Celebrating The Rescue Dog That Almost Wasn’t

We found our black Lab mix, Lucy, in a cage outside a Petsmart store one hot July Saturday morning 11 years ago. She’d been abandoned at a nearby house and the homeowner had kindly taken her to a vet, paid for shots and medical treatment and transferred her to a shelter, which had brought her to their weekly adoption event at Petsmart. About three months old, Lucy was black with a white belly and perky ears that stood at attention.

What drew me to Lucy was her stillness. All the other adoptable dogs around her were barking and yelping and scratching to get out. But not Lucy. She just sat in her cage watching the people go in and out of the store. Zen, I thought. And cute, too. I pictured her stretched out sleeping at my feet all day while I wrote. I drove home and brought the entire family back to test her out. She received unanimous approval.

We quickly learned that it is not that easy to adopt a dog. The shelter needed to make a home visit and had us fill out a long questionnaire regarding how we planned to care for her. Were we going to keep her outside? No. Were we going to train her? Yes. Were we going to regularly vaccinate her? Yes. Still, we had to wait three days to bring her home while the shelter lady figured out if we were worthy enough to parent Lucy the Abandoned Puppy.

When I finally went to retrieve her for good, she had morphed into a different dog. A strong, hyperactive one I could barely control. I wondered if they had given her a Valium for the adoption event. She almost jumped out the window on the way home.

On our first visit to the veterinarian, I brought the kids so they could be a part of the whole dog-caring process. The two vet techs giving her shots discussed her breed possibilities while they manhandled her.

“Hmmm. Lab and…pit bull?” one said.

“Yeah, definitely some type of terrier in her,” the other said. She examined her snout more closely. “Yeah. Pit.”

“Oh my God, I have a PIT BULL?” I said.

“Mix,” they said together. “Pit bull mix.” As if that made everything OK.

Suddenly, I was afraid of my cute puppy. I knew from all the horror stories in the newspapers that pit bulls were evil, child-eating machines. And I had two children that I had let near her mouth. I held Lucy’s leash all the way home in the car to make sure she didn’t snack on the kids while they were strapped in their car seats. I called my husband and told him the terrible news. He thought maybe I was overreacting.

I am a very loving and open-minded person, so…I tried to focus on the Lab part of the mix and concentrate on training her even as a tiny voice was telling me, give her back, give her back while another voice was saying, give the poor unwanted creature a chance. Don’t judge. She was a small puppy, after all. We gave her a chance.

Whenever we were walking her in the neighborhood and someone asked what kind of dog she was, both my boys would say, “she’s a pit bull!”

“No, no, she’s not. She’s a Lab mix. We don’t know what else she’s mixed with. Could be anything,” I would say. The people usually eyed me suspiciously and hurried away, even as Lucy tried to wrap herself around their legs. In a friendly way.

I made the boys practice the new line: Lab mix. Lab mix. Lab mix.

And then it happened. About three months after we adopted Lucy, I was at the stove cooking dinner and she was in a down-stay at my feet. A man walking two big, fluffy white dogs down the street appeared out the bay window and Lucy decided they needed to be annihilated. Immediately. She sprang from her spot, sprinted to the window and smashed through it. Glass shattered. I screamed. The poor man walking the dogs nearly had a heart attack. I envisioned the doggie bloodbath that was about to ensue and hollered at Lucy in a scary voice I didn’t even know I possessed to GET BACK HERE NOW!

To my complete surprise, she stopped and slowly backed through the shards of broken glass until she was all the way back in the dining room. She then sat perfectly still and silent while I gaped at the large hole in the front wall of my house and the shards of glass strewn all over the carpet. The man hurried away, leaving me alone with the destructive and unpredictable beast that I knew we couldn’t keep. She lay down and put her head on top of crossed paws.

“Too late!” I told her. “Bad dog!”

I called the shelter and left a pleading message on the answering machine: Please call me back as soon as you get this. We cannot, I repeat CANNOT keep Lucy. We need to return her ASAP.

The shelter lady didn’t call back that night or the next day or even the next week. The shelter lady was apparently on a long trip and wasn’t checking messages and didn’t call back for almost a month.

In the span of that month, 1) the window was fixed, 2) my older son repeatedly fell asleep curled up with Lucy in her crate, 3) Lucy went to sleep-away training and came back halfway civilized and 4) we taught her to sit, give a high-five, roll over and dance. By the time the shelter lady called back, we had fallen in love with Lucy. I wondered how many times the lady had listened to the type of message I’d left and if she’d really even been on a trip.

A dog that had the patience to be dressed like this deserved a second chance.

A dog with the patience to be dressed like this definitely deserved a second chance.

Lucy turned 11 sometime in April. That’s about 57 in dog years according to Online Conversion Dog Years Calculator. She hasn’t broken any more windows but she still hates other dogs. If you’re human, however, she will love you even if you are trying to break into the house. She’ll do a dance for you and then show you where the treats are.

Now if we could just get rid of that pesky crotch-sniffing habit, she’d be close to perfect.

Happy birthday, Lucy.

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