COVINGTON - Those that have long been known as "man's best friend," lost their best friend recently. Pam Spencer, whose passion was making still tails wag again, was shot to death at her Covington home on Nov. 6, becoming the 14th murder in Newton County in as many months.
Authorities say the murder was the result of a domestic argument, during which Spencer's live-in boyfriend, Rick Breedlove, shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself. He has been charged with murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Despite shooting himself in the face, Spencer's alleged assailant survived.
Her cousin, Nicky Lacey Wilbanks of Commerce, recalled her as always being the way her friends described her just before her death - "bubbly, happy, smiling and fun to be with.
"Pam grew up in Struthers, Ohio, the third of five girls. She had loving parents in a middle class home ... She was Catholic and was brought up to attend mass at least once a week. The girls took dance and were involved in band a variety of school activities." Wilbanks said.
Not only will her loss be felt among her friends, family and co-workers at C.R. Bard where she worked as director of corporate contracts, but her absence will be felt in the canine world where she tirelessly worked as rescuer, often salvaging the lives of dogs no one wanted anyway - so she kept them herself.
"She fostered hundreds of dogs. Pam nursed them back to health, trained them and helped them find their forever homes," said Andrea Tallarida, a fellow rescuer from Watkins Glen, N.Y. "She would take in the sickest and unloved dogs and make them whole again. She adopted several special-needs dogs. One of her dogs, Arno, was born without eyes due to a birth defect from over-breeding in the puppy mills."
When Spencer died, she had 14 small companion dogs in her home, including the blind poodle Arno, a Chihuahua, papillons, Pekingese, and a hairless Chinese Crested. Most of her pack had come to her due to some traumatic situation from which Spencer had rescued them.
"It's ironic that someone who worked so hard to save life had her own life taken away by such a violent act," said June Larson of Pug Lovers Rescue in South Carolina. "It's really a great loss for animals and people. It's hard to find somebody like her. She helped animals a lot and would have done a lot more."
Spencer worked primarily with Pap911, a rescue group dedicated to rescuing and placing the high energy, tiny papillon. The breed derives its name from the French word "butterfly" because of the appearance of its wing-shaped ears. The papillon was once very fashionable as a lap dog in the courts of Europe and today it is raised as a companion and house pet.
Spencer fostered a papillon that was rescued from an Ohio puppy mill - a group that continuously breeds dogs like livestock to sell primarily to pet stores and over the Internet. Rescuers go to auctions and buy the dogs so they won't be euthanized by the breeders who are finished with them.
Spencer called the dog Jasmine, or Jazzy, but soon discovered the rescuers had unknowingly tripled their efforts when they bid on Jazzy. She was pregnant with two pups. When it came time to deliver, Pam realized Jazzy needed help with the delivery and took her to a vet who said a C-section was required. The operation was accomplished and a male and female puppy were born.
The following was taken from www.cindystreasurechest.com, an Internet site that details Jasmine's story.
" ... the vet was aghast to realize that Jasmine's internal organs were all fused together with scar tissue from many prior C-sections. She could not believe the amount of scar tissue in this little girl. The adhesions were so bad that the organs were fused to major blood vessels and one of her blood vessels had burst. The vet tried very hard to fix the leaking vessel, but to no avail. Jasmine was bleeding to death right before our eyes. I sat there praying for Jasmine while I could hear her heart beat on the monitor grow weaker and weaker. Jasmine slowly passed away while her two puppies cried for her from the next room."
Spencer, of course, took the two pups home with her. She named them Jazzy and Snazzy and hand-fed them around the clock for weeks. When the time came to find their forever home, Spencer realized they were already home. She kept both of them.
It wasn't just her own dogs for which Spencer was willing to show compassion. A friend told about a dog owner who turned her pug over to the vet for euthanization because she couldn't afford the required medical treatment. The vet asked if they found someone who could help the dog, would she give it up for adoption. The woman consented.
"They called Pam. She would always respond to something like that. She had the (vet) bills sent to her and got the dog adopted," said Spencer's friend Sandra Gray. "Pam and I both had a heart for special needs dogs - not the first ones to be adopted by people looking for a dog."
Gray said she met Pam about four years ago and had watched as she fell in love with rescuing dogs, seeing them adopted, but willingly keeping the ones who couldn't be adopted. She said the 14 dogs Spencer had at her death were "all well-loved and one huge, happy family." Gray said it was Spencer's strong love for those dogs that put her in harm's way.
"I really want (people) to know, the only reason Pam didn't leave her house and save her life was because (the shooting suspect) had threatened the dogs. She told us if she left, he had told her he would hurt or kill the dogs. Pam literally gave her life so that her dogs would be safe," Gray said.
Gray said Spencer had expressed fear of the man authorities say is responsible for her death.
"She was afraid Rick was going to kill her and had expressed that to us the Saturday before the crime," Gray said, adding that part of that discussion was Pam sharing with her friends where she wanted the dogs placed should something happen to her.
"She had talked about where they would go while she was still alive, and though we were all in terrific shock that it (Spencer's death) had happened, there was not one minute that those dogs were not well cared for," Gray said.
Gray said that Spencer gave regularly to animal charities and even spent her vacation last summer mucking out pens at a rescue ranch known as Best Friends Animal Society in Utah.
"We laughed about that. She said, 'My friends can't believe I'm spending my vacation cleaning out animal cages and shoveling out horse barns, but there's nothing I'd rather do than to be out here caring for these rescued animals,'" Gray recalled.
Gray said a significant part of Spencer's estate will be used to build a facility to be known as Spencer's Rest that will house senior companion dogs at the Best Friends ranch. The effort will be administered through Diggity Dog Humane Society, an organization that assists rescue groups with fund raising and does educational programs for children on responsible pet ownership. Spencer was on the board of directors.
Anyone who wants to assist in those efforts can do so by sending donations to Diggity Dog Humane Society, at Casey Gilson, P.C., 6 Concourse Parkway, 22nd Floor, Atlanta, GA 30328. Others accepting memorial donations in Spencer's name are Best Friends Animal Society, 6001 Angel Canyon Road, Kanab, UT 84741 (www.bestfriends.org); Papillon 911 Rescue & Adoption Inc., P.O. Box 682225, Marietta, GA 30068-0038 (www.pap911rescue.org); and Project ReNeWal, a domestic violence intervention program, P.O. Box 1205, Conyers, GA 30012 (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 770-860-9770).
"Pam cherished the most vulnerable of living things. That was her life. She was very gentle. I learned a lot from her," Gray recalled. "I will always remember her as championing the cause of the most vulnerable among us."
Larson echoed those thoughts.
"The best way to celebrate what she was would be to save another dog's life or raise the awareness about domestic violence. That way, I hope she can look down and have peace and joy knowing she's still helping."