Growing old alongside our pal Lucy Mae

While volunteering at the reception desk of a local animal shelter, shortly after arriving in San Miguel, a woman came in with a battered birdcage holding a pitiful white puppy inside, with a bloated pink belly and soulful eyes. She had found a cardboard box containing three or four puppies, a few weeks old, by the side of the road to Los Rodríguez, a nasty piece of residential real estate near San Miguel. All the puppies were dead except for the one customer in the birdcage.

But there was no room at the shelter for any more dogs or cats, no matter how pathetic-looking.

“Here, why don’t you take it home and ‘foster’ it?,” another volunteer said, matter-of-factly handing me the birdcage-puppy package. “You take care it for two or three months, until we have room, and then you can bring it back.”

I want that doggie in the window.

Sure. What a totally disingenuous and manipulative suggestion! How was I supposed to take care of a helpless puppy, nurse it back to health and then return it as if it were an ill-fitting pair of shoes?

Did this person take me for an idiot?

Naturally, I took the puppy home. Upon arrival, Stew objected to adopting this adorable puppy, but only feebly and for barely two or three minutes.

And so Lucy Mae became the leading character—Momma Lucy as Stew calls her—in our ever-changing conga line of dogs and cats.

During her 13 years with us, Lucy has survived a near-fatal attack by a Doberman; a snake bite that made her face swell so much she looked as if she had golf balls stuck in both sides of her mouth; and a near-death encounter with Stew when she chewed up a cushion of a living room chair.

Now she weighs about 70 pounds but remains in remarkably good health, perhaps even more so than her two humanoid masters.

Traditionally, a dog year has been computed as seven human years, but those estimates have been revised to account for different aging rates, size and breeds.

According to that new formula (see chart on the left), Momma Lucy turns out to be around the venerable age of 82 in human years, compared to my 72 at the end of this month.

Yet she seems to be in better shape than me. She still has a full set of shiny teeth, unlike all my fillings and four dental implants. Lucy grinds her bones a bit more slowly but still impressively for her age.

She doesn’t have any cataracts or cloudiness in her eyes, whereas I’ve had cataract surgery in both eyes. Her hearing seems fine, better than my hearing-aid enhanced hearing.

And her sniffer still can detect butter in the next room as well as it did when she was a puppy and she discovered, and ate, a whole stick of butter in one gulp. It was a life-changing event engraved in her brain: Mantequilla, hmm. 

We both could lose a few pounds, but nothing alarming.

Our agility has declined, mine more than hers. Neither one of us can replicate the100-yard dash of our youth, but Lucy Mae can still work up to a full trot better than I.

Old pals. 

One advantage Lucy has enjoyed is full run of our seven-plus acres of land, along with her other four dog pals, a life-enhancing, plus compared to her cousins that live inside apartments or houses, and seldom go off-leash. Lucy only vaguely remembers a leash.

At this rate, Lucy Mae may outlive me, given her overall excellent health. Or vice versa.

Whatever. One thing I wish for Lucy Mae is a peaceful, quick and painless adiós, on her own terms. As any pet lover will tell you, having to euthanize an old animal, no matter how bad a shape it’s in, is one of the most painful experiences in life.

So when it’s time, I hope Lucy Mae goes like Scott, a true feline Methuselah, who lived with us in Chicago until he was around 22 years.

In his final months, and following, we suspect, a series of strokes, Scott became almost completely blind and deaf. Still, he always managed, somehow, to find his litter box on the first floor, and then, last thing at night, slowly stumble up to our bedroom on the third floor, climb on the bed and cuddle up between us for the night.

Until one morning Scott didn’t wake up. Way to go, Scott.

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