We all love our own animals first, as they do us.
And though I came in a distant second, Lucky seemed to find me an acceptable alternative in Fred’s absence. So it was only as we counted down Lucky’s last few days that I realized the residual loyalty I felt toward my recently deceased cat had prevented me from acknowledging that I loved Lucky as if he were my own, even though he’d never feel the same toward me.
I only knew Lucky for the last few years of his long life, and he was in pretty good shape until recently. In the beginning, I saw him only as Fred’s affable pooch, a goofy old thing, until one day, during the summer of 2011 on Fred’s deck, Lucky exited the kitchen, walked directly toward me, put his chin on my knee and looked up at me with sleepy eyes. He honored me with that deliberate act of recognition, and our friendship moved to another level.
Then, last summer, I had the unexpected pleasure of looking after Lucky on the weekends Fred would spend in Pointe Claire. In the abrupt intimacy of our many walks together in the sunny Plateau, something changed again. I began to make excuses to go over to Fred’s and walk with Lucky. Sometimes, from my apartment a few blocks away, I’d wonder what Lucky was up to, even though I knew he’d just be snoozing on his soft blue bed. And except for a few times, he’d usually meet me when he heard the key in the door, his tail wagging slowly as he gave me his shy, sideways/upper glance that we’d only recently learned was because he’d gone blind in one eye.
To meet Lucky, you’d never have guessed that he’d been abused for so long before finding Fred and the loving home where he died on October 28, 2014. His first owner had been wickedly cruel, and his second had been cruel by ignorance, leaving Lucky for long winters in a freezing garage. But never burdened by such human frailties as resentment, it seems that once the abuse ended, so did the trauma. Once it was over, Lucky apparently reverted to the meek, unassuming dog he probably was as a puppy. How he managed not to hate people is beyond me. But Fred’s tenderness was clearly a factor.
Never a crotch-sniffer or brawler and not huge on chasing things, Lucky had a single red rubber toy which he adored — the only thing beyond himself that he knew to be his alone. Lucky looked at the world calmly, circumspectly and with wonder and curiosity. To walk him so many times last summer was to stop twice a minute so he could privately ponder some detail of his sidewalk universe: a car being parked, people moving furniture, or a kid with a stick and ball; rapt by the mundane come and go. Lucky loved to encounter other dogs, too, and always seemed hurt if they displayed hostility, baffled that they weren’t simply enjoying a walk on the hot, sunny sidewalk meeting other dogs like he was.
I also witnessed, close-up and first hand, how Lucky’s wonderful muzzle (broad on top, which I kissed many, many times) was constantly accumulating information far beyond my own senses. Lucky reminded me, inch by inch of sidewalk, how much I was missing by living in the mess of my interior world.
Fred had told me about Lucky’s bad days, though I’d never seen one myself. But one Sunday morning, I did. When Fred came home later, he took a very unsteady Lucky for a walk himself. But only to the end of the lane, where I witnessed Fred’s final moment of reckoning.
On Monday, Fred’s friend Georgia, who’d studied veterinary science, came to visit and delivered a laundry list of everything that was going wrong with Lucky. Besides the crazy tumors that had been growing out of his haunches for the last couple of years, he’d lost most feeling in his paws, and his hindquarters were void of muscle. He’d burst an anal gland, which was poisoning him from the inside. And he’d gone blind in one eye. Unlike last year when Fred came so close to putting Lucky to sleep, this time there was no denying the inevitable. Georgia arranged to arrive with the vet on Tuesday night.
Happily and almost predictably, Lucky rallied by Tuesday morning and had woken up much younger than the preceding days. His last day was filled with hamburger and walks and music and Fred’s tender ministrations.
Fred tells me that by day’s end, even after the vet had arrived and the needle had been prepared, he asked to take Lucky for one last walk. Except that it had begun to rain and Lucky didn’t like the rain any more than the rest of us.
To hell with this, thought Lucky, and tugged Fred back toward the house where he knew so much love was waiting.