Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Lucky: A Gentle Giant

Lucky, 1998 - 7 months old

Before there was Lucky there was Falstaff, a sweet Old English Sheepdog. When the sad day came and he could no longer rise, I cradled him in my arms and wept while the vet injected him with a solution that would ease him into his final sleep. I was devastated and vowed never again to have another dog. But if I did, I wasn’t going to let the poor creature suffer by prolonging his agony just so I could love him a little bit longer.

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.

November, 2009

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


  1. I feel your pain.
    When I had to put my KOKO to sleep, it was like losing the most important thing in my life.
    I also kept her too long.
    I asked the Vet how I would know when it was time.
    The Vet told me --the dog will let you know--
    Well one night when I came home from work my Koko was lying on the ground and looked up at me.
    She told me it was time.
    We will all meet again on the Rainbow Bridge.
    Please go here

  2. Leslie:

    There are two types of people in the world: people who hate animals and people who love animals. We animal lovers are the lucky ones! Your tribute to your friend made me cry for the pieces of my heart lost with each pet’s death.

    A friend sent me a copy of “Rainbow Bridge” when I had to put my big tomcat Tuxedo to sleep, and I look forward to all my pets running happily toward me one day.

    Somewhere there has to be a place for such a meeting. If only in your heart.


  3. Thanks RZ and BJ. This was the hardest thing I've ever had to write and I feel I failed miserably in capturing his spirit. He really was so unique in every way - a very extraordinary dog.

    I'm familiar with the Rainbow Bridge. Right now I feel as if I can't get there soon enough.

  4. Every once in a while, look behind you.
    He is still there.
    You just can not see him.
    But, yet you know he is there.
    He will always be there for you.
    Just as you were always there for him.

  5. RZ: That brought tears to my eyes. I know he's here. I feel him. But God I miss him. Thank you.

  6. Les, you're a lovely woman and that was a lovely tribute...I'm truly sorry for your loss...

  7. That's a good story! I left a dog like that behind years ago and still feel the regret and is maybe why I've never had another. With few friends I should get one.

    Rogin a giant black lab who is nothing but a total play baby is gone now after being around a couple months. He comes after the season is over till now and I see him through the year as well. He likes me and I like him. 3500 smacks for vet bills so far after four years and I'm sure more coming.

    Hahns has been around as well and will continue to hang out a bunch, He's a six month old blond lab and is such a good pooch and is being trained so well. He left just yesterday when we were all occupied. He was at home maybe 1/2 mile away with lots of snow along the way. Had never walked it but only had looked down on we we work and where he walked home from. This is a smart dog. He miss his chew toy Rogin.

    There's always the joy you can get from other people mutts Leslie with out the responsibility to fill some of the void. If I got one I think it would be a littler one.

  8. So sorry. I just shed a tear for Lucky and another for you. I did exactly the same thing when my dog was in his last days -- and to this day, can't believe how powerful denial can be, especially when you're dealing with the impending death of a loved one, no matter how many legs he/she has. Hang in there, girl, we'll all be thinking of you, and him.

  9. Not just one tear, but I'm crying a river Leslie. You did a superb job capturing Lucky's spirit. How lucky for him you chose him that fateful day, how lucky for you to have many years with this wonderful companion. Bless your heart....

  10. WOW! Once again I am blown away by your writing and sensitivity. I know there was a reason for the two of you to meet that special day in 1998 and become such great companions for each other. I am thrilled that you have such wonderful pictures of the two of you together. Often we take pictures of our pets, but not of us with them. I am sorry for the pain you are feeling and hope you realize that Lucky was lucky to have you too!!!

  11. I wish I had some words that would make you feel better Leslie.

    Our dog is a fat pain in the you know what. My whole family would be devastated if something happened to him.

    I can get more Cocoa Puffs. How do you replace a dog like Dudley or Lucky?

  12. Bee: You are THE lovely lady - 'cept maybe when you're in the room with your step-sis-in-law. ; ) Thanks for being so sweet.

    One Fly: There are a lot of advantages to large dogs - not as nervous and can hold "it" a lot longer. Lucky was powerful and flunked that part of the training about what "come" meant, which is why I had to use that pinch collar - not a personal preference. He still pulled me down several times causing some broken bones. But he didn't yip, which I can't stand. Sounds like you live in a rural area. If so, a big dog isn't as likely to be carried away by coyotes. Thanks for the suggestion. It's something to think about.

    Thank you, dear Paula. I know that denial thing all to well. When we got to the vet's, I was a regular Palin. Blah, blah, blah about everything under the friggin' sun except Lucky. Geez.

    Aw Sue, I was indeed lucky. Lucky came closest to any dog I've ever known to having a sense of humor. Or maybe he was just testing the limits.

    Vicki: You are too kind. I appreciate your words more than I can possibly express. He was a champion in heart and soul.

  13. Lordy Truth. You can't replace these critters. It would be like trying to replace one of your kids. Just stopping in to comment makes me feel better.

  14. Leslie,
    I hope writing this post helped a little,it helped with our cat Felix when she passed.

    You didn't fail Lucky. You DID NOT. Yeah you waited because you didn't want to do it, but the way you describe Lucky, his love and devotion for you, he WOULD NOT have chosen to leave. He wouldn't. Don't beat yourself up, I understand and don't blame you for feeling that way-but you don't need to feel guilty.

  15. When being interviwed by James Lipton, Mary Tyler Moore answered his query about that which she would like to hear from St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. She told Lipton that she would like him to say that "over there are all the pets you've ever had."

    Frodo will bet that Lucky is there, trying to dig a hole under the front gate.

    Read Frodo's most current post "He's the King of them all, y'all."

  16. L.P., that was a beautiful post. It's a wonderful tribute to Lucky and your relationships with him.

    I know so painfully well how you feel, having been there more than a few times. I'm tenderhearted for critters we share this life with, especially dogs and cats. The relationships I began having as a child with cats (Mom and her mother were lifelong cat persons) caused me to learn their way of communicating. It's part oral, part facial expression, part body language, and very effective.

    I came to understand cats' keen intelligence, which far exceeds what most realize. If you really get to know one and watch closely, you'll see they're not only curious, they anticipate and analyze things, even plan ahead.

    In the early years of our marriage, my wife and I had three dogs over time. For different reasons, these relationships ended tragically and prematurely. I liked these dogs, but not with the connection I have with cats.

    Some years later we adopted a wonderful, just fully grown mixed breed dog from the pound. I saw her featured twice on a segment they were doing on shelter animals on the local news, and told my wife I wanted to go see her and maybe adopt her. I had a feeling. The result was several wonderful years of fun, companionship and love. My wife had been very skeptical, given the poor luck we'd had with dogs. Within two weeks, I swear she was more taken with Brittany than I. The fact Brittany really was housebroken, affectionate and very anxious to please, to be part of a family, helped too. She was loving and good natured through and through.

    When Brittany's time finally came it was as painful as losing a child. We had prolonged her life several months with expensive medication. But then the medication became less effective, leaving her in increasing discomfort and even pain. I get a lump in my throat thinking of that awful time of knowing we'd soon have to say goodbye, and then losing her. About a year later, Skeezix, a splendid cat we had raised from kittenhood and who had been with us about 16 years, became deathly ill and had to be euthanized. The pain and sense of loss was indescribable. And I swear, like Brittany, he knew his time with us was nearly over.

    For all the pain of losing those beloved pets, certainly without taking away anything from the memory of them and the time we were blessed to have them in our family, I feel a duty and desire to provide a home, family and love to some creatures whose need is here and now.

    I'm not trying to get you to do anything you're not ready to do, L.P. What's right for us might not be right or possible for you. But if you can, when you can, please remember there are dogs and cats with so much love and companionship to give, each with its own personality. If you can make a home for even one, not to replace Lucky, but because . . . well, hey, here's a little girl or fellow who needs a friend, needs a home. What's a person to do but make room in their heart and home — and be rewarded with unquestioning loyalty, fun and love beyond measure?

  17. Leslie,
    I am truly sorry for your loss. Dogs become members of our family, and when one dies, all suffer.

    We have always had dogs. A new dog is never a replacement for a previous dog. They are a new family member, like a new child or grandchild. They are a new experience. They are a life cycle that we get to enjoy, from birth to death. That is the way it is.

    You are blessed for loving your dog, and have been blessed by him. After all, he chose you as much as you chose him.

    Peace to both of you.

  18. Oso: You have no idea how guilty I feel. It isn't right to hold on to an animal when they are in so much pain. That last picture was taken the day we took him and you can see the pain in his face. But I do appreciate you're kind thoughts.

    Frodo: I remember that quote by MTM. That would be a grand thing to have happen.

    SW: What a moving comment. What you say about cats is absolutely true. I've had several and they were all wonderful. I just have a problem with the litter box thingy - it's kind of hard to tuck them away in an apt.

    I've always felt that rescued/adopted animals somehow know you've saved them from a terrible fate and are eternally grateful. They show their appreciation by loving you just that much more. And once a formerly abused animal realizes that you aren't going to hit them they work that much harder to please. I've had a lot of mixes and mutts and wouldn't trade any of them for the winner of the Westminster Dog Show.

    Due to my current circumstances another critter is out of the question - at least for now. Maybe volunteering at a shelter or perhaps fostering at some point. Should I win the lottery I'd buy about 50 acres, set up a foundation, and have a no-kill facility where dogs, cats and horses would have room to run and play. Alas . . .

    Jerry: You are of course so right. His beautiful eyes drew me to him like a magnet. We were attached at the hip - except when he went after cats, squirrels and possums!

    RC: Glad you appreciated it.

  19. What?!? You wanted the cats, squirrels, and possums for yourself? :)

  20. Tnlib,

    My wife's brother was a dog handler and I fell in love with pekingese and my wife and her brother fell in love with Shih Tzu's.

    Even though we have not been to a dog show since 2004 and have totally quit breeding I have left our website up as rememberence:

    We had a pekingese that was the number one peke in the USA in 1999 and 2000 and to say that that little guy had personality would be an understatement.

    One time I got mad at my wife's brother and I showed it and that little dog got so mad at me and so protective of him that he ran over hiked up his leg and peed on my shoe....

    Then he ran and hid behind my brother in law...

    Well he was poisoned at a dog show once and almost died but he pulled through but by 2001 his kidneys started shutting down....

    By 2002 he was spending more time with the vet than he was at home and eventually the flushing of his kidneys quit working.

    I still remember the night I took him in to have him put to sleep....I told the vet that I would hold him while he put him to sleep.

    Eight years later I still miss that little arrogant guy...and I can still see his eyes....

    It is a loss that never gets better...

  21. JC: Some redneck possum recipes -

    PEN: I'm touched.

    TAO: I think "the gentle giant" should be applied to you. I like those little guys but I sure as hell wouldn'[t want to have to groom them. I can barely take care of my own locks - obviously.

    "It is a loss that never gets better..." So true, so true.

  22. L.P. wrote: "I've always felt that rescued/adopted animals somehow know you've saved them from a terrible fate and are eternally grateful. They show their appreciation by loving you just that much more."

    Absolutely, and I've found they're extra good about fitting in and getting along with pets we already have.

  23. Lucky was lucky to have you, Leslie.

    Thanks for sharing his story.

  24. Thanks SW and Magpie: You know, I think there's aomething wrong with people who don't like animals. Not only are they missing out on the love and devotion a cat or dog can give them, it's a sign that maybe they are not only incapable of giving love to animals but to their fellow human beings. They just seem to be cold and unfeeling.

  25. tnlib, that's the most moving eulogy I've ever read... I don't puddle up over many things, but what you wrote brought back so much of the sorrow I've experienced with every loss of a pet. I've lost parents and don't think either of their deaths affected me as deeply, or in as prolonged a state of mourning as the loss of my dogs. It's not easy to explain to people who would read that and think, "Oh, how callous! What a horrible thing to say!" But it's true... we rationalize the deaths of close family members, realizing their suffering, remembering the good times and bad, and knowing it was for the best. It's impossible to find that rationalization when you lose an animal that loves you unconditionally, meets you at the gate or the door as if they CAN'T BELIEVE YOU CAME BACK AGAIN! and show their love in the most breathless, excited, and tail waggin' way possible so that you know you're not allowed to leave like that ever again!
    I've been to your site several times since you initially wrote of losing Lucky, and I hope what you've written will be cathartic for the pain you must feel. For what it's worth, you summed up perfectly WHY we allow ourselves to become owned by our pets, when common sense would tell us it's a relationship doomed for eventual sorrow. We love them because they love us more than we deserve to be loved. It's that simple.
    Thanks for sharing.
    BTW, "Squatlo" was the name of my first dog... I sign on in his memory every day.

  26. Squatlo: You're the one with the moving words. Beautiful. So you know what it's like to wake up in the morning to scratch your dog's ears, hug him and tell him how much you love him only to find empty space. I'm not much of a sleeper but I still keep my ears tuned to his movements when I wake up and get on the computer at 2 AM. Silence. I hate it. But thank you so much for your very kind words. I will treasure them.

  27. Very nice tribute.

    We have Tasha, our 15+ year old Lab/Shep; her racial (species?) tendency toward hip dysplasia is making it hard for her to stand, and while she isn't in pain, she's in difficulty. She doesn't have much time left.

    I suspect I'll bawl like a baby when she goes. So while it's a crappy popular metaphor, I really do feel your pain.

  28. Nameless: 15+? That's amazing for a big dog. Lucky was having such bad hip dysplasia, bursitis and arthritis he could hardly get up or put pressure on his front left paw. It's painful for us to have to watch them struggle with their infirmities. I can almost guarantee that you will bawl. I certainly did and still have my moments.

  29. Been through that Leslie, will go through it again. Animals who love humans and the humans who love them back, are special.