When my youngest daughter, then in 6th grade, confided she was afraid to go walking or running alone, I began to look for a dog. We found one, one that joined our family for 13 years. I named her Lucie because she her fur was red and because each time I came home I could say, “Lucie, I’m home,” in my best Ricky Ricardo voice. I loved doing that.
She was Kindra’s dog mostly, one who could lead an athletic junior high girl on a run or make sure I kept a quick pace on a walk. She loved everyone, greeted strangers like a family member, and never showed aggression while walking in our neighborhood.
Her exuberance at seeing us return home from work or school came out in wiggles, her butt moving left to right as she came to greet us in a wild sidestep, that let everyone know it was a joy to see them again … or even for the first time.
She was the most affectionate dog I’ve ever owned. Sit on the couch and Lucie would curl up next to you. Sneak off for an afternoon nap? Lucie would find you and join in. She was especially affectionate of my daughters’ boyfriends. It didn’t matter how awkward or tall, bring a boy home and Lucie wanted him to be her boyfriend too. She would ask to sit in their laps, all 64 pounds of her, and lick their faces.
One day we were alone in the house and I watched as she stood looking out an upstairs bedroom window intently observing the outdoors. I followed her gaze to see a squirrel. ‘She looks so observant and intelligent,’ I thought. Then I saw a stream of drool bubbling our of her mouth and knew the truth. “Yum, squirrel,” was what was really on her mind.
Needless to say, we kept screens on all the windows. Sometimes they got scratches and holes, which we repaired, but they did keep her from leaping out after a member of the local fauna.
Lucie was blessed with the gift of softness. Her ears, her tummy, her fur … all soft. Kindra loved hugging her, we all did. My husband scratched her ears and nibbled on them too. It was easy to have her sleep in our bed. She would curl up at our feet, keeping them warm. It wasn’t until later in the night when she would migrate up to sleep between us, pushing one or the other of us out with her feet.
One of her joys was dog parks. She enjoyed the chasing and games. I was amazed at her agility the first time I saw her run alongside another dog, jump up on his back and off again landing on her feet and still running, as the front legs of her companion gave way from the weight that had been on his back and he tumbled into a summersault. After witnessing this a time or two, however, I realized this would need to stop. She could have hurt an older or weaker dog and, further, their owners did not approve. A few timeouts and she stopped the acrobatics but continued to enjoy dog parks.
For the first years of Lucie’s life I was working outside of the home, maintaining and marketing carpooling websites for a local government agency. When our family would all be gone for a long day Lucie sometimes got to go to doggie daycare. At the end of the day when I picked her up I was always advised how Lucie never slowed down, how full of energy she was, and how she would be tired and go right to sleep when we got home. She never did. Sometimes I would buy her a chew toy and she would carry it home in her mouth, her butt sashaying as she walked pulling on the lead.
The years passed and my children grew, left home and went to college. One Christmas season when I was preparing for their return, Lucie came to find me busily cleaning house. She was sick. Her back arched up unable to eat. I took her to Dove Lewis. X-rays revealed bone spurs growing down her back from each vertebra. All the years of wiggling in joy when we returned home or greeting friends had taken their toll.
She got a lot of attention that Christmas. We lifted her onto the beds and helped her back down. The attention and muscle relaxants helped, and Lucie recovered.
After Kindra graduated from college, traveled, and found employment, Lucie became more my dog. I had changed careers and was working from home now building websites for small business and nonprofits. My office was upstairs and each day as I worked Lucie would join me, lying on the futon couch or alongside the desk at my feet. Often she slept and often she snored. Sometimes a client on the phone would ask, “What is that sawing noise?” Then we would share a quiet chuckle.
A year ago on the way home from a walk, Lucie began to limp. The vet diagnosed it as a torn ACL. She had laser treatments, medicine to block nerve pain, a steroid to reduce swelling, and another tablet that acted as a hormone replacement. It all worked. Despite “old dog lungs” (that was the vet’s term), arthritis in her hips and back, and, of course, the bone spurs she continued, not as wiggly as she had once been, not as agile, but sill a happy dog.
In September Kindra married in a remote park on a lake in Southern Oregon. Lucie and the groom’s family dog served as ring bearers. Despite the distance dozens of relatives and friends made the trip. The toasts, dinner, and party lasted past dark. When we were getting ready to leave I found Lucie curled in a ball asleep close to the banquet tables.
In January, the night of the big snow, she took a walk with my husband and I carefully leaping to catch the loose snowballs John threw out for her. It was a beautiful snow covered night in St. Johns and, while Lucie walked slowly, she seemed to enjoy the beautiful night as much as we did.
Time is a cruel master. Despite our best preparations and precautions, it taxes us all.
The last time she made it up the stairs I had to hold her and help her lie softly just to keep her from collapsing in exhaustion. The last two weeks of her life Lucie needed help to stand. When she was up and outside each step seemed to be painful. She never wined or cried out, but the last few days when she went out I saw tears from her eyes down the furrows of her muzzle. The medication had helped, but it was no longer enough.
In the late winter, we called a vet to our home. Lucie was lying on her bed in our living room. I had spent time in the afternoon talking with her, caressing her soft ears, and enjoying my last moments with her. The end was peaceful. Today she is out in the garden with a new hydrangea growing from the deep grave my husband dug.
Since her death, each time I return home and unlock the front door I think, “Lucie, I’m home.” I no longer say the words aloud. I miss her and her sweet generous and joyful spirit.
Lucie Bea, January 21, 2004 to March 17, 2017. Rest in peace, beautiful dog.