love, too, which gave her comfort.
“He’s my everything,” Niels explains. “He’s been with me as … I’ve grown and changed, had good times and bad times. But he is always there. He is my constant. I learn so much from him. I still am, through all of this. Unconditional love. It’s the most powerful force there is and he’s given it to me all along. He’s my soulmate in furry clothes. Ashley and Spunky. We’re one and the same. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do without him.”