Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Relationships: Lucy the Dog Part IV

She's free.

Yesterday would have been to soon to let her go and tomorrow too late. She was done, her beautiful body broken beyond repair, its parts all worn out. I was not ready to let her go. In between wracking sobs, I kept telling her things I wanted her to have in her mind on her last day. Things I remembered about us -- when we lived together in our cabin in the woods and how we went to the beach every day. She was always the fastest dog on the beach.

Lucy was so well loved. Many vistors come to say goodbye. My beautiful neighbor Kaumudi did an impromptu puja ceremony to pass her to the next place, and to welcome fortune and goodness in her wake. The candles are still burning tonight for our sweet girl.

The mobile vet arrived in green scrubs. He was sweet and took his time and gave us room to nuzzle her fur and tell her our final words. I told Lucy that where she's going is one huge beach, with lots of stairways up to people's yards, and nobody cares if dogs come over. At this place, the squirrels are very slow and sometimes fall out of trees. There is as much ice cream as you want and you never have to fetch anything or take a bath. It's also home to her dog friends Fred and Chloe and Bilbo and Paolo, and my Dad, who could probably use a dog up there.

One injection relaxed her, the pain drifting out of her body. Another slowed her breathing. And she just stopped.

I would bet good money that she's the fastest dog on the beach again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Relationships: Lucy the Dog Part III

Somewhere along the way, Cinco and Lucy became best friends.
My girl is shutting down. She ate a little ice cream today, and drank hardly any water. We went outside about 10 times, walking slowly, doing nothing. Two girls, just walking together. Going anywhere. Nowhere.

People are coming to say goodbye to her. She made a lot of friends, this dog. People tell me their stories and they tell me I'm doing the right thing and to be strong. I will be that person on the other side someday, offering my condolences to a raw, aching person like myself right now.

The vet will come tomorrow afternoon. I have learned the code for this type of visit is a "house call." He will administer a shot that will put her in the "twilight." Then a megadose of anesthesia. And she will drift out.

Cinco, her little Chihuahua brother, has become protector. He licks her constantly to make her better. He stands guard and won't let people get too close. In solidarity, he won't eat any food either. He won't leave her side. I take comfort in this. We are a pack.

I spend time curled up in a nest of pillows with her, breathing in the last of her doggie smell. Probably smells like gross old sick dog to everyone else. I reminded her today about the time she ate a whole Easter basket and pooped out pastel foil wrappers for two days after. About the time we flew on a seaplane to the Gulf Islands and I had told the pilot beforehand that she was a lap dog -- I didn't mention she'd take three people's laps though. About the times she'd been attacked by other dogs, and I jumped in to tear those bastards off her. That I would give any piece of blood or bone or flesh from myself to make her better.

When I look at her I think, "She's a perfectly good dog. She's just got all these things wrong with her. But other than that, she's a perfectly good dog."

If you think you have the best dog in the world, I am sorry. You are just wrong. You might have the best dog for your city or state or village or whatever, but Lucy is the best dog in the world. I know this truly. The best. The best. The best dog in the whole world, today, tonight and forever.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Relationships: Lucy the Dog Part II

I have three years' worth of favorite memories with my husband, and seven months' with my kid. For Lucy, I have 14 years of experience. It's not full of adventure and mishap. It's two friends who lived together and loved each other and went a lot of places. To me, my time with Lu is a novel, a movie, a Bible. She has taught me so many lessons. The most important: Assume everyone you meet will be your best friend, and chances are, they will.

Other times that shine in my Lucy mind:

  • When I first got Lucy I was dating a guy who lived on a sailboat. I went down to visit him and Lucy was following me along the maze of marina docks to get to Jeff's boat. When I got there, I realized Lucy was no longer behind me. I backtracked. No Lucy. Then someone said, "is this your dog?" pointing to the water. Why yes, indeed it was. Lucy had somehow toppled over the side and was just dog paddling until I came to fish her out. She hated swimming after that.
  • When she was a puppy I used to take her to work in my tiny office in Port Townsend. She would hang out while I wrote stories or matched couples for my dating service, and then we'd go play on the beach for a while. Once she was very, very uncharacteristically quiet and I turned around to see her chewing on my brand new Lord & Taylor chunky-heeled mary jane shoe. I was aghast. "Oh, Lucy," was all I could say, in a throaty, disappointed voice. She looked up, stopped in mid-chew, and never touched a shoe again.
  • She used to bark at and try to herd farm animals -- horses, cows, chickens. We once went to visit my friend The Pig Lady and her husband Dan, who raised potbelly pigs. Lucy was chasing around the pigs and freaking them out. Dan gave her a swat, which freaked me out. We loaded up into the truck and drove out for an impromptu camping trip in the woods near a stream. I cried half the way there. Lucy and I did a lot of hiking. She ate a lot of deer poop that trip.
  • I once tied Lucy up outside a fancy tearoom in Victoria, went for a quick tour, and came out to find a bunch of Asian tourists crowding around her and taking her picture. I guess they'd never seen a Lucy before.
  • When I started my Very Corporate Job at a Very Conservative Company we had a two-day offsite meeting at a fancy hotel. I didn't have anyone who could watch Lucy, so I brought her with me. She became part of the last-day's team-building exercise. This helped to establish that I was the slightly wacky creative person in the office, so that perhaps all rules would not apply.
  • Once Lucy and I drove from Los Angeles to Washington's Olympic Peninsula for Thanksgiving. My genius plan was to make the return trip without stopping at a hotel for the night, just napping along the way. Which would have worked except for two things: It is cold as hell is hot in the Siskious in November, and when you turn off the engine, there is no heat. And also, that I am a human being that can't type an email, let alone drive a car, if I haven't had enough sleep. By 2 a.m. it became clear that my plan was a failure, but there were no hotels in sight. So I'd crank the heat until we were baking, pull over, cuddle together in the back of the Prius under my down blanket, and then get up and start all over when frostbite began to set in. During one of those times, we woke up to snapping cold to see that we'd parked under a shimmering Mt. Shasta, glimmering like a giant diamond in the pre-dawn cobalt sky. It was, to this day, the most amazing sight I have ever beheld. I'm so glad Lucy was there to share it.

Lucy is not doing well. She paces around until I let her out, then she strains to pee and poo, then meanders through the bushes in our courtyard until I come to get her. She lies on her bed and sleeps. I lie down next to her and we spoon and she shivers and I cry into her fur and feel her silky ears and try to imagine the moment when she is no longer warm and with us.

I do not know how to say goodbye.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Relationships: Lucy the Dog Part I

The first time I saw Lucy was in the spring of 1998. She was on a sliver of shoulder on a twisty road. One wrong step would have sent her down a sheer cliff to the frigid waters of Discovery Bay on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

I slowed down to get a better look at this sleek, quick mutt, a cross between a beagle and a hound. Pretty. Redheaded. But there was no place to pull over for about a mile and when I finally did, I couldn't find any trace of her.

I'd had it in my mind I needed a dog, being an Annie Oakley type all alone in my cabin off the grid in the woods. I wanted a dog who would bark at strangers, retrieve endless tennis balls thrown on the beach, and warm the bed when the small cast-iron stove burned up all its wood.

A month later I went to the pound and lo, there was that same dog from the road. She'd been picked up a couple miles from where I'd seen her. They gave her a name -- Popcorn. For a really good reason. She was super spazzy and just wouldn't be still, jumping around the pen, trying to lift off and take flight when she was on a leash.

Nobody wanted her, she was cute but just too hyper. The pound folks kept her alive much longer than they were supposed to, hoping that someone in need of an uncouth, unschooled 9-month-old puppy with the deepest brown eyes you'd ever seen would need her. They'd waited for me.

I brought her home to my little cabin in the woods, and introduced her to the other residents, cats called Puck and Ajax. The first night we settled down by the fire with Cabernet and rawhide, and she happily drifted to sleep. In the morning I came down from my loft bed and woke her up. She jumped with a slight start, furiously wagged her tail, broke out into a huge doggie smile, and peed a little with excitement. It was, truly, the first day of the rest of our lives together.

I rastled with her wilddog stubborn mind, and we finally came to a compromise on obedience training. That anything she did at my command had to appear as if it were her own idea. She'd hear "come" or "sit" or whatever, look up into the air as if she were contemplating her next move, and then act in her own time. Eventually.

She never fetched one thing her whole life and greeted all strangers (even a burglar) as if she were running for mayor and could she please have their vote. She has always been the best spooner I know, however.

These past couple weeks Lucy's had it rough. She has a tumor growing in her abdomen. It makes it hard for her to pee at her own will, which is humiliating to this dog who had been known to hold it for up to 10 hours on a sailing trip through the San Juan Islands. She has gloppy masses on her body that break open and ooze. Tonight she was on the leash and fell over on her side as her hind legs seized up.

I called the vet and asked what we should be doing, and she suggested a prescription for an anti-inflammatory that might help her swelling and curb the pain.

"One month's worth?" she asked.

"Make it two."