For the Love of a Good Dog

Here’s the thing: I miss my dog. She’s been gone for two years and was in my life for thirteen years. It was only after her passing that I understood her importance. It turns out she truly was my best friend.

Raising a canine from puppyhood into elderly doghood isn’t anything I had ever done before. Luckily for me, I didn’t do it alone. Lucy existed in a family of three, with two humans that she protected with unabashed volume. That is to say, she barked a lot.

Lucy running it off in Darby Canyon, Teton Valley, Idaho

And it is no wonder. She kept constant company with two people who were loud in their honesty with one another. And when we had anxiety, she had anxiety. I don’t want to paint a high-strung picture here, but she was also a Labrador retriever, and by nature, enthusiastic. That is to say, she had a spring up her butt.

But Lucy did in fact love people and was loved back by most who got to know her, even just a little. We had a guy in our house exactly one time, a home inspector named Pete. After her bark wore off, Lucy followed him dutifully around our home, wearing her characteristic smile. Every time I ran into Pete, for around three years after he met her, he asked about Lucy. He and his wife Janet eventually moved back to Massachusetts. I am sure he remembers our dog.

As an adolescent puppy, Lucy was vilified when she escaped the vet’s confines during an extended stay. She got into some file boxes in the basement. She chewed up official records. Her file got “red flagged.” I like to think that when she pulled her Houdini, she was making a choice to stick it to The Man, “This is what I think of your paperwork.” She was, so thoroughly, her dog-mom’s daughter.

Yet, my ex-husband and I were always astonished at the impression she made when we weren’t looking. After boarding her at a friend’s home during time away, the report was, “We had out of town visitors. They are getting a golden Lab when they get home because of Lucy.”

We left her at a kennel once, and upon picking her up we were told that Lucy had “healing qualities” with her constant smile. They put her in a pen with an epileptic dog to create a calming atmosphere. At another dog spa, the Barkin’ Barnyard in Yakima, Washington, the proprietors reported that Lucy took a puppy under her wing (paw?) and played the protective mother during open play when it was every dog for his or herself.

By the time we left 6,200 feet in elevation for 5,000 feet a couple of states over, Lucy was on the decline. Her knees were shot from bouncing after our snowshoes and running ahead of our hiking boots, and she was getting elbow dysplasia. This did not diminish her bark. As Lucy faced the end of her life, the humans she loved faced the end of their marriage. It was tough all over, and the loss of our dog drove home multiple points of pain.

But this is not a blog about loss. This is about Lucy, and the unconditional love an animal can bring into one’s life. When I lost her, I lost a piece of stability. I lost a daily expectation that lifted me. If I was in a good mood, she made it better. If I was low, she made it better. I could depend on her.

My beauty regimen back in the day: Neutrogena and dog saliva.

Now, as we face a holiday season that lacks the connections we crave, look to your nearest animal friend. Yes, cats count. No, they are not the same as dogs. But they are family nonetheless. And if you need to bring a friend’s dog into the fold to experience this special brand of companionship, please do it. You can also legitimately go to a dog shelter and walk a dog. Just sayin’.

Lucy was my best friend, and now I know why. She did not cast judgment. She accepted me for who I was, and in the moments when I knew that, I felt whole and even purposeful. Above all, she made me smile. We could all use a little bit of that right now.

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