In Loving Memory of Lucy

My husband had always wanted a dog. When we first started dating I’d been heartbroken to learn that he’d had one for about a week before his at the time wife had coerced him to return it to the pound. I’d never been a dog person but the sadness that seemed to fill him whenever he spoke of the experience prompted me to think that perhaps I could do something to make that up to him. I knew I couldn’t erase the hurt of that puppy he still regretted getting rid of, but I really wanted to try.

Months later I ran across a “Free to a Good Home” ad in the Washington Post. The couple who placed the ad was giving away a 7-year old Beagle/Shepard/Rottweiler mix. My first thought was “I’ve gotta see that.” I couldn’t imagine how you could mix those breeds of dog together and come up with something functional. I arranged a night to meet Lucy when Tom would be out of the house so that I could not only meet the dog but see how she got on with my stepson and our cat.  When I opened the door later I was met by a fifty pound bundle of anxiousness with a Rottweiler shaped and colored body, a long Beagle snout, and wiry German Shepard fur. Her tail was stumpy like a Rottweiler but her legs were sort of short and skinny compared to a standard of the breed. She kind of looked like a doggie low-rider.

Despite her fear the very first thing she did was lay in front of me and flip onto her back to have her belly scratched. I told the man we’d take her.

Telling Tom about Lucy was one of the scariest things I’d ever done. I hoped he’d be happy, but I wasn’t sure.  His response was one of fear, and full of what-ifs. I promised we would do everything we could not to have to return her. Five years later, we are finally saying Goodbye.

From day one life with Lucy was the best kind of challenge. In a lot of ways I think of her as my first child. Her first few weeks were tough, she was confused and scared, whimpering a lot…waiting for her owner to come back for her, I imagine. I felt terrible for her. Being unceremoniously dropped off without any clear understanding from a home she’d known for such a long time at such an old age seemed a little like dropping off my grandmother on someone’s front porch with her favorite slippers and a tin of peanut butter fudge and telling her she now had a new family before hopping into my car and driving away. We very quickly found out she was nocturnal – always going up and down the stairs for water during the night. And she peed on the floor…a LOT. After trying to break out of her crate during a storm we found out she had severe anxiety problems (her previous owners had given us some pills for “stressful situations” but hadn’t really explained in detail).  She was poorly trained, she wouldn’t stay or sit or…well, anything really. Telling her to sit resulted in her bottom bouncing off the floor for the briefest second before returning to standing. She kept trying to make friends with our cat, Charlotte, who would simply hiss and swat at her every time. Her former family had taught her not to jump up but Tom trained her right out of that, so next thing you knew she was jumping on everybody. She followed us (especially me) room to room as if we were rock stars and she was a groupie.  It was like having a four-legged 2-year old.

Weeks after we got her the first health-crisis came. She developed a case of canine vestibular disorder and was unable to walk due to a (thankfully) temporary inner ear imbalance. We used the same vet her former owners had, and discovered that she was actually 9, not 7. So we’d thought we were adopting an old dog, turned out it was a VERY old dog. With a liver problem. And separation anxiety. And a bladder problem. And a fear of water, men with beards, little nervous dogs, and storms, doorbells, fireworks, parties…anything loud, really. Every time severe weather hit Tom and I drew straws to see who had to try to leave work early to stay with her. We’d give her Valium, pet her, and try to convince her she was safe until the storm passed. Often this involved sitting in the bathroom with her because the tiny room made her feel more secure. We went through three crates because she would try to escape when she was frightened and a scared dog has an amazing tolerance for pain. A few years later when her hearing started to go it was actually quite a blessing because of this. While we wish her previous family had been more forthcoming, we would never have wanted her any other way.

Oh, and it turned out I was allergic to her. After several sinus infections I got a good nasal spray. It caused nosebleeds but it was totally worth it.

Lucy loved long walks, and rolling on her back in the grass. We’d often walk with her to the shopping center near our home and sit outside on nice days, drinking coffee and feeding her treats so she wouldn’t bark at the bearded men or other dogs that walked past. She loved to chase balls, play ‘tag’, run, jump, and all the other things dogs do. She once chased a deer out of our yard and for several blocks before returning home.  She was picky about treats. If she didn’t want one she’d take it just to be polite, then hide it someplace later. If we gave her a bone to chew on she’d move it from one corner of the house to another in an effort to hide it. She craved attention, and anyone who scratched her ears or rubbed her belly was a friend for life. If you hit just the right spot she’d do this little kicking thing with her back leg. When she needed a place to lie down she’d paw at the carpeting as if somehow that would fluff it up just right before she lay down. She loved to sit at my feet while I watched TV or worked on my computer. Her exuberance seemed boundless, even as she aged.

I was lucky enough to have a pet-friendly job and she would often come to work with me and sleep in front of my desk while I worked. She liked to lick the carpet in my office. Don’t ask me why, but she did.

I’m sure everyone likes to say their pet is the best, but truly Lucy was a wonderful, amazing, special dog. I don’t have enough describing words in my vocabulary to explain how much she meant to me…to all of us.

As our family grew she was supremely patient with our little boys, even when she had severe arthritis of the spine and our 2-year old son liked to tackle her, pull her tail, and poke her in the eye. Even when 6-month old stuck his finger in her mouth while she was trying to eat a treat. Inevitably as our attention was pulled in other directions we weren’t able to give her the kind of attention we used to, and she made her displeasure known by waiting until our backs were turned and leaving a puddle on the floor. The walks grew less frequent, although when the weather was nice she’d play in the yard with my husband and the boys. On the rare occasions that I was able to get someone else to watch the boys I would make a point of taking her for a walk down the path behind our house, just the two of us.

Everyone always said she was in great shape for her age. As each year passed I think it was easy to believe she’d be with us forever. Sure she started to stiffen up a little, moved a little more slowly…stopped jumping up. She was fine though, we thought. A few weeks ago she had a seizure, and that was where things started go downhill. After practically spending the kids’ college fund on tests to find out what had caused it we were forced to face the bottom line: she was old. Her arthritis was terrible, her kidneys were shutting down, her liver function was off, and she had benign tumors all over her body including some on her spleen. She got even more fussy about eating, and her weight went down. Stairs became more problematic. One day she slipped and tumbled all the way down from the top floor to the main level of our house. Every time we had to leave her the howls of protest could be heard from outside the house and across the street. She started falling down a lot, as her back legs no longer truly had the strength to hold her up for very long. Often she would just suddenly plop to the floor as if she was trying to cover her inability to stand by pretending she’d just decided to lie down anyway. Even our toddler had learned to be gentle with her and would even try to help her up when she fell, thoroughly nonplussed when her weight often pulled him down with her.

We had hoped she would hang in there until springtime so she could enjoy the outdoors again, although deep in my heart I knew she probably wouldn’t. I started praying to God to please let me know when it was time to let her go. We didn’t want her to suffer, nor did we want to put her down while she still had some ability to enjoy her life. Today he answered.

This morning, February 8th at 4 am I woke to discover she was having another seizure. We tried to do what we could to help her, but after the whole thing was over it was clear to me that she would not “bounce back” as she had from the first one. I told Tom we needed to call the Vet, and days after the worst snowstorm this area has seen in ages, we bundled her into the car with our infant son. Blessedly my mother was in town and was able to stay with the 2-year old. She was unable to walk on her own, confused and disoriented, and clearly in pain. While we waited for news from the vet Tom and I traded stories and memories from her younger days. We knew in our hearts she wasn’t going home with us. Hard as it was to face it, today was the day. Tom and I held the baby and each other, stroking her, scratching her belly, telling her how much we loved her, how much we would miss her as the vet gave her an overdose of barbiturates that stopped her heart and her breathing.

I am thankful for so many things. That she came into our lives, that she always seemed so happy to be with us, that she was so perfect with our children. That hours before she passed a friend offered to take her down the street for a walk. Even though it wasn’t Tom or I who took her I am so very glad she got to have one last walk before she died.  That Tom came home early from his Superbowl weekend with his buddies, despite the weather, so he was there when it was her time to go. I hope with all my heart that she knew how much we loved her.

I used to see a saying occasionally on bumper stickers and posters that said “Lord, please let me be half the person my dog thinks I am.”. It always made me think of Lucy, and the devotion she showed us.

Lucy, thank you for the five wonderful years that you gave us. You will be the standard to which we hold all other dogs, and we will always love you.

“Lord, please let me be half the man my dog thinks I am.”

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