This is an intensely personal post. Some of you may want to skip it. It’s not the normal type of discourse for this blog. It’s about loss and bereavement. But this once I am breaking my rule and thinking about the writer instead of the audience. I need to write this.
This is Mr. Lucky Boy. He’s a sweet old black Lab who has been a resident of “Camp Freedman” for over 14 years. He has distinguished himself in two ways that a Lab has never done before.
1) Lucky had his picture displayed on the front cover of the December 3, 2012 issue of The Pennsylvania Bar News. He accomplished this because of the accompanying article I authored in that issue entitled “Meet Mr. Lucky Boy.” I’m quite sure no other dog has ever graced the front cover of this publication.
2) Lucky’s father appeared on the back cover of a book entitled “Legends in Labradors” which was written by Nancy Martin in 1980. Nancy Martin was a highly regarded breeder of champion Labrador retrievers. She produced many champions over the years, including Lucky’s father, who was one of the most noteworthy. Not many Labs have a father who has graced the back cover of a book about Labs.
Nancy Martin was a judge for decades at many prestigious dog shows in the U.S. and abroad. She was a gentle and loving person. And to my great fortune, lived right in my neighborhood. She interviewed me for about an hour on the telephone, and then in person for another two hours, before she would allow me to meet the puppies.
What a wonderful selection of yellow, black, and brown fuzzy faces, bright eyes, kissable noses, and stumpy wagging tails. I paid attention to every single pup before selecting Lucky. Truth be told, the selection process was mutual. A few weeks later I picked Lucky up to bring him home. As I left, Nancy bestowed a complimentary copy of her book, inscribed with “To Ellen and Lucky, Lots of happy days together.” And we have indeed had more than our share of happy days.
Lucky excelled at everything. He was housebroken almost immediately. He was the darling of puppy kindergarten, much to the resentment of the other owners. The trainer always picked Lucky to demonstrate every command, because he always got it right the first time.
On his first day home, I had some perennials which had to be planted. As soon as I started to dig the first hole, Lucky used his paws to assist, sending dirt flying everywhere. When I took the perennial out of the pot and tossed the pot aside, Lucky stuck his head into the pot. When he stood up with the pot on his head he could see nothing. He starting running wildly around the yard, tail wagging, and barking, until he ran into a huge tree and fell back on his haunches. Apparently he really liked that, because he put his head back into the pot and did it a few more times. Every year of his life he has enjoyed carrying around and playing with empty pots as I transfer new plants to my garden beds.
He has always had a joy for life and all types of adventures. It took him just a couple of months to learn how to leap into the air to catch a Frisbee or ball, and he always brought it back and placed it into my hand. He had an insatiable appetite for play. He especially loved playing tug of war with the neighbor’s golden retriever. They were great friends.
Bagel the Boxer was born exactly one year to the day after Lucky. She didn’t have much of a pedigree, but was sweet as sugar. When I brought her home, she was a mere 4.5 lbs., and Lucky was a muscular 99 lbs. He was so gentle with her. He indulged her by allowing her to sleep on him for warmth and security. He constantly groomed her. He taught her to play tug of war. And he caused her to think she was a Lab, because to this day she always greets people with a toy in her mouth, just like him.
He was no less indulgent when Checkers the Cat was rescued from certain death at 4 weeks of age; abandoned by her mother. About 4 years ago we added Pepper the Pug. Shortly thereafter we made room unexpectedly for Pixel the Pug, who was in desperate need of adoption. Both puppies were welcomed to Camp Freedman with loving licks and a warm body to cuddle. The addition of the pugs gave both Lucky and Bagel, who were getting on in years, a newborn zest for life. Scampering feet and tugs of war abounded. Pixel the Pug greets everyone with a toy in his mouth, thanks to Lucky. And he has learned to fetch and return the ball by watching Lucky.
Of course, everyone loves their pets. Everyone thinks their pets are exceptional. But I have to say that while Lucky never got the chance to distinguish himself publicly as a champion like his father, he has been the perfect example of the characteristics prize Labradors should have. Nancy Martin — may she rest in peace — would be so proud of the last puppy in the line of champions she bred since the 1960’s.
There is great sadness tonight at Camp Freedman. Me and my husband are openly weeping together. Tomorrow, Lucky will take his final trip to the vet, and he will not be coming home. It’s his time, and I will not allow him to suffer. As he fades into sleep he will be in my arms. I will be stoking his head, kissing his wonderful nose, and whispering in his ear words of appreciation for all the joy and love he has brought into my life, and into the lives of the other residents of Camp Freedman, for all these years. With his final breath he will hear “good dog” and “I love you.” He deserves no less.
I worry about Bagel. She is so attached to him, that I am fearful she will prematurely follow him from a broken heart. And I worry about my husband the most. He never had a pet before I came into his life. He wasn’t prepared for the way pets can completely capture the heart in ways people cannot. He has never experienced this loss. I have had pets my whole life. I am prepared for the inevitable loss. I know that dying is the natural conclusion to living. It doesn’t hurt less. But at least I have the comfort of knowing the hurt subsides to a sweet ache over time, tempered by wonderful memories.
For those of you who have read to this point, I want to thank you. Writing this last tribute to Lucky is the smallest first step in my grieving process. Knowing that even one person reads this, gives me comfort. If you would just think a loving thought tomorrow (Friday) at 11:00 am for Lucky, somehow it will be felt by him, I’m sure. Thinking that at least one person out there will pause and acknowledge the passing of such a magnificent and loving creature gives me comfort.
Years ago, when my father passed away after a long illness, I wrote an article entitled “Stranger At the Door” which appears on my web site. I wrote it for the same reason I write this. Catharsis. The article talks about the process of grieving and dealing with loss. If you ever find you need it, it’s there for you as well. Thank you for allowing me to share this experience with you.