10

The Story Of Lucy

Posted April 14th, 2011 in Friendship by Glenn Plaskin

D (for Dog) Day.

And double D—for a dose of dread.

Why? Because, like a runaway groom, there I was, ready to bolt, on the edge, in anticipation of a true life-changing adventure.

Should I or shouldn’t I? That had been the question burning up the phone lines for weeks.

My 88-year-old friend Bud advised no.(‘Too much work. You can’t.“)

Lucy with her brother on the day they parted

My therapist counseled yes. (“A puppy would be great for you”)

My risk-averse mom lectured definitely no. (“What if you have to travel for work?”)

My dog-loving friends, walking their pooches from dawn to dusk, kept the pressure up. (“What’s taking you so long?”)

And my friend Peg, a life coach, rationally asked: “What are the pluses and minuses?”

Lucy at six weeks old

I advised myself—yes and no–depending on the hour of the day. Nothing kills decisiveness faster than polling opinions. And the more advice I collected, the less I knew.

It had been eight long years since I did it–and I was rusty.

In 2002, after the death of my cocker spaniel Katie (the star of Katie Up And Down The Hall), I was leveled by the loss. Left behind was a lonely vacuum and the memory of those years when she raced up and down our long hallway, uniting a hallway of complete strangers, and turning them into a family.

Her loving presence had immeasurably enriched my life.

My companion of fifteen years was now gone. The apartment was eerily empty, the hallway depressingly silent.

How could I ever forget her—or replace her?

I know many people go right out and get a new dog. I just didn’t.

I instead focused on work, though, after about a year, I did begin thinking about getting a new puppy—and thinking and thinking some more. But that’s all I did.

On three occasions, I came close, and put down deposits for a new cocker spaniel. But each time, at the last minute and to the chagrin of the breeders (who stopped talking to me), I backed out.

After that, I visited animal shelters, toying with the idea of adopting an adult dog, but I didn’t do that either. On one occasion, to psyche myself into it, I even went out and bought $400 worth of dog equipment, but returned it all the next day.

I’d lost my nerve and questioned my physical energy. I also dreaded the idea of housebreaking a puppy and upsetting my empty but compulsively neat household.

Adept at raising Katie as I’d been, my confidence had somehow dissolved.

Could I train a dog again? Did I want to?

The thought of it snowballed and built up to a mountain of resistance. Finally, I felt there was no way to climb that peak, as it was too fraught with danger, complication, and inconvenience.

Looking back, I had distorted the challenge into something it wasn’t, so that little puppy had grown into an 800-pound gorilla.

And so I went for eight years, second-guessing myself into no decision, until D Day, when I finally pushed myself over the edge of the cliff.

*  *  *  *  *

Touching Lucy for the very first time

On a warm, sunny morning last May, I set off with my close friends Peg and Jason. We headed from Manhattan to the rendezvous spot in Middletown, NY to finally pick up my new cocker spaniel puppy. I’d named her Lucy.  Peg did the driving, and Jason did the reassuring.

A few days earlier, like that runaway groom, I was filled with dread (code word for fear), about to commit but ready to flee. My stomach was all growly. For weeks preceding D-Day, I’d walked in and out of pet stores picking up all the equipment for “the nursery.”

All set up at home, in the dining room, was the metal kennel, lined with a cushy blanket with a design of monkeys, and filled a giant Hippopotamus plush toy, a pink velour blanket, squeaky rattles, kongs, and balls—all ready for the 7-pound puppy.

Over the seven weeks leading up to the big day, the breeder, Dolores, had been sending photo updates from her farm. At first, Lucy was just a mush of fur, like a blond koala bear, easily fitting into the palm of the hand. By the fifth week, though, with ridiculously long ears, and fluffy paws, she was definitely a spaniel, her innate adorableness unquestionable.

“She’s a stunner,” assured Dolores. “You’re going to love her.”

Lucy waiting for us in the back of the station wagon

That day, we met Dolores, a no-nonsense woman in her 60’s, in the parking lot of a highway coffee shop, the Quick-way Diner, and instantly spotted her beat-up station wagon.

“Maybe I won’t get out of the car,” I joked to Jason, in no rush at all. “Let me know what she looks like.

“Oh, Glenn P! Come on. Let’s take a look.”  Mmmm. Peg was already halfway to the car. I snailed my way over. Dolores firmly grasped my hand in welcome.

“She’s in the back with her brother,” she clipped, lifting up the hatch.

And there, curled up inside the silver metal kennel, was Lucy—who seemed tinier in life than in the photos, shyly snuggled next to her brown-haired brother.

Dolores scooped limp Lucy up and handed her over to me. She was so soft, dropping her head on my forearm, sleepy from the 2-hour drive. Adorable, yes.

On my lap in the car, going home

But holding her, I admit I didn’t feel the instant bolt of connection and parental love I’d felt with Katie. Let’s just say my reaction was lukewarm.

Just as I had wanted to retreat from Australia and relinquish that writing job, I wanted to bolt from Middletown and let someone else adopt little Lucy.

In fact, I pulled Jason into the restaurant’s men’s room to talk to him about it, questioning whether or not I should proceed.

“Yes!!” he told me. “You’ve got to. She’s precious—perfect.”

So reluctantly, I wrote the check, and on the way home, sat in the backseat of the car–numb. Although I felt affectionate toward Lucy, I was unconvinced.

That first night together, Lucy was in my bedroom, housed in a corral lined with strongly scented wee-wee pads. The smell was nauseating….and by morning I was freaking out, convinced that I DID NOT WANT HER. It was nothing personal—I just didn’t want to start all over again. I’d made a mistake.

Mike and Helen Lee, experienced dog-owners in my apartment building with a pug named Duchess, came in and suggested that all the dog equipment be moved two rooms away into the dining room, far from the bed. “Your crib and hers should be separate,” they advised.

Jason, a great friend to me and Lucy, and with us on the very first day

Our great friend Peg, who did all the driving (and coaching!)

That helped, but I’m embarrassed to admit that over the next week, I asked the disgruntled breeder if I could return Lucy (the answer was yes, but no refund), after which I walked around the neighborhood with my pup, actively recruiting people who might be interested in adopting her.

I felt so ashamed–and weak. I was sweating for sure.

I just couldn’t wrap my mind, and heart, around having this new being in my space, beautiful and sweet as she was.

On the outside, I was meticulous in my care of her, doing everything right, but I didn’t feel right on the inside. I had to ride the anxiety like a dangerous wave.

On the car ride home, sitting peacefully in my lap.

*  *  *  *  *

After about a week of hanging on, something inside me began to shift.

That little beast began to seduce me—licking my face, posing for pictures, rolling on her back, waiting for tummy rubs, and, like all hyperkinetic puppies, racing furiously around, wearing herself out, before curling into my arms for long naps.

With her stretched out against me, I’d fall asleep too, my breath following hers. And I soon started to relax into the routine.

So just as in Australia, when I stayed steady and conquered the fear, I did it again, slowly dismissing the thought of making a hasty retreat.

How did I do it? I learned that the secret was getting outside—outside my head, and outside into the park.

Out there, waiting for us, were more than 700 neighborhood dogs. Our Battery Park City community was the perfect training ground for Lucy, and as it turned out, for me.

A lot can happen when you go outside for walks eight times a day.

I watched my bouncy spaniel strut along our tree-lined walkway along the Hudson, the Esplanade, wildly eager to make new canine friends. We bumped into big dogs and small ones, Lucy furiously pulling the leash to sniff and snoop. No matter how big the dog, Lucy showed no fear, jumping up on them, and playfully whacking them on the face with her paws. She rolled over on her stomach, did somersaults in the grass, chased their tails, licked their faces, and whirled merrily in circles.

And that was just the dogs. Lucy equally longed to crawl into any lap she could—from seniors and babies to a cavalcade of kids excited to hold her, chase her, feed her, and cradle her. So into the arms of countless people she went—friends, neighbors, and total strangers, including tourists homesick for their dogs and eager to be photographed with her.

Lucy flew over to them, her tail wagging, her trust complete. Nothing fazed her. Even when little kids were screaming and pawing her, she laughed it off. You could even turn Lucy upside down—I sometimes did—and she came back wanting more.

Babies, in particular, fascinated her, and she tried to crawl into their carriages and snuggle close, licking their toes. Through it all, her zest and non-stop energy energized me. The more I watched her interact with others, the more I fell in love with her myself. Her happiness made me happy.

And as I sat outside chatting with old friends and making new ones– taking pictures and recording videos of Lucy—I found myself being more social and extroverted than I’d been in years. I realized that Lucy was helping socialize ME. This was an unexpected bonus—and one of the secrets to cementing my commitment.

And in the end, I wound up with more friends than I ever imagined I would. My social life expanded exponentially due the incredible cuteness of my puppy and her outgoing, friendly disposition.

All kinds of people came over to  “our” bench to talk, watch the sailboats glide by, and pet Lucy, who studied the birds perched above her in the huge oak tree. Fellow dog-owners began giving me canine toys and books about training a puppy; we made late-night visits for housebreaking tips, shared dinners out by the Hudson, and traded vet stories. I also consulted with dog-walkers, pet store clerks, and professional trainers about the best way to raise a pup.

And by surrounding myself with people who knew more than I did—my puppy mentors–I gained strength and courage. In fact, finding mentors turned out to be one of the prime secrets of successfully raising Lucy.

And so it was that the reassurance, advice, and support I needed to accomplish something new was to be found outside. All my qualms, fears, reservations, and insecurities literally vanished. That’s the power of connection with others—rather than disconnection, a product of fear.

I discovered that I was much more flexible and adaptable than I’d given myself credit for. I found thatthe real challenge with Lucy was letting go—releasing tight control of my environment, and allowing her messiness and unique spirit to invade it. I had to be willing to share my space, and heart, with this magical little being.

Nowadays, I adore my dog. She’s delicious–mischievous, fun, smart, and beautiful.

Every single evening, there she is, industriously chewing on her rawhide bone as I read or watch TV. Then, as midnight approaches, she climbs up on my chest and rests her head on my shoulders, yawning in my face, or licking it. She then snuggles up against me, my own little furnace, keeping me warm all through the night. It’s just blissful.

The irony is that she’s become the greatest thing in my life—and yet I was willing to let her go.

This only proves how strong but irrational fear can be—threatening life’s greatest pleasures.

10 Responses so far.

  1. What a wonderful post. Congratulations to opening your heart again to Lucy. She will never replace Katie in your heart, remember that. She has won it just the same. I think this perfectly conveys the difficulty of allowing yourself to love an animal again after the heartbreak of losing them. This demonstrates that you can’t recapture the past relationship but you can greatly expand your life again by love, and what better way by adopting a dog?

  2. Patsy Pruitt says:

    Just finished your book. Also just found out about your new dog, Lucy. Getting another dog is definitely the best “medicine”. Reading your book has helped me to know it is not yet quite time to put our pug “Sugar Mack” down. He is 12 and takes medicine daily to prevent seizures. We have another pug, “Buddy”, that is his very best friend. I know he will miss Mack as much as we will.

  3. tracy heicksen says:

    What a sweet and lovely story!

  4. Lizzie798t says:

    It’s the hardest thing in the world to lose one of our kids with fur. And when we get another one we are not replacing them we are bringing in a new child with their own personality and quirks that will make us love them just as much as we loved our last beloved dog. They each have their own special place in our heart and our heart is big enough for more than just one. I can see in the pictures of Lucy that you have to love her and I truley believe that your beloved Katie took you to her for a reason. And you will see Katie in her sometimes telling you that she is still with you and that she is ok. Congratulations and let your new adventure begin:)

  5. I just finished reading Katie while home sick. I cried so hard when you talked about having to say goodby to Katie. I had a cat, Cinder, for 16 years. She was truly more human than cat and my snuggle buddy. When she died, it was sudden to me, but in retrospect not so sudden, I was at a loss as to what was I supposed to do without her. I felt I couldn’t move past that. Leaving the vet’s office after paying the bill is very surreal and it is a total disconnect. I went to your web site today and saw that you have Lucy. I wish you all the best and much happiness with Lucy. As time has passed, Callie followed Cinder, then Luna. There’s always more love to give to the furry children!

  6. Jackie says:

    I just finished reading “Katie Up & Down the hall” & was so moved by your story that I wanted to tell you how much the book touched my heart. I,too, had a very special cat named “Bach”.From the momet our eyes locked we were bound to each other spirtually. When he died I was totally emeshed in grief but was comfortured by our other furry children to a great degree. I am so glad you have found your “Lucy” & did not give up on her. You have so much love to give her. I applaud you for your perserverance & send both you & your new furry child Blessings galore! Thank you for sharing your heart & life with “Katie” I will not part with this book!

  7. Diana Strodtman says:

    Thank you for your wonderful story and for the fact that you and your family and Katie exemplified the meaning of unconditional love. If only we had that in all our world…..hope you enjoy many many years with Lucy. I loved a female cocker for 15 years and we had to make that same decision so I know how hard that is. But her memory is still vivid in our hearts, and we are now enjoying life with the male version of Katie – named Rocky Relentless – 8 years young at this time and also possessed with food! Isn’t it fun to spoil and love a dog!!

  8. Hi Glenn.
    i loved the book Katie, and cried like a baby over losing Katie.
    It’s an excruciatingly painful situation, I know. I love the way
    you write. I enjoyed meeting all the people in the book, you made
    them come right out the of the book, into life for me.Did Peter go
    to France with John and Ryan ? I’m thrilled you got Lucy. All the joy dogs bring us is worth the pain at the end. And so I’m happy
    for you and Lucy for taking this big step. Thank you again for such
    a great read…

  9. Ronni Meltzer says:

    I have never been without a dog! The greatest tribute to a lost loved pet is to get another one to share your love.

    I loved your book and am so glad Lucy has come into your life. I can just bet that Katie is happy for you too!

  10. Patricia Addis says:

    What a wonderful heart-warming book. Thank you for sharing Katie with us. She makes me appreciate my puppy even more. I’ll always remember your wonderful example of friendship and love.

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