15: Learning to Love Lucy

15: Learning to Love Lucy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

Learning to Love Lucy

Trouble is part of your life, and if you don’t share it, you don’t give the person who loves you enough chance to love you enough.

~Dinah Shore

I found Lucy in a small black cage outside a pet store one hot July morning. A black Lab mix puppy with a white belly and perky ears that stood at attention, Lucy had been abandoned at a nearby house. The homeowner had kindly taken her to a vet, paid for medical treatment and transferred her to a shelter. The shelter volunteers brought her to their weekly adoption event at the pet store.

What drew me to Lucy was her serenity. All the other adoptable dogs were panting and barking and yelping and scratching. But not Lucy. She just sat in her cage, watching people go in and out of the store, with a Zen-like calmness. I crouched in front of her cage and looked into her dark eyes.

“Hi there,” I said.

She blinked back at me and cocked her cute little head.

“She’s so calm,” I said to the friend who was with me.

I envisioned long days of writing with Lucy as my companion stretched out at my feet. I drove home and brought back the entire family to test her out. My three- and five-year-old boys played with her and walked her. My husband examined her teeth and paws and personality. She received unanimous approval.

It took three days to process the paperwork and for the shelter staff to research our suitability as dog owners. When the call came that we were approved, I drove back to the pet store to retrieve her for good. In that three-day time period, however, she had morphed into a different dog—a strong, hyperactive one I could barely control. I wondered if they had given her a sedative for that adoption event. She practically jumped out the window on the way home. I chalked it up to her being excited to have a new family.

On our first visit to the veterinarian the next day, I brought my boys so they could be a part of the entire dog-caring process. The two vet technicians giving her shots discussed her breed possibilities while they held her steady on the table.

“Hmmm. Lab and . . . Pit Bull?” one said.

“Yeah, definitely some type of terrier in her,” the other said. She examined her snout more closely. “Yeah. Pit.”

“I have a PIT BULL?” I said.

“Mix,” they said together. “Pit Bull mix.” As if that made everything okay.

Suddenly, I was afraid of my cute puppy. From all the horror stories I’d read in the newspapers, I assumed that all Pit Bulls were evil, dangerous, child-eating machines. I had two children. And a Pit Bull mix.

I held Lucy’s leash all the way home in the car to make sure she didn’t snack on the boys while they were strapped in their car seats. But she just curled up on the passenger seat and went to sleep. When we got home, I called my husband at work and told him the terrible news.

“Maybe you’re overreacting,” he said. “After all, she’s part Lab too.”

I tried to focus on the Lab part of the mix and concentrate on training and loving Lucy, even as a tiny voice was telling me, “Give her back, give her back.” But another voice was saying, “Give the poor unwanted creature a chance. Don’t judge. She’s only a puppy, after all.” So I gave her a chance.

Whenever we walked her in the neighborhood and someone asked what kind of puppy she was, both my boys would gleefully announce, “She’s a Pit Bull!” I would quickly step in. “No, no, she’s not. She’s a Lab mix. We don’t know what else she’s mixed with. Could be anything.” The people usually eyed me suspiciously and hurried away. I made the boys practice the line: Lab mix. Lab mix. Lab mix.

And then it happened. About a month after we adopted Lucy, I was at the stove cooking dinner and she was in a down-stay at my feet. A man walking two big, fluffy white dogs down the street appeared out the bay window and Lucy decided they needed to be annihilated. Immediately. She sprang from her spot, sprinted to the window and smashed through it. Glass shattered. I screamed. The poor man walking the dogs clutched his chest. I envisioned the canine bloodbath that was about to ensue and hollered at Lucy in a scary voice I didn’t even know I possessed to GET BACK HERE NOW!

To my utter surprise, she stopped and slowly backed through the shards of broken glass until she was all the way back in the dining room. She then sat perfectly still and silent while I gaped at the large hole in the bay window and the shards of glass strewn all over the carpet.

“I’m so sorry!” I called out the hole.

The man and his frightened dogs stumbled away, leaving me alone with the destructive and unpredictable beast that I knew now we couldn’t keep. Lucy lay down and put her head on top of crossed paws. She knew she had crossed the line.

“Too late!” I told her. “Bad dog!”

Our pet adoption contract was still on the counter. My heart hammered in my chest as I scanned the list of things I had agreed to. Number seven was highlighted and starred: If for any reason I could not keep my pet, I agreed to return it to the Humane Society or to the foster parent.

I called the phone number listed and left a pleading message on the answering machine: Please call me back as soon as you get this. I cannot, I repeat CANNOT keep Lucy. I need to return her ASAP.

“No, Mommy! No!” the boys protested.

No one from the shelter called back that night or the next day. I left two more urgent messages. It wasn’t until almost a month later that someone called me back. “I’m so sorry it took so long. When can I come and get Lucy?”

In the span of that month: 1) the window was fixed, 2) my older son repeatedly fell asleep curled up with Lucy in her crate, 3) Lucy went to sleep-away training and came back much more civilized and 4) I taught her to sit, give a high-five, roll over, play dead, “speak” and dance.

When the person from the shelter finally called I was cooking dinner and Lucy was playing hide-and-seek with the kids.

“You found me!” I heard my older son say. “Good girl!”

“My turn,” my younger son said. “Down, Lucy.” Lucy dutifully obeyed.

“Actually,” I told the woman, “thanks, but don’t bother. We’ve fallen in love with her.”

Lucy just turned twelve. It’s hard to believe we almost gave her back.

~Julie Richie

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