It was a crisp, clear fall day when Andy and I drove out to rural Monroe, Georgia, to look at puppies. The dog breeder had posted an ad with Dalmatian puppies for sale. It had been a few months since we’d had to say goodbye to our last dog. We agreed that the house was too quiet, and that we wanted another Dalmatian. After all, so many gifts over the years had been Dalmatian oriented; we would have to redecorate the house. So, off we drove to the only person we found with Dal puppies for sale. We knew the puppies were four months old. The breeders felt the puppies benefited from a longer period with the mother and their siblings. We also knew the puppies, although full-blooded, could not be registered. The problem was something to do with having not applied to breed the dogs. Andy knows more about that than me.
We finally reached our destination, a large brick ranch-style house. The front yard was fenced in, and contained several horses. We met the owners, and they led us back to a small makeshift pen. Inside the pen were three little puppies, a boy and two girls. The boy was black-spotted. He had a congenital deformity in his tail, so that it bent to one side. The owners had named him Captain Crook. The two girls had reddish spots. Ginger’s spots were brick red, like Georgia clay. Ruby’s spots were darker, but still noticeably red.
One of the owners opened the gate so we could “meet” the puppies. Of course all three little dogs were very excited at the prospect of seeing someone new, so they were running around and jumping all over both of us. That was fun for a few minutes, then, being babies, they became distracted. They watched the horses for a brief time, but that too, passed quickly. One of the puppies jumped on another, and soon all three were tussling on the ground. Ruby broke apart from the trio and walked back over to me. I sat on the ground, and she crawled into my lap and settled. That was it; she was home.
Neither Andy nor I felt the name Ruby fit our new baby. I suggested we call her Lucy, in honor of my favorite redheaded comedienne, Lucille Ball. Andy agreed. Lucy’s first night at home was not a lot of fun. We set up her crate in the downstairs bedroom and settled her in for the night. She made the most pitiful howling sounds. I didn’t give in and get her out, but I thought I would never fall asleep. The next morning, she had peed in her bed. I don’t know if it was because she was lonely, or because she’d wet her bed. Either way, she didn’t wet the bed or howl at night after that first time.
Puppies have a lot of energy, and Lucy was no exception. We’d let her outside, and she ran figure eights around the back yard. After a few rounds, she’d explore the yard for a while, and then want to come back inside. She was never rambunctious indoors. She never chewed on shoes or other inappropriate things. She gave her toys hell, but she never tore up anything else. And she was always a lap dog. Even after reaching sixty-five pounds, Lucy still liked to sit on daddy’s lap.
We enrolled in a training class right around when Lucy was six months old. She was a quick study; me, not so much. And she loved the instructor. If Miss Rebecca had told Lucy to stand on one foot, I think she would have done it. We graduated, solely on Lucy’s merit. If I held any responsibility for the grade, we’d still be in remedial training.
One funny story I have to share. One afternoon we took Lucy over to the home of some friends. These guys loved dogs too, and had a couple of labs. We knew Lucy would have fun. Keith was throwing a ball for his dogs to play catch. Of course Lucy wanted to join in. She chased the ball right along with the other dogs. That went fine until Keith threw the ball into the pool. After all, labs love water. Lucy ran right out over the water, and sank like a stone. She stayed on the bottom of the pool for what seemed like forever, just looking around. Andy was about to dive in after her when she finally began swimming and got out of the water. That was the end of the fun and games for Lucy. She sat on the porch with her back against the wall, pouting until we left to go home.
Right around her first birthday, Lucy graduated from the crate. For the first time, she was allowed to come upstairs at night. And of course that meant into Daddies’ bed. We tried getting rid of the crate, since she slept on the bed downstairs as well. She seemed to miss it, so we put the crate back together, minus the door. We called it her cave. Lucy spent a lot of time in her cave, especially when she wanted some quiet time.
Another funny factoid: Lucy loved food. Most dogs get excited at the prospect of a meal. Breakfast was not a terribly big deal, Lucy wasn’t crazy about mornings. But dinner was another story. As soon as I let her back in after doing her business in the afternoon, Lucy would run to the cabinet where her food was stored. She watched intently as I measured it out into her bowl. Then she would run over to the bowl holder, and watch to see if I was on the way. Then she would start rearing up and down, sort of like a horse. It was so funny. She did this every afternoon. Lucy also got a treat after we finished dinner. She sat or stood by patiently waiting for us to finish. As soon as I set my fork down, Lucy perked up. The moment I stood, she spun around once completely. She did this every night, and only for me. Andy used to get frustrated she would not do the “dinner dance” for him.
Dinner Dance <= Click link to see video.
Years passed, and Lucy got older. We all did. One year, we had a really bad scare. Lucy developed a swelling in her abdominal area that went from plum sized to grapefruit size overnight. In the middle of a winter storm, we took Lucy to the vet. He thought it was cancer, so he immediately took her to surgery. We were very lucky. It turned out to be an infected mammary gland. If we’d waited, the cyst would have ruptured, and she would have died from sepsis.
Once the crisis was over, we settled back into our routine. Time flies when you’re not paying attention. During her annual exam, around her eleventh birthday, Lucy was diagnosed with hypertension and kidney problems. We started her on medications for her blood pressure, and to help preserve kidney function. Not too long after that, she had a bladder stone. That added six more pills to her medical regimen. No biggie. Hey, old folks get pills. It was a fact of life.
One Sunday morning, after returning from taking care of business, Lucy ran across the room to jump back into bed. Unfortunately, she landed a few inches shy and fell back onto her back legs. Off to the vet we go. A muscle sprain and hip dysplasia. That was the end of the upstairs trips. The staircase was far too steep to risk her falling again. I know she missed being with us at night, but she adapted. We lowered the mattress in the guest room so she could still have a bed to get into. But pretty soon Lucy only slept in her crate.
Last year, we traveled to spend Thanksgiving with family. Lucy stayed went to doggie camp. The moment we saw her when we picked her up, we knew it had been too much for her. Nothing against the people where she stayed; they were, and are, amazing. The stimulation was just too much for Lucy. She was too run down. We took her home and made her comfortable. She was so weak. She refused to eat. Going outside meant she had to be carried down the steps. We were convinced Lucy would not be with us much longer.
During this same time, we decided we no longer wanted the responsibility of a big old house. We started looking for condominiums. We bought a beautiful unit in the perfect location for both of us. Unfortunately, we did not consider what to do with an elderly, frail dog. Honestly, we didn’t expect her to last until closing. But you know, one Saturday morning Lucy decided she wasn’t done. She perked up. She got up. The brightness was back in her eyes. She started eating and looked happy again. Suddenly, we had to figure out what to do. The condo we bought was located at the end of the hall, quite some distance from the elevators.
It was Andy who came up with the perfect solution. He found a collapsible metal and canvas wagon; a newfangled version of the old red flyer. It worked like a charm. After the first couple of rides, Lucy liked it. The wagon kept us from having accidents in the hallway, plus it allowed her to conserve her energy. Once outdoors, she was still able to enjoy walking around the block. Another benefit is we got to know our neighbors. We quickly became known as the guys with the dog in the blue cart.
I panicked one morning when I realized I’d accidentally skipped two of Lucy’s pills. At this point, she was up to eighteen pills a day. I stopped at the drugstore that afternoon and picked up two weekly pill holders, one for the morning pills, and one for the evening ones. She had her own treatment drawer and a space on the counter for all of her medications.
Over the course of the summer, Lucy dramatically slowed down. First, she grew tired before making it all the way around our building. Then she started falling more. We added an antiparkinson drug to her medications, which helped for a while. Still, the hip dysplasia continued to worsen. We also added subcutaneous fluids to help combat dehydration.
In August, we went to Washington DC to get married. It was the twentieth anniversary of the day we met. We almost didn’t go. We had no idea what to do with Lucy. Luckily we discovered that one of the guys at Lucy’s vet did pet sitting. He was fine with her pills, her fluids, and even her activity limitations. She did well, but I think we were both worried the whole time we were gone.
A couple of months ago, we began using a carrier sling to support her rear and keep her from falling. She wasn’t really walking, just outdoors long enough to take care of business. There were other things going on as well. She wasn’t eating well, so we placed her on a special diet. Eventually, I started making her meals. We varied her food from mac and cheese to spaghetti to chicken and ziti; anything to entice her to eat. She stopped trying to walk, so we moved her from orthopedic bed to orthopedic bed, letting her be close by wherever we were. She seemed happy and comfortable.
The turning point came on Sunday evening. We returned home to find Lucy had diarrhea and soiled her bed. I scooped her up and placed her in the tub so we could clean her. The next morning was a repeat of the night before. I saw the mortified expression on Lucy’s face as we bathed her. She’d been reduced to enduring the two things she hated most; soiling herself, and having to get baths. Andy and I both knew it was time.
The vet who’d cared for Lucy all her life was working, so we made an appointment to come in. One of the techs started crying as soon as we rolled Lucy and her blue wagon through the door. We were quickly placed in a room. A couple of techs came in placed in intravenous catheter. Then we had a little time alone to say goodbye. After a few minutes, I let the staff know we were ready. I cradled Lucy’s head as the sedative took effect and she closed her eye for the last time. It comforted me to know that our faces were the last thing she saw.
It’s been a little over a week and we are still trying to adjust to our new life without Lucy. It is amazing how quiet our home is, especially since Lucy rarely barked or made noise. Still, the place seems empty without her. At least we have each other for comfort. Healing takes time; time and the support of friends. We received hundreds of post on Facebook from friends offering words of condolence. It is impossible to convey how much those sentiments meant to us. It also helps to think back over all the good times we had. Lucy spent her entire life loving us, and I’m glad we were able to give her a good life in return.
Rest in Peace, Lucy Fordham-Murphy (July 22, 2001-November 10, 2014)