Lacy Forever: Surviving the Loss of a Cherished Little Dog

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Dr. Seuss

For 14 years, my best friend was a spunky little bichon frise named Lacy, a fluffy force of nature whose vibrant presence far outweighed her body mass. She died this summer, leaving a sad, empty space in our home and in our hearts. Although I knew that it was time to let her go, that her little heart was failing and her body could no longer bear the strain, saying goodbye to my doggie soulmate was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. Nearly four months later, I still cry every day.

I miss her so much.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve ventured into this blog space. I’ve been so disoriented by everything that’s happened over the past two years, floating around all these months in a strange kind of reset mode. It’s just been too much. I had no words. The abrupt end of my career. This cruel, never-ending pandemic. My husband, injured in a car accident and unable to work. The 2020 election and its horrifying aftermath. And more bad news every day. I needed time to be still.

Lacy didn’t know about any of that. She was just glad I was home every day. She took her job seriously, my faithful companion, standing by me through every transition. In fact, this is my first blog post ever written without Lacy sitting beside me on the sofa. It’s taking a really long time to finish.

Grief is messy and relentless. Everywhere I look, Lacy’s absence cuts like a knife, because for over 5,000 days, she was my shadow. She guarded the bathroom while I showered, waiting calmly on the bath mat until I emerged from behind the curtain. When I was on my yoga mat, she napped nearby on the meditation cushion. And if I was in the kitchen, so was Lacy, darting underfoot while I cooked (a real trip-and-fall hazard) and persuading me with an elaborate song and dance to share what I was eating. Life feels pathetically hollow without the sound of her toenails tapping down the hall and her extravagant greeting when I walk through the front door. And so, over and over, all day long, my heart aches for her. 

Making Friends

Lacy was six weeks old and weighed less than three pounds when I first brought her home. She almost fit into my cupped palms! Choosing such a tiny puppy was a crazy thing to do at the time since we already had Bear, a magnificent ten-year-old German Shepherd who loved people but was aggressive toward other dogs. But I’d always wanted a dog that was more my size, one I could cuddle like a teddy bear with a heartbeat. Introducing the menacing black dog to the innocent white one was an intensely memorable experience. 

Bear knew something was up when we came home with our new puppy. Cautiously, I approached him with Lacy in my arms while my husband gripped Bear’s collar with one hand and his muzzle with the other. As I inched Lacy closer to allow Bear to smell her, a low growl rumbled in his throat and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. Veins popped out on the arms restraining Bear, and I braced myself to snatch Lacy away from impending danger.

And then…magic. Absolutely fearless in the face of an animal who could tear her to shreds, Lacy leaned toward that big old dog and licked him on the nose! 

Lacy and her big friend, Bear

Just like that, it was over. Perplexed at first, Bear shook his head and considered this fluff ball with new eyes. Then he fell in love with her. How could he not? They were inseparable, the big dog and the little dog. Lacy’s boundless joie de vivre inspired Bear to rise up off the rug with his arthritic hips and play again. He protected her fiercely and lavished her with affection, covering her with slobbery kisses that left her soft coat so slimy we had to towel her off before we could pet her. Lacy didn’t mind. She adored him too. Bear lived to be almost 15 years old, and I think Lacy deserves credit for that gift to us all. Her friendship in his golden years restored his mojo.

Lacy’s friendship in my middle years restored my mojo too. She delighted me every single day with her spontaneous, happy nature. My mom called her the little cheerleader, and that was the perfect description — she was always bouncy and effervescent! Even on the crappiest days, it was impossible to not laugh at her antics. And she taught this chronically overthinking worrywart how to live in the moment once in a while.

Life with Lacy

I was lucky to have a little dog who loved me so much for all these years. No one else on earth will ever respond to the sound of my voice the way she did, running to me from the far corner of the backyard, an expression of pure joy on her face. In her younger days, her Bichon Blitz was a dizzying burst of high energy as she raced in circles around the house, barking in excitement, leaping on furniture and flinging rugs upside down and sideways. And watch out if she wanted to wrestle with you! She’d flip onto her back and wrap her hind legs around your forearm so you couldn’t escape, growling playfully while she clutched your hand between her little front paws and nibbled on it.

Yep, this angelic-looking little dog had a naughty side. It was absolutely part of her charm. My husband Ret said she had a Cute License, credentials she’d whip out when you tried to scold her.

Always a tomboy, Lacy wouldn’t tolerate the grooming necessary to maintain her chic Bichon style, something I learned the first time I took her to the doggie salon. Fresh from a bath and looking like a movie star in a red hair bow, she immediately rolled around on a dead frog in the grass to rid herself of that girly scent. And everything got tangled in her coat. One dash under the azalea bush, usually after I’d just finished brushing her soft, fine hair, and she’d come out looking like this:

Miss Velcro

Lacy was a brave little dog, except for her extreme separation anxiety. She was also an excellent judge of character. Wary of strangers, she would usually stay close to me until she had time to check out new people. But once she’d completed her evaluation, she’d let me know. Most people passed inspection. But once, years ago, a young man came by offering to cut down a large, dying oak tree in our yard. He seemed a little shady to me, but I didn’t want to rush to judgement, so I opened the gate to let him have a closer look. Lacy sized him up from the patio for a moment or two. Then she raced up behind him and bit the back of his leg!

I was shocked to pieces. Lacy had never bitten anyone in her life. Startled, the guy couldn’t get away fast enough, which turned out to be pretty fortunate. A few days later, we learned he’d been arrested. He was doing some work at a neighbor’s house when the tree he was removing crashed down on a gate — and on the car of the police officer who’d picked that very moment to check out his non-existent credentials! You can’t make this stuff up. After that, I never doubted Lacy’s verdict on anyone.

But Lacy’s soft side was heart-meltingly perfect too. She wasn’t exactly a lap dog because she didn’t like being confined to anyone’s lap, but she’d lie as close to you as possible and place one little paw on your leg in the most endearing way. Her favorite place to snuggle when we napped together was in the crook of my bent knees as I lay on my side — unless she had a chance to steal my pillow. Little dog beds were scattered all over the house for her: in front of the bookcase, next to the bed, under my easel. They gave her a secure space to hang out as she followed me from room to room, especially in her later years.

The little beds aren’t there anymore; Ret picked them up and packed them away quickly so we wouldn’t have to face their emptiness. At first I thought I’d donate them to the Humane Society, but I decided to keep them. One day I hope there will be another little white dog in my life.

In my mind’s eye, I see my Lacy everywhere. Darting out from under the azalea bush, mischief in her eyes. Peering into the pantry, looking for a snack. Rushing to me across the backyard, her little feet flying over the grass. Tap dancing and tossing her head to get one of my French fries. Napping contentedly on my zafu. Forever snuggling with one little paw on my heart.

Let me show you my Cute License

Learning to Take It Easy

This is Lacy Larue, my sweet little bichon frise. Don’t let the creampuff looks fool you. She’s all dog.

Right now, Lacy is recovering from ACL surgery so she hasn’t been quite her animated self. How, you may ask, does a ten-pound cutie like Lacy wind up with a football injury? Our veterinarian thinks her being very bowlegged put undue strain on the ligament, but he’s never seen her fly off the sofa in a frenzy to menace the UPS man. So I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s been darned near impossible to keep her still and quiet while her knee heals.

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Hiding Klondike bar wrappers in her bed

Little dog, big personality

Like most small dogs, Lacy’s personality is larger than life. My mom calls her the little cheerleader because of her infectious buoyancy. She’s a few months away from her tenth birthday; while she naps a lot these days, she still embodies the youthful exuberance of her puppyhood. A fluffy white ball of kisses and willfulness, one minute she’s snuggled up next to you to watch TV (she’s a football fan) and the next she’s prancing on hind legs, insisting you share your ice cream. She has an uncanny ability to communicate without words, using little grunts, squeaks and a sound I can only describe as a snort to let you know exactly what she wants, and she’s quick to give you the side-eye if she doesn’t like something you’ve said.

Did I mention that it’s been a challenge to moderate all this craziness? The first few days after her surgery, she was a curled-up, pitiful little thing, but as the days went by and the effects of the anesthesia faded, Lacy regained her happy vigor. She was born with an anomaly called luxating patella, which causes her kneecap to shift out of position at times. Luxating patella is a fairly common problem with small breed dogs and both of Lacy’s back legs are affected. It doesn’t seem to bother her much. She can be happily dashing across the yard, and then suddenly she’ll raise a back leg and continue on without breaking stride. Thanks to a lifetime of three-legged running experience, this knee surgery is just no big deal. She can tear off behind Tanner the border collie in pursuit of a squirrel without a second thought.

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Sweet baby, just home from the hospital

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Biker dog? No! She’s having laser therapy treatment to help heal her little knee.

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The cone of shame…

Except, of course, I can’t allow her do that right now, because sometimes she forgets herself and puts that leg down as she runs. Lacy disregards her knee to jump up and down like a pogo stick when she wants something, like my dinner. And if we’re sitting on the sofa together and the doorbell rings, it’s all I can do to catch her before she launches herself to the floor to bark at the intruder. So it’s my job to protect my little buddy from herself, to somehow contain all this wildness so she doesn’t wreck. Dr. Bink’s good work.

Don’t push too hard

Do you know any people like that? People who push too hard, who rush headlong into every experience? There’s nothing inherently wrong with striving, obviously. But sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between challenging yourself and abusing yourself.

This tendency to overdo it shows up in so many areas of life, like being consumed with your job to the exclusion of everything else, or depriving your body with a crash diet. Why is moderation so hard for many of us to achieve?

I note this tendency in some of my yoga students, and sometimes myself, right on the mat. Adopting a yoga practice is one of the most nourishing gifts you can give yourself, but as in everything else in life, there’s a balance. The Sanskrit word asana, which is the name for the physical poses in yoga, loosely translated means “steady and comfortable seat.” According to Sri Swami Satchidananda, the goal of Integral Yoga®, the style of yoga I teach, is to develop an easeful body, peaceful mind and useful life. This means practicing the poses with a relaxed body, smooth breath and calm mind. But when you’re panting, straining or otherwise in a state of unease, you may be exercising, but it’s not yoga anymore.

This doesn’t mean we should show up on our sticky mats in sloppy apathy. One of my teachers likes to caution her students to “take it easy, but don’t be lazy.” So muscling your way into an arm balance, a headstand, a deep backbend, etc. when you’re fatigued, injured or new to the practice is not a good idea. However, challenging yourself to hold a pose for a few more breaths, or to attempt something new with caution and full awareness develops greater strength, flexibility and resilience. It’s a balance of effort and ease that fosters growth in our yoga practice — and everywhere else, too. It makes me cringe to see people in a seated forward bend gripping their feet with white-knuckled intensity and clenched teeth instead of allowing their hamstrings to lengthen gradually, safely and naturally. We benefit most when we choose the right action, reach for our limit, and allow the rest to unfold.

Back to Lacy, who is relaxing happily next to me on the sofa as I peck out these closing words. Yes, in her zest for life, she gets carried away sometimes. She doesn’t understand anatomical principles or the healing process, so that’s why she needs me. But she’s always known there’s a time to snuggle and a time to bark. A time to play and a time to rest. And we need to enjoy it all.

lacy-relaxing

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Not What I Wanted

Sometimes not getting what you want is a great boon.

It’s a cloudy winter afternoon in the waning days of 2016. I’m sitting comfortably on my sofa, reflecting on all the blessings in my life and thinking about how unexpected most of them are.

I could tell you about all the twists and turns my life has taken – I never thought I’d leave New Orleans, didn’t expect to have a career or find myself divorced and then remarried in my forties. Very little went according to plan, but somehow it all turned out… beautiful. It proves I don’t always know what’s good for me.

Meet Tanner

This gorgeous red and white dog is one example. His name is Tanner, aka Tan-Tan. Three years ago, Ret and I rescued him from the pound just days before his time ran out. According to the staff at Animal Control, he was a year-old border collie mix, housebroken and recently neutered. (I know, poor guy!) At the time he weighed 42 pounds and was a bundle of joyful energy. He’d been found as a stray several weeks before and no one had come to claim him. The staff named him Victor, a name too stuffy for this happy-go-lucky fellow.

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Victor, the pound puppy

Victor wasn’t what I wanted. I was looking for a small, older female dog to be a companion for Lacy, my little bichon frise. We’d lost our three elderly pets, and for the first time in her 6 years, Lacy was an only dog. (She and Louie the parrot have never really hit it off.)

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Louie, don’t come any closer…

Anyway, once we learned that poor Victor was in danger, we couldn’t bear it. We adopted him and changed his name to Tanner.

From pound puppy to family dog

Lacy wasn’t crazy about our choice. Tanner was energetic and goofy and had no concept of personal space, especially hers. He chased tennis balls all over the house, skidding across the wood floors and around corners, and his big fan tail knocked things over. Taking his cue from Lacy, who is an outstanding companion animal, Tanner wanted to sit in our laps even though he didn’t fit.

Tanner was (and still is) fascinated by socks: empty socks, socks with feet in them and especially socks while a foot is in the process of slipping into it. He was particularly enthralled with Ret’s black work socks and couldn’t leave Ret’s feet alone while he was wearing them. Most of our dinnertimes were spent laughing at Tanner’s sock-loving antics as he rolled around under the kitchen table at Ret’s feet with an expression of loony determination on his face.

This dog did everything with the gusto befitting someone who narrowly escaped death and appreciates every single moment. When we gave him a chew rope he’d lie on his back, paws in the air, dangling the rope to his mouth. He banged into furniture chasing his own tail, something he did with regular and delightful abandon.

And he grew. And grew. In six months’ time, Tanner morphed from a wiry 42-pound youngster to a 75-pound protector with a thick, wavy coat and a fierce intelligence behind the comic demeanor. No way was he a year old when we adopted him. More likely, he was a 6-month old puppy.

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A little too big for Lacy’s bed

So much for my small, older female companion for Lacy.

Ret and I often find ourselves marveling over Tanner’s place in our lives. How’d we get so lucky? It’s heartbreaking to think of all the special dogs that aren’t fortunate enough to find a forever home, but I am so grateful we found this one before it was too late for him. He’s such a bright, loyal creature, even if he is a little spooked by the new washer and dryer.

Good boy

For all his slapstick ways, Tanner is a remarkably perceptive, compassionate dog. He seems to know when I’m feeling blue or under the weather; he’ll appear by my side like a sympathetic friend, with no advice to give, but lots of warmth and affection.

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Today Tan-Tan is a beloved, full-fledged member of our family. He is always ready for fun, but he knows when it’s time to stretch out and watch TV. We count on him to remind us when it’s bedtime – around 10 p.m. he’ll stroll into the living room and beckon us to pull out his mattress. He’s also really good about announcing every visitor. Sometimes I feel sorry for the UPS man. Oh, and Lacy has come around. She’s right there beside Tanner when he sounds the intruder alert.

Living in the moment

One of the biggest gifts dogs give us is a renewed appreciation for the present moment. Dogs are great that way. The most important walk is the one we’re having now. The best cookie is this one. The best day? Today!

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Yoga dog: Tanner practicing viparita karani, or legs-up-the-wall.

If I’d known Tanner would grow to be such a big dog, I might have passed him by. And I would have never even realized my loss. Like so many other people, events and circumstances in my life, he wasn’t what I planned at all. But he was exactly what I needed.