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

Fragile

A baby bird fell out of his nest in my backyard the other day, a delicate, fuzzy creature with huge round eyes. He promptly opened his hungry littleIMG_2003 beak when I picked him up.

The nest was at least 15 feet up, maybe 20. It was impossible to return him to his home. We didn’t see mama bird anywhere; it was the afternoon of July 4, so maybe the fireworks in the neighborhood had scared her away. All of my usual backyard critters, even the boldest squirrels, seemed to be in hiding.

I held the sweet little thing close to me and he  settled down. Who knew baby birds could be cuddly? My husband and I made a nest for him in a shoebox and he spent the night at our house as we tried to figure out what to do. He was a very young nestling with almost no feathers, so we had no idea what kind of bird he was or what to feed him. Numerous Google searches all told us the same thing: put his makeshift nest back in the tree and hope that his mother would find him and care for him. Feeding him the wrong thing would kill him. His mother was his only hope for survival.IMG_2002
The next day, ever hopeful, Ret took him to a local animal hospital that treats wildlife. Before they left, I told my little bird friend to get better, grow up to be a big strong bird, and come back to see me. He listened intently. But the folks at the clinic gave us the same advice: put him in the tree and hope that his mother would return.

In the meantime, I went to work and over the course of the day I received one piece of bad news after another. One of my friends had been in a car crash three days before; she was relatively unhurt but her car was totaled. Another dear friend had a serious accident on a water slide and was hospitalized with multiple injuries. A young man who worked in my building had just lost his battle with cancer. Last November he was fine. Now he’s gone, leaving behind a wife and two young children.

Then my mother called with the tragic news that my sister’s husband died, suddenly and unexpectedly.

My baby bird died. And sadness for this fragile little baby overwhelmed me. I wanted to save his little life. I couldn’t. No one could. Ret and I buried him under the tree in our yard. And we cried – hot, salty tears for a tiny baby that fell to the ground, grief for my friends and my sister, all the helpless beings everywhere and for everyone who desperately wants to help anyway, but fails.

Sometimes it’s all just too much for me, this life. I don’t understand it. I can’t bear to watch the news anymore.

Life is precious and fleeting. The Bible tells us we are like the grass, here today and gone tomorrow. We forget how fragile we are, how temporary. One false move – or even a true move, timed badly – and everything can change. We delude ourselves into thinking we have more control than we really do.

Just in case I missed the message, the reminders hit closer to home later in the week. I was on my way home from an appointment Thursday night, battling rush-hour traffic on I-516 when I got rear-ended. Fortunately, I’m not hurt – just a little sore – and the damage to my car is minimal.

The next day, I was on the phone with the insurance company when a call came in from my son Jared. He’d been visiting friends in Atlanta all week and was on his way home when he was sideswiped by a tractor-trailer on I-75. His car spun around in the heavy traffic, flipped over on its side, skidded 50 feet into the median, bounced off and somehow righted itself.

Miraculously, he escaped with a couple of abrasions, a banged-up elbow and a big bruise on his left knee. I’m overcome again, with immense relief and gratitude. Thank you, God, from the very depths of my being. I cannot imagine a life without Jared in it.

When my sons were teenagers and just starting to drive, no matter how late they stayed out, I waited up for them. No way could I trust the night to keep watch for me – there I’d sit, eyelids heavy, calling upon angels and sending my thoughts and prayers out into the universe to protect them. Somehow, even though my intellect (and their father) said this was ridiculous, my heart believed otherwise.*

As long as I waited for them, I could wrap them in my heart. Maybe my hopes and prayers can’t protect them physically, but I’m going to keep sending love and blessings anyway, all the time, to each of my dear ones.

I don’t understand any more about life today than I did before I picked up that little bird. But every so often, I think it’s good for me to be reminded of this great truth: All I have is this breath, this moment. No guarantees I’ll get another one. Sri Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga® – my yoga – calls it the Golden Present. The past is gone. The future is a vapor. So it’s up to me, and to you, to make this moment count. Love people. Practice devotion. Breathe deeply. Work hard. Laugh out loud. Be kind. Take naps. Smell the flowers. Smile, even when you’re taking out the trash.

And please, wear your seat belts, my friends.

 

*Actually, there’s been a lot of research that seems to demonstrate that my superstitions are really super. When controlled groups of sick people were prayed for by unknown groups of prayer warriors, these patients had better medical outcomes than the un-prayed-for groups of patients. Forgive my nerdiness. And just send those positive vibes out into the universe. God knows we need it.