Sad news, and this time it's no joke.
My old dog Lucy, who was happily recovering from tetanus, just passed away. This time her heart failed, and she died the day after my column about her amazing recovery appeared. I got home from the vet hospital, without her, in time to pick up my Sunday paper.
I didn't read it.
I won't go on at length about Lucy, except to say that she was a wonderful dog. You may remember John Grogan's great column and book about Marley, the "bad" dog he loved so much. Well, Lucy wasn't Marley. She was a saint, in the form of a golden retriever.
She did all the things dogs are supposed to do. She was always loving and happy. She learned her words. She sat and stayed with pride. She followed her people everywhere. She snored with gusto. I never minded her snoring, although Thing Two, my second ex, always hated it. I swear, the night he threw her out of the bedroom for snoring was the beginning of the end for me. Six months later, he was gone, and she was back in place.
She grew up with Francesca and was devoted to her. Lucy let herself be ridden around the house like a pony, dressed in T-shirts and makeshift bonnets, and had a piece of paper stuffed in her collar, making a cape for a Superdog. She even had her toenails painted pink.
Lucy looked damn good in pink.
She slept upstairs and never came down until Francesca did, even if my daughter slept until late, as teenagers are wont do.
And Lucy had many talents. She could reach anything on any counter, no matter how far back you put it. If you forgot you left food on the table, she never did. She could locate a carbohydrate with the accuracy of a doggie GPS system. She never destroyed or damaged anything. She never had an accident on the rug. She could roughhouse with the other dogs, yet be mild when a baby was around. She was friendly to UPS and FedEx people, but she was never pushy to get affection. She'd come up beside you and lean against you, warming the outside of your knee.
Though she was good, Lucy was no goody-goody. Once she bolted from obedience class after Francesca, who had left to go to the bathroom.
She didn't care much for rules. She made her own. Which is the only nub of resentment I have this morning, at the way she died. I had been away for the weekend visiting Francesca and when I left Lucy and the gang with a dog sitter, she was doing fine. I came home last night to find her breathing labored. She wagged her tail when she saw me, but didn't get up. And she hadn't eaten in a day.
So I got her in the car and drove her to my great vet, who made time to see her, even at closing. The vet heard a heart arrhythmia and thought she needed emergency blood work and tests done, so I left there and drove to the emergency vet's, which is nearby. Lucy breathed hard in the back seat, her head flopped listlessly between her paws, her neck stretched out more than usual. I knew she was dying, even in the car. I could see it. This time, there would be no surprise diagnosis or magic pill.
When we got to the hospital, amazingly, she rallied and walked out of the car, wagging her tail at the nurse.
To Lucy, a stranger was just a very new friend.
So I explained to the nurse that I thought she was dying, and the nurse took the leash and told me she'd come back to give me a report. I said that I wanted to go in with Lucy while they examined her, but they said no.
It was against the rules.
I made a fuss. If they couldn't save Lucy, I wanted to be with her. But the nurse promised to come get me if things took a turn for the worse. For a minute, I didn't know what to do. I looked at all the upset faces of the people in the waiting room and knew I was making a scene. Lucy stood between the nurse and me, wagging her tail. Because she doesn't sweat the small stuff.
So I let her go.
She left happily through the swinging steel doors, and I sat down and stared at a magazine.
I was remembering the day my father died. I knew he was going to die, and when his heart gave out, after a battle with cancer, our hospital room flooded with at least 30 doctors, four of whom went to his bed and tried to save his life, while all the rest were there as observers, edging us out of the way, to the far wall. My brother fought his way through them to hold my father's hand, and I hugged my stepmother as she cried, and at some point somebody told us to leave.
"No," I said. "I'm not going anywhere."
A woman doctor, who was observing, turned around and said to me, "But unnecessary people aren't supposed to be in the room."
She actually said that. I'm not making it up. I never make up anything in this column. Nor could I write such bad fiction.
You know what I said to her? I said, "He's my father, and you don't even know him. Who's unnecessary?"
And so I got to be present when my father left this earth, which is the least I owed him.
With Lucy, I wasn't in the room yet, so I let them keep me out. I tried to fight, but I didn't want to make a scene.
My heart failed.
So I sat down and waited, and not 10 minutes later, a different nurse rushed out, looking for the owner of "the golden."
Because they didn't know her.
And I got to be with Lucy at the very very end, which is the least I owed her. I don't know if she knew I was there. The vets tell me yes, and they were nice people, trying to save her life and following the hospital's rules. It wasn't their fault. I don't blame them, and I even thanked them for all they did. But after being with Lucy for all of her thirteen years, I hated being excluded from her last 10 minutes.
Next time, I'm kicking those doors open.
And the truth is, it hardly matters much, the next day. Maybe they didn't know Lucy, but I did. Francesca did. So did my mother and brother.
And now, you do, too.
And yes, she was golden.