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Our Wonderful boy, Lucky (the dog)

Today we said goodbye to our brave and wonderful dog, Lucky. He was 16+ years old and I still can’t quite believe that he is gone.
We got Lucky as a puppy when I was about four or five months’ pregnant. We met him at a dinner benefitting the Law Foundation. It had been their practice to include a dog in their live auction every year. Up to then, the dogs had been purebreds, but that year they had decided to auction off a dog from the pound, to encourage people to adopt strays.
We met Lucky in the parking lot and the minute I saw him, I was in deep, deep trouble. He was all black with a small white patch on his chest and one toe. One ear was pointed straight up, and one was folded over. He was very, very sweet. When the bidding started for him, we had to bid. Every time we bid, they put him in my lap and then when someone else bid, they took him away. I went a little crazy.
We finally prevailed, thanks to (or, perhaps in spite of) my then-employer, who had merrily been bidding us up into the stratosphere. We always did refer to Lucky as The World’s Most Expensive Pound Dog. But we didn’t care.
We didn’t get to take him home that night; we had to wait until the weekend and get him after an interview at the SPCA. The counselor tried to talk us out of taking him home. “He lived with me for training,” she said. “He’s totally an alpha dog. You’ll have your hands full.” We told her that we were not worried. She persisted: “This might not be a good choice for a household with a new baby” she said, eyeing my stomach. I told her that I didn’t care. “I know he’s a good dog,” I said. “I just know it.” She finally relented and went and got him.
He came with us shyly but very willingly. I was blown away by how totally he trusted us from the start. We brought him home and I will never forget those first few nights. He did not enjoy crate training at first, howling and crying. Finally we realized that we had to move the crate into our bedroom and then he was fine. In fact, he loved the crate and obediently went in whenever we said “kennel.”
We realized right away that he was a handful. We had to install eye bolts in the baseboards of every room in the house, to which we would attach a small lead which was hooked to his collar. This kept him from bounding up on us every other minute. Being a lab, he chewed everything in sight, including the corner of a cushion from our then brand-new sofa.
We took him to puppy school and he was a good student. He really did have a good brain, and learned new commands easily. He learned “shake” in about a minute. His best trick was flopping down on the floor when we pointed a finger at him and said “bang.” He also would go get a toy when we said “get your bone.” Lucky was easily one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever known.
He was about nine months old when Eden was born. We brought her home from the hospital and laid her on the floor and he took a good long sniff. From that moment forward, they were bonded. He took to lying in her doorway at night and it really seemed like he was guarding her. He patiently endured her loving abuse, such as jumping on him, sitting on him, and, on one particularly gruesome instance, when she clipped one of his ears with a pair of scissors. After it happened he just yipped a bit and sat patiently while blood ran down his face.
Eden couldn’t say “Lucky” at first and so he became “Ya-ee.” She said it in a very authoritarian voice and we all ended up calling him Ya-ee. And the years passed.
Lucky absolutely loved to run and to swim. In his prime, there was no dog that could touch him. He would seem to deliberately match the pace of other dogs, just to tease them and then kick it up into a higher gear. If he could, he would have said “Nyah, nyah” while he did it. It was amazing but swimming was even better. He would plunge into the ocean with no fear and seemed to love body surfing. He really loved Lake Tahoe and happily jumped in any time, even in January with four feet of snow on the ground.
He grew to be a big dog, around 80 pounds at one point but he loved to cuddle. I am not ashamed to say that he slept on the foot of our bed for many years. He also loved camping and being in our tent. Once, when he was pretty young he escaped our tent and ran across the campground, finally plunging into the tent of some people across the way. I always felt bad about that; I’m sure the people in that tent nearly died of fright.
Another time at the same campground we were with friends at the river. Eden and her little friend had floated to the other side on a raft and we realized that one of us would have to take a swim to get them, which none of us wanted to do as it had grown quite cool. I decided to send Lucky. He obediently swam over to the other side of the river and let the girls hitch him to a rope and he towed them back. He was better than Lassie. He actually towed me, Jon and Eden behind him many, many times and when he pulled just Eden, she practically could water ski.
When Lucky was about ten, we decided to get another dog to keep him company. I am a strong believer in the “dog continuum,” which basically is a philosophy wherein one always has at least one dog. Eden and I found Louie at a local shelter and the two instantly became dog brothers despite the considerable difference in their ages and sizes. They always were together and I firmly believe that getting Louie was one of the reasons that Lucky lived so long.
As the years went by, Lucky started getting thinner. He also had a number of fatty tumors which were not fatal but they were large. We had some of them removed but they came back and the vet told us that she would not risk more surgery because of his age. Two years ago, on Mother’s Day, we awoke to find him in distress. He was having a lot of trouble breathing. We brought him in and the vet gave us a very grim prognosis–he was dying and had no more than a month to live.
We were devastated. We brought him home and tried to think what to do. As the day passed, however, he rallied. By the end of the day he was up and eating a big bowl of food. I decided that as long as he was getting up and eating food, I would try not to worry and take it day by day. I decided that I would be thrilled if he made it past a month.
A month came and went, then another. He did great, except that he continued to lose weight and had more and more trouble getting up. Finally, we celebrated Mother’s Day again and I was so happy that he had lived for year after being given no more than a month.
About a month after that, he suffered a sun stroke after stumbling on our deck while we were gone for a day. He couldn’t get up and again, we thought “this is it.” We didn’t want to bring him to the vet because we were afraid that they would immediately tell us to put him down and we couldn’t face it. My father in law suggested a vet that made house calls and that was a lucky thing for Lucky. She came to the house, gave him fluids, anti-inflammatory drugs and a muscle relaxer and within 24 hours, he was up and eating again. It was like another miracle.
After the sun stroke, however, he developed a secondary infection and got a really nasty sore on his side. This necessitated a trip to the emergency vet in Monterey and I spent the better part of our camping trip last year driving up and down between Big Sur and Monterey, but he made it.
He wasn’t out of the woods yet; it turned out that the sun stroke had caused a skin infection that is common with people who have suffered burns. We ended up taking him to Dermatology for Animals (right next door to our office) and they put him on a month long medication regime that was, quite frankly a pain. Antibiotics four times a day, special creams, no sun, blah. But, after a month, he was a lot better. So Lucky stayed lucky.
That was a year or so ago. After he got better, his physical condition started declining. His back legs got weaker and weaker. He lost control of his bladder and his bowels, which made caring for him challenging to say the least. Finally, he rarely could get up without help. Jon and I were determined to stick it out; we couldn’t bear the thought of putting him down, despite the advice of many of our friends and family. We endured a lot of remarks about “quality of life” and “time to let go” and “are you doing this for him or for yourself?”
Today we decided that we couldn’t go on any more. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made and as I sit hear now, I am wracked with guilt. I spent the morning with him and spent his last hour sitting on the floor with him, petting him and talking to him. One thing that helped a lot was the thought that he really had not been the same in a long time.
I petted him and kissed him goodbye and then went into my yard while Jon stayed with the vet. I know that the end was peaceful but I could not watch. I am very grateful to Jon for being strong enough to stay. He says that he is grateful to me for being strong enough to make the decision.
Now he is gone. I have his collar and all the bandanas that he so proudly wore. I have so many wonderful memories of my beautiful boy. My heart is grieving but if I am honest, I am also relieved that his suffering (and ours) is over.
It’s a funny thing with dogs. You get them and you know that in the end, you’ll lose them. But you do it again and again. At least, I do. The joy and love that you get and give makes it worth it, although right now it’s hard to remember.
Lucky my boy, I will always love you and I will always miss you. You were a noble companion, a great watch dog and a good friend. You loved us unconditionally. You never growled or snapped at anyone; you never bit anyone. You liked everyone and every thing. Be at peace, my friend.

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