This man-meets-dog story began with a puppy in a rusty birdcage.
While I volunteered at the Sociedad Protectora de Animales, a local animal shelter, an impatient young Mexican woman walked in and matter-of-factly placed the birdcage and the puppy on the reception desk, as if it were a FedEx package.
She said she had found a cardboard box with five puppies on the side of the road to Los Rodríguez, a ramshackle town outside San Miguel, and this puppy was the only survivor.
|What’s that doggie in the birdcage?|
The receptionist said the shelter was at full capacity and could not accept any more animals, but the young woman insisted she could not, would not, keep the puppy.
While this heated, but polite, exchange went on, someone handed me the birdcage-and-puppy bundle and asked me to hold it.
Another volunteer then suggested that I “foster” the new arrival: Keep it and care for it for an indefinite period, until a permanent adoption could be arranged.
I drove home with the yipping puppy in a birdcage I already had decided to keep. It was just a matter of persuading Stew with some cockamamie story. For one thing, the size of the paws foretold a large dog.
It turns out Stew didn’t need much persuading. Twenty-four hours later the birdcage was in the trash and the puppy was sniffing all corners of its new home, including our two-year-old cat Fifo—and casually peeing here and there. Soon the puppy had a name: Lucy.
|Ready for my close-up.|
Stew was still mourning the loss of Pooch, a black Border Collie mix we brought from Chicago, and had died three months before, following a protracted illness that ended with a botched-up euthanasia by an incompetent local vet who, in our presence, had to inject the convulsing animal several times until it finally “went to sleep.”
Stew was furious and heartbroken by the tragic demise of Pooch, who had been a constant companion while he worked at home.
And so began our 14-plus years with Lucy, which overnight, or so it seemed, grew into a formidable fifty-five pounder with dervish-like energy. After spending a couple of weeks housesitting with Lucy, my brother-in-law Greg nicknamed Lucy “La Vaca” or “The Cow”.
Lucy’s rambunctiousness grew apace with her weight. We enrolled her in a group dog-training school led by a stern German woman who could not dampen Lucy’s enthusiasm for the world around her.
We then turned to Tomás Bustamante, a gentle dog whisperer. He was amazingly successful in capturing Lucy’s attention and even teaching her several impressive tricks she would forget minutes after he left.
Tomás ultimately suggested we simply wear Lucy down with strenuous daily sessions of fetch, by tossing a tennis ball up and down a steep ramp near our condo. That wore us out before Lucy.
Housebreaking, though, was urgent but came surprisingly easily and quickly. I got up early one day, attached a leash and rushed her to a parking spot nearby. She performed perfectly and then sat and looked at me proudly, as if saying, “OK buddy, now what?” In all her days with us she never made a “mistake” in the house.
The answer to Lucy’s “now what?” came a year later when we bought a 7.5 acre ranch that would become her eminent domain until she died. Félix christened her “una perra de rancho,” a perfect ranch dog, the undisputed leader of whatever other animals were around, an avid hunter that was not afraid to put on a menacing barking show if human or animal strangers showed up.
|Félix and Lucy: A love affair|
Félix loved Lucy.
Often running the whole length of the ranch at full speed, her flabby corpulence turned into potent sinew and muscle.
Whenever she went on hunting expeditions around the ranch, for snakes, rabbits, spiders, rats or other moving objects, the other four dogs followed, waiting for cues. If we went for walks, she would lead us like a guide.
Stew called her “Momma Lucy.”
To Félix and us, she was a constant and loyal companion. She never snapped at us and was always in good humor, even as she slowed down during the last couple of years.
There were some mishaps. Lucy got bitten a few times by rattle snakes or brown recluse spiders, accidents that once left her with a swollen muzzle and looking like she had a tennis ball stuck in her mouth.
Another time, we had indeed agreed to foster a male Doberman, that within days tried to establish itself as the new leader and attacked and almost killed Lucy. We immediately returned the Doberman to the adoption group.
|Momma Lucy at her peak.|
During the last two months, Lucy’s health declined rapidly, her joints stiffened and she became stone deaf. You had to tap her or wave you hand before her eyes to get her attention. Lying down and getting up became laborious. Her appetite fluctuated for reasons we couldn’t make out. But even as her infirmities mounted, she still never made any “mistakes.” That was her vow to us.
Last week she recovered almost miraculously, ate normally and even ran to the ranch gate a few times with the other dogs in tow.
Then overnight on Monday I heard her yelp a few times, and I got up to check. I found her lying dead by the kitchen door, next to a small puddle.
She apparently had tried to get our attention to go outside to take one more wiz, but didn’t quite make it.