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Sunday, July 28, 2013

My First "Best Dog"

It was near the end of May, shortly before school would be out for the summer, the summer during which I would turn fifteen and my sister would get married. I was in bed, asleep, and heard my sister's and Gram's voices arguing. I didn't know what they were arguing about, but it wasn't unusual for them to have words with one another. In fact, it was a fairly common situation. I went back to sleep knowing that I would probably find out about what had happened when I woke up in the morning. And what did I find out in the morning? Liz had brought home a puppy.

Now, for many people this would be no big deal, but let me remind you about my Aunt A, Gram's daughter, AKA The Dognapper. She had already foisted some dogs on us, and there were others that Gram had been gifted with by other relatives. As I recall, before this puppy showed up we had five dogs living in our home. Five! Gram didn't want to add yet another to the household. And she knew it would be a permanent resident because Liz would move into an apartment after she got married. I didn't have much time to get details on the situation before I left for school, but I thought that the puppy was really cute. And when Gram gave him a dish of milk, he stuck his nose in it and tried to suck it in as if he was nursing.

When I got home, I found out that the little fuzzy black puppy with the white blaze on his chest had been named Lucky. Liz had taken him to the vet for an exam and shots, and found out that he was about six weeks old, barely at the age to be weaned. Liz had been driving down I-25 late the previous night and had seen her headlights flash off something. Yes, some heartless person had dumped this innocent black-haired puppy on the highway at night so that he would be run over. But Liz pulled over and took him home, hence the name Gram gave him. Personally, I liked to think of him as Lucky D, for Lucky Devil. I suppose I thought it was terribly clever and witty.

So Lucky became a member of our family. Since it was Spring and the weather was warm, he was never paper trained. Every time he ate, and several times through the day, he was taken directly outside for potty time. When school was out and I would sit in the back yard reading a book on the glider or swing, he was in my lap or next to me. When he was still a little thing, he was on my lap when he caught sight of an airplane. He watched it until his head was twisted so far that he lost his balance. It was then that I began to realize this was no ordinary dog.

During that summer, I was with him every day. Although Liz tried to say he was her dog, he was clearly mine. At a very young age, he showed that he had a great desire to play fetch. When he was about two months old, he dragged a branch that had been cut from one of the trees in the yard, a branch that was easily twice his size, and dropped it at my feet. He hoped that I would throw it for him to fetch. Instead of large tree branches, he had tennis balls and rubber toys to catch or retrieve. One day a tennis ball took a bounce into the forked trunk of one of the plum trees. He looked at it, tail wagging, and lifted his foot to push it out. About a week later, the same ball was lodged in the chain-link fence at the back of the yard. I thought for sure he'd push it through, forcing me to hop the fence and do the fetching for him. But he looked at the ball, cocked his head, and walked up to it. Instead of pushing it into the neighbor's yard, he got his face up next to the fence and pulled the ball out with his side teeth. Smart, I tell you!

He missed me when I went back to school in the fall, but he was waiting for me at the back gate when I got home. For the rest of his life, he always seemed to know when I was going to get home. I could leave for work in the morning and go out after work, and five minutes before I got home, according to Gram, he would walk to the front door and sit there waiting patiently for me to arrive. He also seemed to know how to spell. One evening I asked Gram if she thought I should give him a C-O-O-K-I-E. He got up and walked over to the cupboard where the dog biscuits were kept! He also had his own candy dish, which held jellybeans. I was a flat, circular, cut milk-glass dish with a lid. When he was in the mood for a jellybean, he would walk over to his dish, turn his head, and nudge the handle on the lid of the candy dish. He also did the my-head-is-too-heavy-to-hold-up routine whenever I ate M&Ms.

Lucky hated leaving home. One day I went outside to find that Lucky was not in the yard, and the gate was wide open. I was terrified that I would lose him, and started going through the front yard toward the street. Then I spotted my dear dog looking at the front of our next-door neighbor's house, with the most desolate and longing look on his face. When I called his name he was overjoyed to come back to me, and come back home. He also hated thunderstorms. He was so smart that when the skies darkened, he would go into the tv room, which had windows on two adjoining walls, sit leaned up next to a large hassock, and start watching the skies. As soon as he saw lightning, he'd go into Gram's bedroom and close the door with his nose. I may have been his number-one person, but he knew who the mommy was in the family! He'd continue to watch the skies with Gram's arthritis-gnarled hand on his head. When the storm had dissipated to his satisfaction, he would let Gram know that it was time to re-open the door because everyone was safe.

There are many things I'd like to share about Lucky, but his life was too big for one blog post. When he died, I was devastated, and so was Gram. We both said that we'd never have another dog because it hurt too much when we lost them. Gram had another dog from Aunt A within months, and I was terribly angry about it, but she was an okay dog. There was no way she could live up to the standards Lucky had set for me, but she had her good points. When Trent started in about getting a puppy, I was hesitant. But it ended up being wonderful, and Paris was my second "Best Dog," and even smarter than Lucky in many ways. She is number one in my heart and he is number one-point-five. Knowing both of them enriched my life in numerous ways, even if they did both eventually break my heart. I'll love both of them forever.