I remember the first time I saw Lucky. I was in my office at home and glanced out to the front sidewalk to see a very happy-looking dog prance down the street. I waited, expecting to see the owner follow, but none did. A few minutes later, up the street came Lucky again. Based on just that look, we could have called him Happy.
Eventually, we learned that most of the neighborhood had seen the stray dog in recent weeks. Many had put out food and water. All of the neighborhood kids wanted him for their own.
We were cat people at that time. Even so, one morning, Merri was talking to the neighborhood kids about the stray dog, when he rolled over into her lap. She was always his alpha and omega, his queen. Later, when we recognized that Lucky loved kids, we joked that he must have thought all those kids were Merri’s. If so, the joke was on him.
Before we took Lucky in – well before his name appeared – we had a meeting. Merri and I and Miss Kitty sat in our yard, while he sat in the next yard. “You have to leave our cat alone,” we insisted. He agreed to our terms – a pack is a pack.
Of course, we expected him to live in the yard. I remember looking out into the backyard to see Lucky standing on the narrow cinderblock wall, balanced perfectly. I raised a portion of the back fence and improvised a gate.
And then he ran away. I think he was gone at least a week; I was sure we’d never see him again. I was in the kitchen one night as it rained and I saw some movement next door. “Merri! He’s back.” He dragged himself into the house, apparently injured and weak. I fixed a lead to his collar and he stretched that lead as far as it would go into the dining room. He settled on a sleeping bag with a sigh. He slept inside for the next 10 years, usually under our bed, on Merri’s side.
Over those next 10 years, the three of us were constant companions. We bought a truck and a camper and drove to Hinton, Alberta, in a 5,000 mile, five week trip that first summer. We’ve camped up and down the Rockies, in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona, plus a trip to Memphis, Tennessee. When we weren’t camping, we walked the neighborhood twice a day. Lucky introduced us to neighbors we’d never met. We were all lucky and happy.
We took one last trip to Colorado in late June. It rained every day, of course. Lucky slept in his own tent, the first time he wasn’t with us in the camper. I wondered if he would make it past the 4th of July, which he feared so. This year, the noise was nothing to him. I never expected him to last until August, but he did.
Lucky suffered his whole life from an autoimmune disease called pemphigus foliaceus, which constantly eroded his nose. We kept that disease in check through diet, making his raw food every few weeks. Eventually, we had to put him on steroids.
Old age isn’t a disease. Every body wears out and fails in some way. It was arthritis and, possibly, nerve damage, that slowed Lucky and dragged him to the ground, as surely as any predator. His decline became most noticeable this year. His gait grew more painful and his walks shorter. He could no longer stand in one spot without falling over, so he paced until exhausted. When he fell, often he couldn’t get himself back up. This was the only time he cried, from frustration. Still, his spirit never changed and his large heart beat strong.
It’s hard to kill someone you love, but there comes a time when more time really isn’t worth much. I wanted Lucky to live just long enough and to die in his sleep, but Life is too tenacious. The body struggles on beyond all reason and hope, even when living holds no more pleasure. In time, the kind thing is the hardest and one must find an impossible strength and resolve. The one thing worse than watching someone you love suffer is to end that suffering the only way possible. So, we ended Lucky’s suffering this afternoon. Ours will go on a while longer.
The Heaven of Animals
The meadow is his home now.
Up high in the mountains,
he lies in the shade
in a circle of trees
among the wild iris.
He yawns and stretches,
and rolls and rolls,
groaning in pleasure
in the tall sweet grass.
At any moment
he will sit up, alert,
sniffing the air,
eyes intent on something
we can’t see
off under the trees.
His world is perfect now,
though I know he misses
the pats, the belly rubs,
the love in our voices:
good boy. mjh
I wrote this poem five years before Lucky Dog died, remembering a beautiful spot the three of us discovered. And, imagining the inevitable, I sobbed. This supports my hope that “any horror could be faced / and become a poem.”