While growing up, I wanted a dog that would play and run and follow me around. I wanted a dog like I had seen in so many movies that would nuzzle next to me when I was sad, and rescue me if I ever fell down a well. What I had instead was a lump-on-a-log dog, a lhasa apso named Fluffy. She slept, sniffed, and constantly wandered out of the yard. She didn’t really play or cuddle, and she hardly lifted her head when I entered the room. Even when I was sick and pleaded with the most pathetic eyes I could muster for a companion to help me through my long day, Fluffy was ambivalent. She was a huge disappointment. Unfortunately Fluffy lived a long and happy life, and so my childhood dream of having the perfect dog was never realized.
Jeremy and I weren’t married long before we fostered a golden retriever named Sierra. We weren’t in a position to have a dog, particularly a big dog, but my heart couldn’t resist and neither could Jeremy’s. This was my opportunity to finally have a real dog. Fostering turned into adoption and we loved that dog dearly. She was calm, trusting, loyal, playful, and attentive. All it took was a lingering look and she would get up from where she was and plop down right next to me. That dog stole my heart.
We didn’t have her quite a year before we had to find her a new home. We were moving cross-country and into an apartment. I knew we could not give her what she really needed – outdoor space and lots of it. Letting her go was tough because I wanted to see her grow old. I wanted her to be there when we someday had children. She was a perfect dog, but she wasn’t meant to be my perfect dog. And so my in-laws helped us find her a new home. She went to live with a couple who owned a farm. Sierra would spend many years to come roaming acres of land all day, being companion to the farmer and playmate to his grandchildren who lived nearby. We would hear regular updates on our beloved Sierra, and how the grandkids would take her home with them because they couldn’t bear to part with her at the end of the day. Sierra lived a long, full, and wonderful life.
After we settled into our new home, we went to the local animal shelter to pick our next companion. Sierra had affirmed for me what I knew I wanted, and it was time to get our perfect dog, for keeps this time. We would look for a smaller dog. Thanks to Fluffy, I knew to avoid the toy breeds but I was sure we could find a small dog with a big personality. We walked into a large room which housed many cats. There was a desk in the room with the shelter’s volunteer sitting there. We told her we were looking for a dog. In the corner, caged, were two adorable dachshund brothers. “Last of a litter” we were told, and about 10 months old. I hunched over the crate and opened the door. One brother came out immediately and confidently greeted me. The other stayed back, timid and shy. I looked up at Jeremy : “We can’t just take one, especially the outgoing one. It would devastate this other guy.”
So off we went with our two new dogs, newly named Gilbert and Sullivan, forgetting to ask why they were caged in the cat room rather than being outside with all the other dogs. We would rue that oversight. We quickly learned that our dogs hated all other dogs. In fact there was a long list of things they hated. They hated doorbells and door knocking. They hated visitors. They hated sharing, even with each other. But what they lacked in love, they made up for in personality. Sullivan was sneaky and naughty. He would pull out all the trash but be far away from the scene of the crime when we got home, leaving his brother in the rubbish while sitting innocently on the couch with his head slightly tilted to one side as if to say, “I don’t understand why Gilbert would do that.” Gilbert was loyal but dumb. Sullivan would lure Gilbert off my lap by romping around, an invitation to play, only to jump onto my lap as soon as Gilbert jumped down. And Gilbert would fall for it every time. We were never bored with those two. We had them for over 10 years. I loved them, but I promised myself we would never own another dachshund. They were not the perfect dog, by any stretch of the imagination.
When it was time to get another dog, we had finally learned an important lesson: I cannot make a logical decision regarding animals. The greater the need, the more I feel compelled to respond. If I went to the shelter, I would probably come home with the three legged, blind dog. We now had two children, ages 7 and 1. I wanted that childhood dream dog for my kids and for me. Jeremy wanted a dog who would run with him. But I knew I didn’t have the strength to pick that dog, because everyone wants that dog. So Jeremy went to the local shelter, alone. After a half dozen visits or so, he found our Lucy, a black lab mix. She was four months old and big-screen-adorable. She romped and played and cuddled with all of us. She tackled our 7 year old and his friends, and was attentive and gentle with our 1 year old. Lucy was everything I ever wanted in a dog. And she would stay ours. What I longed for in my childhood, I was able to give to my kids for theirs: an affectionate, playful, loyal, loving, will-drag-you-out-of-a-burning-building-if-needed dog. It was a gift they might never fully appreciate, but one that has made all of our lives better. We all need a Lucy, in some shape or form.