Lucy the Lop-Eared Lab

Animals come into our lives and we embrace them, even with their imperfections, because we realize we are imperfect….and yet loved.  When we have to let them go—especially when their physical health deteriorates to the point where their quality of life is diminished and we hear them trying not to complain through painful whimpers in the night, helping them transition to a surer peace becomes an act of love hard for us to face.  No matter how many beloved pets we’ve had in our lifetime, it’s never easy, and tears flow, despite our best efforts to be strong and reasonable, as we remember the many ways they enriched our lives.

Such was the life of Lucy our “Lop-Eared” Lab, whose hip-dysplasia had worsened to the point she could no longer walk more than a few feet without trembling and having to lay down and rest.  Even with monitored eating, diminished exercise eventually caused a weight gain that made lifting and transporting her 70 lb. frame increasingly difficult.  And when a normally friendly dog starts exhibiting aggression as her only form of defense, even towards otherwise friendly dogs, there’s not much to do but consider alternatives to an extended quarantine.

Lucy came to us five years ago just before Thanksgiving, as a pup, brought to us by a home-breeder in rural Kentucky.  She was wrapped in a white blanket and lovingly placed in our arms by a young girl who had proudly picked her out of the litter to become what we hope would be a prodigy hiking dog. (My 14 year old Golden Retriever, Sandy, had been a wonderful family dog, but in her retirement years on the farm she was slowing down.  She had been the perfect porch dog, greeting even strangers in a laid-back ,amicable way true to her breed, but we were coming to terms with the shorter hikes in the woods  she continued to enjoy with us, even as she aged.)

Who doesn’t immediately fall in love with a small bundle of fur with big eyes and a warm tongue?  “I Love Lucy” became our mantra as we watched her explore our shoes, remnant herbs of the garden, and blankets on the floor back in the farm house.  I noticed when she “ran” that her back end “hopped” like a bunny’s, but concern didn’t arrive until she became too big to carry in the front pouch of our jackets on short training hikes.  She would swish along trails with fallen leaves, and we’d laugh when her momentum carried her abruptly into the furry back-end of Sandy on down-hills when she’d abruptly stop for a drink at a low lying stream.  For months, when she tired as a pup playing in the snow, we’d simply pick her up and carry her until she squirmed to get down and go at it again.  Her heart to get out and DO was always bigger than what we later realized was a disability from birth.

As Sandy’s health declined through the winter and into the spring, we realized Lucy would never be the hiking dog we had hoped she might become. So, as fate would have it, on a day trip into the back woods of Elliott County Kentucky, on a Census “clean up” mission, two more balls of fluff’n’tumble , I hand-picked out of a herd of strays being cared for by a Vietnam War Vet living in a cabin, made the ride home with us.  Willey with his Panda-Bear face, and Tilley, his sister, the only female in a litter of eight, quickly became our new “best hopes” for hiking companions.  Through the spring they blended well with our other farm family members, Sandy and Lucy.

The following spring, it was a sad time when Sandy died just a day ahead of another memory-making black lab, Shiloh, who was put to rest. Our remaining three “children”, Lucy, Willey, and Tilley became a comfort and focus only those who have loved dogs can know. As in every family, each addition becomes like a new family member, especially for “empty nesters”.  We had became known by every other dog in our farm town as “ Rescuers” , and neighbors joked that we were “Dog Magnets”—-both honorable titles not to be traded.

Lucy loved the fields. She loved to try and keep up with the others as they ran across the acres of hay and wildflowers.  She tried to dig where the others had left holes in their wake going after voles and crayfish.  It took her twice as long to make the circuit, but eventually she would make it back to a favorite grassy knoll and lay down on it until the sun set and she was called in for supper. Lucy’s favorite time was when the food bowls came out, and she was the first to hover over hers and plop down to eat whatever was put before her with thankfulness…..hoping for “additives” but never complaining if there weren’t any.  Lucy was our door-bell when strangers came, and the first to hear Amish buggies as they approached and passed in the night.

Lucy loved my horse, Lady. From the time she was a pup and tried to carry off an ear of dried corn from under the mare’s nose, to the day she scavenged grain dropped by her four-hooved friend in the stall, Lucy was treated with more tenderness and forgiveness by the 16-hand horse, who seemed to know she was different.  Lucy was the one who would calmly go out into the field where Lady stood and simply lay down near her friend for hours while she grazed. We laughed aloud the day Lucy picked up Lady’s lead-line and started pulling on it, as if to say, “Come back to the grass! Don’t eat the soybeans!”

Lucy loved to ride in the car. It was her way of adventuring.   She loved piling in beside the other three dogs to go for drives, because she knew she was important enough to go along on great adventures and meet new people…..and sometimes other dogs with impressive back-packs she could only dream of carrying.

Lucy was our reminder that love should be unconditional, not just a convenience.  Lucy was our “special needs child” who loved most of all to sit beside you and lay her head across your lap or legs. Lucy the Lop-Eared Lab, whose hips progressively weakened as the strength of her front shoulders could no longer compensate.

The night I realized her moaning and whimpering where not just dreams of running in the fields, but out of pain and frustration; I went out before day-break and looked up at the sky, heart-broken over what I knew I needed to do.  The Big Dipper of the constellation with its handle pointing upward, seemed to be pouring out a blessing over the trees below.  I knew it was time, and I was sad, but somehow comforted.

The day she was buried, two butterflies– Monarchs I hadn’t seen in years—flew out of the tree near her grave and hovered momentarily.  I thought about it being Sandy who’d come to escort Lucy to heaven with her.  Then a week later, while walking Tilley, I watched another female black lab run in a large field at the  park, chasing squirrels. I heard the owners I’d been talking to call their dog in:  “IN, Lucy!”  Of course I cried as the dog came running towards its caretakers, who’d recently acquired her from the animal shelter.  Again I felt some sort of unexplainable assurance that our beloved Lucy was now running after squirrels in heaven with new hips and a new energy and joy she’d never known here on earth.

Maybe to some it’s a child’s fantasy, but I believe in a God who knows our hearts and hears our prayers and seeks every way possible to remind us of His great love, especially as we experience loss.  I am not embarrassed, but find I am thankful to have the faith of a child, to believe in a loving, forgiving and restorative God, who works in each of our lives every day.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”   (Psalm 56:8)

My prayer is that whatever loss or sorrow you face, the God of all comfort will console and strengthen you with memories of good times, even out of an imperfect past, and finally bring you to a place of restoration where simple gifts like the funny antics of a beloved pet, stars in the sky, butterflies hovering over wildflowers, and the tenderness that comes from the brokenness of having loved and lost, will finally bring healing and new laughter to refresh your spirit.

New pup, new shoes

New pup, new shoes

Lucy with Teddy Nov. 2009

Smelling the herbs

Smelling the herbs

Always hungry....like a growing pup

Always hungry….like a growing pup

Ice Cream lid lickings

Ice Cream lid lickings

Safe and secure

Safe and secure

First hiking excursion

First hiking excursion

Resting on a boot

Resting on a boot

First sand

First sand

Florida sand dune

Florida sand dune

Sheltowee Trace, KY

Sheltowee Trace, KY

Karen, Lucy, Sandy on Sheltowee- Nov. 2009

Tuckered out

Tuckered out

Sandy and Lucy in creek Steve with Lucy on Sheltowee Trace Karen with Lucy and Sandy- Nov. 2009 Feb. 2010 with Lucy on Log

Natural Bridge State Park hike

Natural Bridge State Park hike

March 2010 Carrying Lucy Lucy on Karen's shoulders Loving Lucy at Van Hook Falls climb Nov. 2010 Lucy, Karen, and Sandy at Van Hook Falls March 2012 Trail Maintenance The 4 Pack- March 2012 Soccer- May 2012 Aug. 2013 March 2012 Wood in Winter 2012 Dog Fouton- 2012 Aug. 2011 Aug. 2013 in Car Lucy on Hay march 2011 Pine Crest Lodge April 2013 thanksgiving 2012

Lucy loving the fields

Lucy loving the fields

Tilley, Karen, & Lucy in Florida

1 thought on “Lucy the Lop-Eared Lab

  1. kyhorse

    Absolutely beautifully written. I felt I knew Lucy and her big heart and funny antics. What a heartbreak to make that final decision but you did the right thing, what was best for her, not for the humans who loved her.

    Reply

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