Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated occurrence. I try not to remember all that we lost. I do recall something about an entire roast pulled off the counter after dinner. Pretty much anything within three feet of the floor was at risk. And if they weren’t chewing or burrowing in the garbage can, they were knocking tables over in their exuberance, sending flower vases and candlesticks flying. They loved to bark at anything that moved. Living in a residential neighborhood with many folks walking by and countless squirrels in the trees was their idea of “barking nirvana”. It was our neighbors’ idea of “barking Hell.”
I still remember the day Joe broached the subject about getting a dog. We were outside in the back yard and he said, “Katie and I went to the pet store today.”
“That’s nice,” I said absently as I pictured Joe and his girlfriend on a fun outing to the mall. They met in college and both still had a couple of years before graduation. Katie lived a few blocks away and Joe still lived at home…quite convenient because we lived two blocks from campus.
“We found two hound puppies.” He got my attention with that.
“What do you mean, ‘found two puppies?’”
“They’re so cute Mom. They’re part lab, too, so they have these long black ears. Katie would have one and I would have the other.” Now he really had my attention and a serious discussion ensued. I maintained that you don’t buy puppies together when you’re just dating, that he couldn’t bring dogs into our petless household; that he was often gone for long periods with summer jobs. “Who will take care of them when you’re gone? And why two, Joe?”
But, Joe didn’t play fair. All he said was, “Mom they’re two hounds….it would be just like Where the Red Fern Grows. There’s a little girl and a little boy and Katie and I will take care of everything.” No, he didn’t play fair because he knew that this book about two hounds was one of my favorites. I had read it to my father as a child and read it to Joe, his brother and sister as a mother. I loved this story of sacrifice, devotion and pure love and secretly I had always yearned for my own two hound dogs. He wasn’t fooling me, though. I knew that these dogs would be a whole family commitment. And it was. But, I still remember the first time he set them down in the back yard and they toddled over, almost tripping over their long, silky ears. Oh my…they were wonderful and I understood how they stole my son’s heart. We jumped into the task of caring for these new little puppies, Humphrey and Lucy.
And then, a couple of days later we all grew concerned when Humphrey grew ill. I remember lying on the couch with this little black bundle on my chest, feeling the storm raging in his tummy. Joe and Katie took him to the vet and called with the news. “Humphrey has something called Puppy Parvo. He only has a small chance of living. And Lucy will probably get it, too.” By that time we all so loved these little dogs that losing them was unthinkable. Several anxious days, two separate stays at the veterinary clinic, intravenous feedings and some wonderful care and we beat the odds. Both dogs would be fine.
And so, with that they stole our hearts forever. Almost losing them made us more tolerant of their mischief, but I must say that they tested and tried us to the utmost. They really never grew up. They followed their noses everywhere, long silken ears flapping in the breeze as they raced along bounding after invisible prey and lingering odors of animals long since gone. They rarely paid attention to our commands, shouts, whistles or threats, and would only come back when they lost the scent of whatever trail they were following. They curled up on the couch or the chair despite continual reprimands, their brown, liquid eyes pleading for permission to stay. After a while, we simply gave up and resigned ourselves to vacuuming short, black hairs from every surface.
Humphrey and Lucy came into our lives thirteen years ago and since then they’ve gone just about everywhere with Joe and Katie. They were still young when the kids got married and they’ve been their constant, devoted companions since, moving to Maine with them, travelling across the U.S. many times, becoming adept sailors and helping shape their lives. And they’ve remained exuberant despite advancing years. Lucy wagged her tail so much that she wore off the end (I’m serious.) Many decisions have been made in light of how the pups would be affected.
It has always been Joe and Katie, Humphrey and Lucy. That is, until this week.
Katie is due to have a baby boy any day now and Joe called with the latest news from her doctor’s appointment. We chatted for a bit, and then he said, “Mom, I have to tell you that Lucy got hit on the road yesterday and she didn’t make it.” Well I can tell you, hearing that news took my breath away. Somehow I always thought the pups would die of old age, just fading away together in their sleep. He continued, “We have a really busy highway near the house, but they’ve never gone that far. When she didn’t come home I went looking for her and found her by the side of the road. I’m sure she didn’t suffer.” I guess I wasn’t prepared for my tears that followed and I’m not sure what hurts me more…losing Lucy or imagining my dear son coming upon her lifeless body and then having to break the news to his wife.
So, these past few days I’ve been remembering the frisky puppy, Humphrey’s loyal sister, the graying spinster; the mischievous yet undeniably sweet Lucy. And tears continue to fall. Yet, one image helps me cope more than any other. I picture Lucy out romping with Humphrey, enjoying the warmer spring day. She catches the scent of another dog and, following that incredible nose, pursues it past the end of the field. Gaining speed with ears flying and paws pounding, she’s really on the trail now, oblivious to any blaring horn or flashing metal.
And suddenly without skipping a beat….her arthritic body moves with grace and ease, her tail is longer; she runs faster and lighter as she did when she was at her strongest. The scent is incredibly sharp now, the sun brighter and the air purer. In the distance she can hear Joe calling faintly, but she continues on because she is free and light and it just feels so darned good. Keep on moving, girl. Keep following your nose as you always have. You know we will love you forever.
See you again someday.
“People have been trying to understand dogs ever since the beginning of time. One never knows what they'll do. You can read every day where a dog saved the life of a drowning child, or lay down his life for his master. Some people call this loyalty. I don't. I may be wrong, but I call it love - the deepest kind of love.”
Where the Red Fern Grows