I never had a dog as a child. Well, wait a minute, I had one for a couple of days when I was 3 or 4. My dad brought him home to see how things would work out. I never knew why…he wasn’t a puppy and we weren’t obligated to keep him. I remember few things about him, he was medium sized, he was black, he nipped at my feet at the dinner table causing me to sit on my feet. And, I remember the dog biscuits. They were shaped like bones and were several unnatural colors. My sister gave me some to eat, which I did. Thinking back on it, that was really gross! But after we gave him back, my sister reminded me that we still had the biscuits! Green, yellow, red! Treats…ok, the lesson there is to be careful what you eat! Also, not to give up too soon on a pet.
We had cats almost all my life. When I was three we went on a family outing to bring home a kitten. I had a wicker basket full of an aluminum tea set and dumped it out so that I could go get our kitty and bring him home in a basket. I have no idea where that idea came from, but indeed, I brought home our first family pet, Inky, in my wicker basket cushioned by my baby blanket.
Even as an adult I had cats…my husband gave me one when we started graduate school and he later gave me a stray that had been found by the employees of a video store. In other words, he needn’t have mentioned her but he did. So, my non-cat-loving man gave me two cats! But it’s the dogs that have most touched my life.
I went to the mall for lunch with my girlfriend one day and we ended up in the pet store. This was not long after my husband and I bought our house. I’d put him off for years about getting a dog, I had told him it wasn’t fair to a dog to live in an apartment and had said that we had to have a fenced-in yard…but we finally did!. So, I took him back to the pet store that night. We really didn’t like the idea of buying a dog from a pet store…but once you hold a puppy, you are lost. I gave him Lucy as a birthday present when he turned 29.
She was a Belgian Tervuren with a mostly red coat. My husband named her after Lucille Ball. We had no idea at first why she was sold through a pet store but It turned out that she was way too large for her breed. We didn’t care how big she was, we just loved her tremendously. I could tell many Lucy stories, but this is about what I learned from her.
- A dog will teach you how to fetch before you “teach” it how to fetch.
- A dog is not a child. You can put it in a cage or out in the yard while you go shopping or out for dinner.
- A dog can scream. You really don’t want to ever hear it because it will break your heart.
- A dog isn’t a child, but she depends upon you for her care, well-being, safety, and ultimately her life.
Lucy was our first dog and my younger daughter’s first real word was “doggy”. Lucy wasn’t perfect…she liked to chew up the kids things and she was stubborn. She was too big for me to control physically and I was not her Alpha. She figured out how to get over or under the fence (we’re not sure which) and would run off on occasion.
When we had to leave our house while it was uninhabitable during the renovation, we moved into a small bungalow. My husband and I took over the fixed-up attic space which was quite spacious. We filled up the closet and kept some items in the storage area in the eaves. On the first floor were a kitchen, a small living room, two small bedrooms, and the only bath. We put a bunk bed in one room for the girls and a twin mattress on the floor in the other room for our son. The basement was split into a utility area and a living area. We managed to squeeze our dining room table on one end and a couch, chair, computer desk, and the TV were crammed in the other end. The space was really tight…and with the dog, it was really cramped. We tried to get my treadmill into the house, but couldn’t get it in the door…I knew that was the end of my attempts to maintain my weight.
At first Lucy was her old self, but in that year and a half she started to fall apart. She was elderly, for a dog, but she’d always been highly energetic even into her 12th year. She seemed slow now. She moaned in her sleep. We were so stressed and busy, we didn’t pay enough attention to her. She started having a lot of trouble controlling her legs and my husband would hold up her torso when he took her out to do her business.
But, nothing prepared me for her screams. I got home one evening and even before I got out of the car, I heard the screaming. I rushed inside and found her splayed out on the kitchen floor. She’d lost control of her limbs and had slid down on the slick floor into an awkward position. I called the vet, it was just before 6 or they would have gone for the day. First thing they told me was to adjust her legs into a more natural position (why didn’t I do that first?) and thankfully she stopped screaming.
I had a board meeting that night, and my husband and children took Lucy to the emergency vet hospital. The next day, we took her to our vet for one last evaluation. She determined that the problem was above the neck, likely a brain tumor. At that point, we were out of options. Over our heads financially trying to save our house, we couldn’t afford the MRI, much less a risky brain surgery.
My husband left the room. I petted Lucy and looked deeply into her eyes. She kept her eyes on mine the whole time, and her eyes told me that she loved me and that she was grateful to be looking into my eyes as the pain faded away and she drifted off to a peaceful end.
The death of Lucy was profound to us. When we finally moved back into our house, it was having left one of our own behind.
Sometimes there is no joy in the journey, but if you look for it, you may find a profound grace.
Things I Learned From My Dogs–Part II: Bailey
Things I Learned From My Dogs–Part III: Asta