We had a dentist growing up I couldn’t stand. From upstairs, my sister Anne and I could hear our mom scheduling the appointment for this twice a year misery, and the weeks leading up to it were tinged with dread. We could be having a perfectly lovely summer day and one of us – maybe as a joke to freak the other out, I don’t know – would throw out those two words, “Dr. Pike”, and instantly fun turned to fear.
Dr. Pike didn’t wiggle the inside of our cheek when he gave us Novocain like my dentist does now, so it hurt more than it needed to. He didn’t wait long enough for our mouths to get numb either before he filled our cavities. His one room two-chair office had a strange smell, a foul cocktail of toothpaste, that burnt metallic drill smell and the sour cup of liquid fluoride he’d sloppily smear across our teeth with a Q-tip.
One time I shared an appointment with a boy around my age – we were maybe 12 at the time. Dr. Pike asked him if he had a girlfriend and, sheepishly, he shook his head no. Then Dr. Pike asked me and got another no. He wrapped up his taunt with the proposition that maybe we could be boyfriend and girlfriend, and did we each want that? Mortified and blushing so badly my face burned, I had nowhere to go in that one open room that I had decided surely was hell.
This week brought traces of Dr. Pike dread, but this time I’m the mom making the appointment – not for a dental, but instead for a loving goodbye. I set it up from my car in our driveway, not that Lucie can even hear me since her hearing went a few years ago, but she needn’t be saddled with that same dread. She still tracks me with her sweet eyes from across the room, still gorgeous and eating well and smiling when she can, but she is painfully uncomfortable moving around, especially sitting down. I see her struggle more each day, yet I have to move past my own pain with this decision as I know it’s the right thing and the right time. She will be comfortable and at home with all her family near and with her dignity, and without a trace of shame or fear or pain. Of course, I want her to live with me forever, but if you love someone, sometimes you have to let them go.
Lucie and I are so in tune I sometimes forget she’s an entirely different species, one that I knew intellectually going in would have a shorter lifespan. Yet now, despite an impressive 14 ½ years together, it still seems too short. In our house growing up, our pets got such royal treatment and my mom always said that in her next life she’d like to return as a pet in our household. On hearing this and knowing how close she and I were, my boys used to suggest that maybe Lucie is my late mom who’s returned as our husky/shepherd? Each time I offered Lucie a lamb bone and she’d happily whittle it down as effortlessly as if it were a flaky croissant, they’d ask, “Did your mom like lamb?” “Why yes! Yes, in fact she did!” I’d exclaim. This happened with countless other foods and we’d smile and laugh knowingly at each other and Lucie, happy we’d found a way for the kids to meet my mom.
I could have easily named her Grace for her beauty and elegance and the way she soared like a gazelle over the ravine at the dog park, and also how she tenderly sniffed and snuggled the cats. She never showed any food aggression and I could be on the floor with my face in her bowl and she would have gladly shared her kibble with me. Same with hand feeding her scraps which she gingerly took from my hand, never once biting; she knew I’d keep my fingers outstretched until she got it all.
People moving around unpredictably made her nervous, and the few times she nipped friends and family at our house, it was so sudden and secretive and upsetting. Her DNA test came up as half Husky, half German Shepherd, with trace amounts of Australian Shepherd, so it made sense that she was a herder. After learning that, we secured her when company came over.
She sometimes lifted her leg to pee, odd behavior for this gorgeous girly girl who was still all dog rolling outside in stinky things, sniffing cats’ butts and other dogs’ too. Dogs smell for the same reasons we read – to gather information or get caught up in a story – and Lucie was a voracious reader, often rereading her favorites, stopping to sniff a familiar tree or shove her snout down the same chipmunk hole.
The Siberian Husky in her loved when it snowed, and her little paws left the cutest imprints in the pristine sparkling blanket outside. A few times we connected her leash to the sled and the kids shouted “mush!” curious if she’d instinctively take off pulling them. Instead, Lucie just stood there and smiled, clueless, lapping up the incredible white wonderland. Car rides were another favorite and keys jangling would find her at the door, hopeful, patiently waiting. I taught her to shake, lie down, roll over, and kiss. Her kisses were licks on our arms and faces or we’d get the snout bump, nose bumping against our mouth, getting it done and more importantly, getting the treat.
She loved her walks but her Husky “I’ll do what I want” attitude made training a challenge, and often she pulled. One night after dark on their first walk together, she broke Joe in when she happened on a dead squirrel, and he got the pleasure of plucking it from her jaws. Her wanderlust kept her mostly leashed except during the occasional tennis ball toss in the yard. If the ball went deep, she’d take off running for a catch me if you can game toward the street behind us, terrifying me each time.
We walked a lot around our little town and its surrounding neighborhoods. She’d go where I wanted, the leash a tiller I could adjust ever so slightly for a change in direction. Some shop keepers knew her and invited her in and gave her treats. Her beauty – that striking white wolf face with perfectly applied eyeliner and a plush creamy apricot coat – was extraordinary, and people wanted to get near her. In the first weeks I had her, walking downtown near the subway station, we came upon an elderly woman who ambled over to us, stopped for a moment, hands on hips, and proclaimed, “That dog is pretty as shit.” That was all and she walked away, satisfied she’d told us what was on her mind.
Lucie was a great car rider and we took her on short trips – to parks and to the mountains and once to the beach near Charleston. We had never taken her swimming before and were delighted to see what fun she had dog paddling in the surf, and watching her soaked little wet chicken legs trotting down the beach. She was game for most anything, walking when I wanted to, resting when I rested, and one morning waking up in the dark with Ben and me to watch the sun come up. I felt safe with her by my side and honored to introduce her to the majesty of a sunrise over the ocean.
She used to follow us room to room and upstairs in the evenings to sleep on the floor beside me. These days, she watches me in the kitchen from her corner spot on the floor, and now with severe arthritis, only gets up to eat or go outside. This has been our little world together for weeks now.
She’s grown bored with her usual fare and she’s all over the new change in menu. Sometimes sweet potatoes and broccoli mix in with her kibble and a little bone broth to bind it, or even better, crumbled ground beef. The other night it was Costco seared tuna – a huge hit. I wrap her medicines in deli meat, which goes down easy. She still loves rice and I always let her lick the pot, and cut up fruits too – watermelon, strawberries, bananas. Good food and big bowls of ice water, rest and medicine fill her days, and while she’s never been a hugger, she’s allowing it. Oh, how I’ll miss her!
Mornings are sweet. I come downstairs and wipe her face with a hot cloth, cleaning her crusty eyes and wiping down her forehead, snout and cheeks. I often whisper, “How was your flight?” as these gentle towels take me back to my first trip to Europe flying Lufthansa. In that quiet cabin at the beginning of dawn, the nicest flight attendant handed me a hot towel, whispering, “I hope you slept well.” I felt so loved and cared for waking up in this way, and Lucie is getting that same sweet care.
I know our situation is not unique and so many go through this but still, it’s tough. You’re in that no man’s land between feeling guilty and all the while seeing your baby struggle. You have to grow up, be the adult and make hard choices. These days, these 14½ years, this life with Lucie has been wonderful, and I’m doing all I can to keep it together and honor her with a dignified loving sendoff. I’ve recorded a hymn for her, Amazing Grace, which seems right for this moment. I’ve added in some of my favorite photos too.
She’s going to a place where there will be spectacular sunrises and sunsets, car rides with the windows rolled down, fluffy mashed potatoes and turkey that’s juicy for a change, tennis balls to run after where you don’t have to bring them back, endless meadows of monkey grass to wade through, walks in the rain and magical snowfalls. She will be free to roam untethered. I love her to pieces and am lucky to have found her and she me. Lightness and love, my sweet girl, fly high.