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

Remembering Greta

Four years ago today, I kissed this sweet, elderly little schnauzer goodbye and released her to chase butterflies in heaven. I’ve been thinking about her all day.

This is Greta, also known as Greta Garbanzo Bean, Honey Girl and my little Fräulein. She became my dog unexpectedly seven years ago: one Saturday afternoon, I went to Pet Supermarket to buy food for my parrot right in the middle of an adoption event. Overlooked by the crowd of people interested in the puppies and kittens, Greta was alone in a small gated area, sitting quietly, almost willing me to walk over to her. Without considering the consequences, that’s just what I did. And I fell in love.

Falling in Love with a Shelter Dog

I was not looking for a dog that day. My house was already pretty full with two other dogs, two sons and a parrot. But when I looked into the soft eyes beneath those bushy eyebrows, I saw something there – I saw a soul. I don’t know how else to describe it. This dog looked back at me with eyes that knew me. She didn’t jump up and down or bark excitedly. She just gazed at me with love in her eyes. I returned the gaze and took her home. I thought, foolishly, that I would foster her until I could find another home for her. I mean, how many sane people do you know with three dogs and a noisy bird? I just couldn’t let her go back to the animal shelter.

I named her Greta, after my very first childhood dog, another salt-and-pepper schnauzer just like her.

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Doggie laughter

Getting to Know Greta

I learned Greta had been rescued from a high-kill shelter in Atlanta, but that’s all that was known about her. After I took her to my veterinarian I learned much more. My new dog was at least seven or eight years old (I think she was closer to ten), had a peculiar heart condition and was missing several teeth. It didn’t matter. I adored Greta and so did my boys. She had a strong, solid body and moved around the house like a little tank. She made the strangest puppy noises when she was happy, bossed the other dogs around and loved nothing better than to hang out in the bonus room with the kids and their friends. It was clear she’d been someone’s beloved pet at one time in her life; she walked beautifully on a leash and knew how to behave in the car. And every time Greta looked in my eyes, she seemed to be saying, “I love you so much. Thank you.”

Rescue dogs are such a mystery. They come to you with all their past hurts and fears, experiences about which you know nothing. Every time I walked Greta, if a child was anywhere in the vicinity, she would literally drag me over to the child. Then she’d sit patiently, just like the day I met her, graciously accepting the little one’s clumsy affection. Once we were back on our way, she always seemed to have a little spring in her step. Obviously there had been children in Greta’s past life. What was the rest of her story? She’d lie on her back some days and just wave her paws delightedly in the air, grateful to be alive and have a home. I’d ask her, “What happened to you, Honey Girl? How did anyone ever give you up?” I’ll never know.

Greta preparing for meditation
Greta preparing for meditation

During the time Greta graced my life, lots of things changed. My marriage ended. My kids moved out on their own. I made a new life. In the midst of the uncertainty (and sometimes chaos), Greta was unflappable. She helped me pack. She sat with me while I cried. She watched football with me. And when I met Ret, the man I would later marry, she loved him too.

Greta’s Illness

It was during the flurry of our wedding plans that Greta’s health began to fail. She was losing her vision, her body was bloated and she was becoming incontinent. Sometimes she seemed disoriented. I was overwhelmed with a monster project at work. My elder son had just joined the Navy, moving a thousand miles away, and the pain of missing him was acute.  To say I was preoccupied would be an understatement.

Ret and I agonized over what to do for Greta. I didn’t want to torture her with treatments that wouldn’t save her life. So we decided to just keep her comfortable for as long as possible and prayed that it would be a long time. And then, I made a decision that I regret to this day.

At the time, I held a service position in an organization and it was time for an important assembly. Members of the group were depending on me to travel to the meeting to represent them and I didn’t want to let them down. I felt so conflicted; I knew my garbanzo bean was struggling, but I told myself she would be fine. Ret would be with her. I went to the meeting, did my duty and came home the next afternoon.

A Painful Decision

Greta had not done well in my absence. Ret cared for her in the most loving fashion but it was becoming hard to pretend that she would be all right. She wouldn’t eat. She was confused by her water bowl and unable to move around much on her own. The next day, when I came home for lunch, I found her lying unconscious in her own puddle.

My heart broke. This proud, feisty little dog didn’t deserve to be left in that state. And she didn’t deserve to be alone when she died. We decided to help her cross the Rainbow Bridge. She’s resting now beneath a tree in our back yard. Four years later, I still miss my Greta terribly.

Which brings me to the point – actually two points – of this post, besides sharing this wonderful dog with you. I will always regret that I wasn’t home with Greta during her last weekend. I knew how ill she was but I let other people’s expectations of me get in the way of what I believed in my heart was right. Looking back, I wish I’d stayed home from work on her last day, too. Because although the group and the job were high priorities, life and love always matter more. My heart knows this. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to it.

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Greta and Me, 2011

I will never have a regret like this again.

And the second point is this: I knew when I adopted this aging dog that I would not have her for long. But still I did it. And I’d do it again. How often does a regular citizen get to save a life?

Actually, I did do it again. I’ll introduce you to Tanner, our newest pup, in another post.

I miss you, my little Fräulein. You are forever in my heart.