Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tribute To A Friend

This post is prompted by an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

Sunday, the writer Arthur Phillips wrote a love story: as he is beginning life with a new dog, he wrote about the elderly beagle who had preceded the puppy in his affections. The story brought a flood of memories rushing back for me.

In December of 1995, I purchased my first house, the one I live in today. Buying this house represented a huge change in my life. I went from being a renter who never worried about things like clogged toilets--I just called Maintenance--to being someone who has to climb up a ladder semi-annually to clean gutters.

While my house is not in a remote area, it is in a very quiet, wooded area. That also required an adjustment. For the first time in my life, when I was alone, I began sleeping with a night light. I had a pair of cats--Shadow and Tribble--but neither one felt the need to bark at prospective burglars or rapists to warn them off. I'm a very light sleeper and every creak and moan of the house had me jumping.

One Saturday evening in the early spring of 1996, a friend and I went to see Janeane Garofalo's movie The Truth About Cats & Dogs. My friend appreciated the movie for what it was--a romantic comedy--and, incidentally, the first time I ever saw Jamie Foxx in a movie.

I, on the other hand, had a epiphany: I needed a dog. In the car on the way home, I announced this revelation. My friend was less than impressed. He pointed out that having a dog was very different from having a cat, that I was away from home a lot and that I was used to independent pets. And, by the way, neither Shadow nor Tribble was likely to welcome a canine brother into our happy little circle.

I remember turning on the car radio to stop the flow of logical, well-intentioned advice. And, there it was . . . the message from God.

Well, not exactly from the Maker Himself. I accept the principle that He needs messengers to carry out His will. In this case, the messenger was a PSA by the Dallas SPCA that they were having a 24-hour adoptathon with reduced prices in order to address over-crowding.

Never one to ignore messages from on high, I decided on the spot to adopt a dog that very night. This required some stealth: we returned home where I hustled my friend out the door on some pretext or another. An hour later, close to midnight, I was standing in the puppy room at the SPCA, overwhelmed by the number of tiny creatures pleading for my attention.

I didn't completely ignore my friend's warnings. Despite my desire for a German Shepherd or a Lab, I accepted that it would probably be better if I got a smaller dog. Further, in view of my two cats, I decided a less exuberant dog was probably a good idea. I wandered the rows of cages, looking for a small, calm puppy.

And then I saw her. She was black-and-white and very quiet. Unlike the other puppies, she wasn't charging the side of her cage. However, she was alert and readily stuck her nose up to my hand when I reached for her. It was love at first sight. AND her identification sign said she was a Border Collie. Thoughts of a smaller, less hairy Lassie sealed the deal. After all, Lassie was intelligent and calm and great in emergencies, right?

Before we left the SPCA, the tiny puppy already had a name: Lucy. What I didn't understand at the time was she also had bordetella--kennel cough. THAT was the reason for her calm behavior. She was, pardon the expression, sick as a dog. Within three days, she was coughing her head off.

The antibiotics cured the bordetella, but also transformed my calm Lassie Junior into Mr. Hyde. Suddenly, she was a maniac--a jumping, running, ball-chasing fool. It felt as though the fairies had left me a changeling.

Lucy chewed everything in sight and proved to be a master escape artist, getting out of my backyard at every opportunity. Fortunately, I had great neighbors, who patiently returned her again and again. And we won't talk about the night she got into a Sakowitz shopping bag and ate one each of two of the most beautiful pairs of high heels the world has known. I hadn't even received the credit card invoice yet, but was left with only one shoe from each of two pairs.

It took two years and several obedience classes, but Lucy eventually became the most wonderful companion anyone could want. She went everywhere with me--to restaurants, work, shopping, and even to Florida two or three times.

I will admit she was high maintenance, which my boyfriend said she came by naturally with me as an example :) But she was also adaptable. When I tired of throwing endless tennis balls for her, I purchased an automatic throwing machine. She readily learned to load it herself by dropping the retrieved balls into the top of the unit.

Lucy was great with the cats. She seemed to instinctively know when she could push and when she'd better back down or risk a bloody nose. When I had to put Shadow down at age twenty, she seemed to sense Tribble's grief. Without warning, she started sleeping side-by-side with Tribble. To my astonishment, Tribble permitted it.

When I shattered my left leg in February, 2002, I was hospitalized for a month. Friends took Lucy and Tribble to their home in North Dallas during the duration. Lucy wasn't having any. She knew her place was with me. In the middle of a violent ice storm, she fell back on her old escape artist skills and headed toward my house. Eight hours later, the owner of a popular bar on his way home at 3:00 AM saw her moving with purpose through the storm. He opened his car door and, glad for the ride, she jumped in. Fortunately, my friend had added a tag with HIS number to her collar and the very kind man contacted him. It turned out Lucy had gone over twelve miles directly toward my home before she was picked up.

In 2005, at age nine, Lucy died suddenly of a genetic heart problem. Her heart was just too big to be contained by her body. I can type those words without bursting into tears--it's been two years now. It happened so fast, she was gone in less than 24 hours. No warning signs, no problems. My vet had checked her out three months earlier and said she was so healthy, there was no reason she couldn't live another three or four years.

During the intervening time, friends have tried to get me to adopt another dog. One even showed up at my door with a puppy. My heart just wasn't in it. Besides, Tribble is simply too old to handle the stress of breaking in another dog. Because she was already nineteen when Lucy died, I went to the SPCA and adopted Bob as sort of a back-up cat. Of course, Tribble is now twenty-one and, despite the occasional scare, is showing no indication she is ready to shuffle off this mortal coil.

When (and if) Tribble does die, I will probably adopt another puppy. Until then, I'm content to remember the dear companion who once graced me with her presence and her friendship.


Maria Zannini said...

You are breaking my heart. Lucy sounds like my kind of dog. I'm sorry I never got to meet her.

Marie Tuhart said...

Dogs are a wonderful thing (so are cats). I still miss my dog and she's been gone for almost 17 years now. I had her for 16 years.

Ellen said...

People and animals, a special love affair. My felines often look straight into my eyes as they purr and I know they love me in their own way. Each one that has passed through my life has brought me joy and love. I admire the people who have taken on special needs animals or a cause to save and protect the many endangered animals on Earth