Lucky, 1998 - 7 months old
A week or two later I found myself at the Denver Dumb Friends League and immediately fell head over heels in love with a beautiful black Lab mix. I asked the volunteer why he was brought in. She pulled his card and informed me that he was a housebroken “escape artist.”
Obviously this beautiful creature wanted to come home with me. He was alert, obedient and incredibly calm for such a young fellow. Two visits later I walked out with this 30 pound, six months old, Black Labrador/Doberman mix with floppy ears and web feet that were way out of proportion to the rest of him. That was on May 24 of 1998.
Lucky was indeed housebroken. In fact his eyes would turn yellow before he would have an accident in the house but he never did. Only one time did he relieve himself inside and that was in a hotel where the girls and I had stopped one night while headed to the Southland. But at least he went on the tile floor in the bathroom because once the floodgates opened there was no stopping the flow.
When I had brought him home from the Dumb Friends I hadn’t been overly concerned about his escaping because of the eight foot wooden fence that enclosed the backyard. I wasn’t prepared for the strength of his jaws and his determination to open up the yard so my neighbors and I wouldn’t have to talk between the slats. I bought two roles of ranch fencing and spent the next two days stapling it to the wood. He wasn’t crazy about flossing his teeth with wire but he managed to find hundreds of other items to put in his mouth.
When I moved back to Nashville I was lucky to find a house to rent with a huge fenced in backyard. The only problem was that some stretches of the chain link were lower than five feet, which he easily scaled. Lucky didn’t jump over the fence; he climbed it with his elbows and knees out to the side. While I was fascinated with the spectacle of this four legged Spider Man scaling the fence my neighbors didn’t seem to find it so amusing.
I bought a few metal trellises and attached them to the chain link. This stopped him from going over at least one section. Several weeks later the entire back length and part of one side of the chain link fence was decked out in attractive ornamental trellis. And once I bought a couple of lengths of heavy chains and hooks for the gate Lucky’s roaming days were over – for the most part.
Lucky grew into a 110 pound powerhouse with boundless curiosity, energy and mischievness. He wasn’t happy unless he was digging or had something in his mouth. It didn’t matter if the object of his culinary flavor for the moment was food, newspaper, toilet paper, laundry, quilting projects, roots or just plain dirt. He had a cast-iron stomach which allowed for the ingestion of just about anything he could fit in his mouth, including bars of soap. Literally everything had to be put out of reach – hard to do with a dog who could put his front paws over your shoulders, giving you big hugs and sloppy kisses. Not unlike some men I used to know.
A dog who had a nose and jaws as strong as a bulldozer, and who could push away railroad ties bordering my neighbors’ gardens so he could dig for moles, had no trouble opening the refrigerator door to go after the food – all the food. He could even open the meat and cheese drawers. The solution came in the form of a bungee cord which I hooked to the door on one end and attached to the handle of the window over the sink. This method worked well as long as I didn’t forget to hook up the cord.
Lucky had a good case of separation anxiety. He couldn’t stand for me to be out of his sight. I learned early on that if he ran away, all I had to do was turn and go in the opposite direction. He’d run to catch up and then keep on going. Sometimes we’d do this little dance routine five or six times before he’d get bored and, hanging his head, come up to me so I could reattach his leash and give him a loving pat of approval on his head.
If truth be known, he was a bit of a scaredy cat. Little bitty dogs frightened the hell out of him and he’d get behind my legs for protection. Because of his gargantuan size and big bark people commented on what a good watch dog he must be. If they only knew that beneath that big bark and large body was an equally big coward.
Just as powerful as his curiosity and sense of adventure was his limitless love and devotion. His intelligent eyes spoke volumes. He slept so close to me that on more than one occasion I woke up as I was being pushed out of bed. Sometimes I’d be forced to get up, grab a dog biscuit, place it on the other side of the bed and run back around to reclaim my warm spot. He often slept in the crook of my knees and when he fell into a deep sleep his head gained 50 pounds. In the mornings I automatically reached out to pat him and whisper words of love. He returned this love in a thousand different ways over the years.
He was incredibly sensitive and knew when I was feeling blue or happy. His own moods adjusted accordingly. He would stick out his big paw, which had the force of a Muhammad Ali punch, to let me know that life would get better and that he loved me regardless. A close Denver friend emailed me to say, “I, for one, will never forget Lucky; I know he saw you through many a hard time. . . . I'd forgotten what a big fella he was, but not as big as his heart...”
So, I broke two vows but what a blessing Lucky was. He enriched my life, gave me comfort and companionship, and loved me with all his heart. I never abused him but there were times when I wasn’t there for him as I should have been. Still he loved me and I loved him more than any dog I’d ever had.
In the end, I did what I vowed never to do again. I let him suffer – not because I wanted him to but because I was in a high state of denial. I kept holding him and willing him to get better, to live, to show the old spark. But he didn’t. Instead he hurt and I failed him when he needed me most.
Will I get another dog? No. There’s not a dog in this world who can measure up to the gentle giant. And because of my current financial situation – non-existent – it would be unfair to have an animal and not be able to afford proper care when they are sick or injured or just in need of routine care. Mostly I just can’t perceive of another dog walking in Lucky’s paw steps.
I can’t end this tribute to Lucky without a tip of the hat to my wonderful vet Dr. Michele Sandefur and her crew for their devoted care and years of service. They are tops in my book – professional, knowledgeable and compassionate. And to my cousin Nan who came to my rescue. I had no money and no brakes. She gathered up Lucky and me in her car and drove us to the vet and she did so much more. I love her dearly and will be forever grateful.
November 23, 2010