the other end of the pen

Behind the stories in The Fraser Canyon Express

Saying goodbye to an old friend

It was a Friday evening in September or October 1996, when we first met him.  He was hungry, skinny and homeless; we couldn’t just turn him away.  Since we were packed to go on a camping trip, and were in fact minutes away from leaving when he showed up, we simply emptied our fridge into him.  We pulled out everything that might go bad during our absence. Then, after he ate everything in sight, on a mad whim  we decided that he could go along with us camping;  he didn’t seem to have any plans for the weekend.  If he turned out to be a fit with our family, we would keep him.  He did and we did and we named him Lucky.

More hair and bones than dog in those days, he was long and lean and glossy.  People would often comment on his remarkable eyes, several calling them “people eyes”.   They were indeed a rich brown with amber shadings, but I think it was the incredible amount of expression they showed that made his eyes incredible.  And he could smile, a funny crooked mischievous smile that would befuddle onlookers. Once  in the park when I asked my dog if he was ready to go and Lucky flashed his grin,  a man asked me “What did he say?”   Believe what you will, but I know this for a fact-  dogs do have a sense of humour.   Lucky could out fox the best but he took particular enjoyment in getting to me.

That first time, I was sitting on the couch hugely pregnant with my son. It was hot in early July and I was barefoot.  I had one foot tucked up under me and the other foot hanging off the edge of the couch.  Completely unaware that my own loyal pet was plotting against me, I was oblivious to the world around me, dozing or reading I don’t remember which.  Suddenly straight from the water bowl his big lolling tongue went SLURP across my bare foot!  I leaped and screeched and staggered around after the dumb mutt, trying to give him a clout, but he dodged and ducked out of my way until I eventually gave up and settled for glowering at him from my corner of the room, he grinning at me from around the corner of the hall.  At the time, I thought he was just trying to get my attention to go out or to get his bowl filled, but after he did it at least a dozen more times, I realized he was actually trying to be funny.  I am the only one he ever licked like that. It was always when I was least expecting it and he always bounded away like a puppy, wet lips flapping in silent laughter while I slapped at his elusive rump. Once it was my knee hanging off the edge of the picnic table, and many times it was my hand, but only when he was absolutely sure I wasn’t looking.  Most of the time it was my foot though, he knew it gave me a jolt and if you could have seen the expression in those “people eyes” of his, you would have seen undisguised joy.  If he could have managed laughter, he would have been rolling on the floor.

And speaking of rolling on the floor, you must have heard that expression, “You can’t teach an old dog a new trick”.  Lucky was an exception.  He wasn’t exactly old, but he was fully grown when he joined our family.  We taught him how to sit, how to lie down and how to roll over, all with hand signals.   Those were new tricks for him but he learned very quickly.  We discovered that we could teach him practically anything if we had the right incentive.  That incentive was, and always remained, food.  Whatever he went through before he became a member of our family will forever remain a mystery to us, but one thing is certain, he never forgot the hunger.

Our oldest child was six when he went camping with us that first time, and he remained by her side the entire time we were in the woods, it was remarkable how vigilant he was around children.  He was waiting at the front door for us when we brought our newborn son from the hospital, and again two years later when we brought home our new little daughter.   He greeted them both with soft sniffs and a gentle nuzzle of the blankets, and then stationed himself beside them for the next two years or so.  I would make offhand comments that he was waiting for a cookie to drop, but I knew what he was doing.  He was guarding my children.  He saw it as his job in the family.

When my oldest daughter was in grade four, a terrifying thing happened.  I drove her to school and went back home to bed.  About an hour later, I heard a knock on the door.  It was a friend, Gilles, with my three year old son in his arms. Gilles had been driving to Boston Bar from North Bend and saw Lucky walking up the middle of the road.  He had to slow down to get around the dog and then he saw that right behind Lucky was my little boy riding his bike, training wheels and all, to the North Bend School to see his sister.    It still makes me shudder when I think about how my life would have been if Lucky hadn’t been there to protect my son.  He stayed with us for almost ten years.

We never really got a handle on his skin problems; the best we or the vets could figure was that it was a combination of food allergies, stress and age.  He had been hit by a truck a few years earlier and although he healed up fine, he was stiff and sore in cold weather. His joints were so knobby that when he jumped into the flat bed he sounded like a cord of firewood clunking around.  He groaned like an old rusty door when he laid down and his hearing was bad.  The kids used to say that Lucky could hear a mouse fart, but eventually he couldn’t even hear his food bag open and we knew that was a bad sign.  What saddened me most was that he was losing the use of his “people eyes”.  He couldn’t see very well anymore and we realized that we were keeping him for us, not for him.

I sat in my vehicle and watched him head towards the building and when my husband stopped for a moment to talk to someone, Lucky looked back at me, his “people eyes” unusually somber.  I gave him the hand signal to “sit” and he promptly flopped down and his shaggy chin dropped into a leering grin. It was my last goodbye.  My husband took him for a short walk to have his own final moments with Lucky, but I didn’t watch.  When they finally disappeared into the building where the injection would be given, I tried to read a magazine through a haze of tears.   He was a very good dog and a great friend, and we consider ourselves lucky to have had him as a part of our lives.

No comments yet»

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: