Monday, June 25, 2018

Saying Good-Bye to Lucy (the Little Lab)

This morning we said good-bye to our beloved Labrador Retriever, Lucy.

She was born Christmas Eve, 2004.  We adopted her in February 2005 when Jamie decided to strike a deal with me as my 30th birthday drew nigh - I could have that second dog I kept talking about, but then I was not to get the Superman tattoo I was threatening.  I never did make it to the tattoo shop, but we did wind up in some yahoo's backyard, and I still remember the ride home in the car trying to pin down the wriggling, still-unnamed puppy who wanted to cover the entire passenger-side window in nose prints.

Way back then I was already blogging over at League of Melbotis, so you can see the post where I'm holding up a little butterball of a puppy.   She wasn't the runt of her litter - they were all undersized dogs, just like her mother, who we met.  She never got to a proper size for a Black Lab, and people thought she was a puppy until her muzzle got some white in it.  But she never lacked for power or the belief she was as big as anyone else.

I was a kid the last time I had a puppy, so I don't know that we were ready.   Much less, we were not ready for Lucy, who was to be what, if she were a person, you'd consider the "difficult" child.  She knew what the rules were and didn't care - and that didn't change much at any point.  You could put up barriers in the house (we have a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs to prevent all sorts of mischief), but if the mood struck her, she was going right through or over the barrier.

Over the years, I don't know how many trips we made to the pet ER and how much that racked up in bills, but it started immediately when we saw her happily eating rocks in the backyard and only really stopped when we, maybe two years ago, learned to quit freaking out every time she ate something or acted weird for a few hours.

She did once eat Jamie's medication, which could have stopped her heart had we not paid for a stomach pump and whatever else.  Or the time she stuck her head in a nest of something and came out with all these bumps on the top of her noggin that made her straight hair stick up like the points of the Statue of Liberty.

You could mistake all of this for a "dumb dog", but she wasn't dumb.  At all.  Maybe she didn't have Mel's eerily wide vocabulary and understanding of phrases and expressions, but that was because - unlike Mel, the ultimate people-pleaser - she had her own agenda.    The trick became anticipating that agenda and working with it.

Eventually we figured out how to walk her - a leash, the "gentle leader" and other tricks not working.  We threw a harness on her and just sort of got pulled along.  We put a gate at the bottom of the stairs so she'd neither jump on us at weird hours or get into things she shouldn't.

But in the middle of all that, she also started crawling into laps, saddling up to you on the sofa and leaning against you, and seeking out hugs.  Sometimes pouting badly if, say, the refrigerator repairman wouldn't stop and play with her (one dubbed her "one sad beastie" for laying near him and whining, which earned her about her eighth nickname).

She loved to swim, loved to run, loved a good sunbeam.  Like all Labrador Retrievers, she was "food motivated" - you could always get her moving or get her to pay attention with a little Milk Bone.  She loved Jamie, and loved curling up beside her on the couch.  Every night the dogs took their spots, and that was where she went.  "Loved to be loved", as my brother would say.  For all the issues, you love that dog all the more for the moments when everything is okay, and she turns that tenacity to loving you back.

Every Saturday and Sunday, Jamie rises before me, and nothing made me happier than the sound of the gate opening and the rush of feet racing up the stairs, a countdown to a Black Lab leaping onto the bed, tossing her full weight across my stomach.

Years and years ago, we took Lucy to the vet for some issues she seemed to have walking.  Even back then the vet told us about what would eventually happen with her back legs.  They'd stop working.  We got her on meds and we exercised her.  I credit that with having her as long as we did.

She started going deaf about a year ago.  It was a blessing and a curse.  No more hurling herself over furniture and into the front room to bang against the window at every kid that walked by.  The usual barking at the window from 5:00 PM til she got bored ended.  We learned that she didn't hear us come in the house, and so the first thing we'd do was look for her, and, often, wake her up gently.

Late last summer we found out she had cancer, and she had surgery, and as far as I know - it never came back.  But I do remember thinking "if we have her through Christmas, I'll be grateful".  And we made it through that goal line.

Then, just after Christmas, I noticed that when she came in the back door, she would slide on our stained concrete floors.  It happened when she took the sharp angle from the back door to make her way around the table to the treat jar - but you could see it every time, just a little.  Then a little more.

I won't get into everything we did the last six months or so, but she hung in there even as we saw it progressing.  Slowly and gradually, the dog that used to stand up when she heard the doorbell ring, throw herself over the back of the sofa, landing and sliding, then speeding to the door, was gingerly sliding off the front of the sofa.  Then asking for assistance.  And then waiting to be carried to the back door.  And, finally, out the door and to the lawn.

We spent a lot of time out there with her, Scout watching us and keeping an eye on her sister, us making sure she was okay.  Sometimes it was at odd hours, three A.M. barking to let us know she needed to go outside.  And you do it, because she needs it.  Just looking up at the stars between the branches of that sprawling oak tree, and Lucy slowly making her way to find her spot.

When we picked our furniture, I wanted a sofa long enough and wide enough that I could lay down next to my dogs.  And last night, we settled in and curled up together.  And then this morning, I had to say good-bye.

That's really, really hard.

But I also know she had a good life, as good as a dog can get.  Dog parks and swims and walks through the woods, and an endless supply of treats and hugs and belly rubs.  And I know she spent her last year, when the distractions weren't as present, when she slowed down a bit, happy to just be with us, knowing we were there for her.

Good-bye, Little Lu.  We love you so, so much.  And I hope you and Jeff and Mel are catching up somewhere with lots of sun and fields to run in and creeks to swim.


mcsteans said...

You always write the most poignant tribute posts. Thanks for making me cry for the 57th time today. Seriously, though, this was beautiful. I will miss my little girl so very much.

J.S. said...

She was a great dog. Always very sweet and so happy to have her family to demand hugs from and curl up with. She was great with friends when they came over to visit, too. She was also really good with Raylan, which isn't always easy for an older dog (when a loud, curious child suddenly enters its life). You guys took great care of her. She will be really missed.