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This portrait of Lucy is by Marie Levine.
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Lucy’s care for and insight into people extended to the point that “she could sense when we were a little down, and try her best to cheer us up.”
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Lucy’s reaction to the two black-and-white cats that already lived in the Dalhouse household when she moved in? Act as if they didn’t exist.
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Lucy adapted quickly to condo life, deftly navigating not just cushy seating, but also elevators and cocktail parties.
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Lucy was a lover of parks, perhaps favorite among which was Vic Thomas Park near the Memorial Bridge, especially before the park was officially open and she could enjoy it off the leash.
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Lucy’s friendly, open approach to the world was exemplified by the fact that, unlike most beagles, she almost never barked or howled.
It’s a classic rags-to-riches tale – from sleeping behind a tire store in Franklin County to living in a 10th-floor condo in downtown Roanoke. It’s also much more than that, this story of a little beagle who immediately stole the hearts of not only her owners, but also pretty much everyone else she met.
Eight and a half years ago, I was buying a set of tires from a tire dealer on Va. 122 in Franklin County, not far from where we live at Smith Mountain Lake. While waiting for the tires to be installed, I noticed, tucked around the corner of the couch, the loveliest little dog face I had ever seen. Not far away were water and food bowls.
It was a blazing hot period in July.
The lady at the desk seemed to notice my watching the dog.
“Three days ago she just pushed the door open to get out of the heat and has been here ever since,” she said.
“I see you have been feeding her, so I hope you know you’ve got yourself a dog.” I said, matter of factly. “What do you do with her at night?”
“Oh, we have to let her outside, because we have motion detectors in here and we already have three dogs at home.”
“Oh my, she’s very likely to get hit on that busy highway outside. Don’t you worry about that?”
“Well, of course, but every morning she comes running up here from around back. I think she’s got a little hole back there she sleeps in to keep cool.”
“What’s her name?”
“She sure is pretty.”
“Ain’t she though.”
I drove home highly unsettled.
After cocktails and dinner, I finally got my nerve up to tell Barbara. (Later she told me to never start a conversation with her like I did that time.)
“Honey, I’ve been hesitating to tell you something but we need to talk about it.” (She said her first thoughts were, “Golly, I thought he was so happy.”)
As soon as I told her about the little beagle, she said, “Let’s go get her.”
“But they put her out at night. She may not even be there now.”
“Let’s go see,” she insisted.
We drove about 20 minutes to find that the tire dealer had come back after dinner to work on his books. When we drove in to park, around the building came that little dog, looking a little bedraggled and puzzled. Barbara opened the back car door and she jumped right in. No hesitation whatever.
The dealer said he had called around to breeders and vets to find an owner but no luck. “So if you want to take her home, she’s yours.”
It was obvious she had been living on her own for some time. She was skin and bones, smelled like a sewer, had burrs in her ears and a couple of bite marks on her head and shoulders.
We let her sleep that night in a studio room we have in the garage. She chose an upholstered chair near the glass door so she could see out. She was still sound asleep when we checked on her about 8:30 a.m.
Our next move was bound to be risky. We had to introduce her into a household that was owned and operated by two female sibling black-and-white SPCA cats, about three years old.
Lucy gets full credit for the resounding success. She simply walked in the house and totally ignored the cats. It was as if they didn’t exist. She didn’t bark at them. She didn’t lunge at them. She paid them absolutely no attention. They were bumfuzzled but it worked. In no time they were all living compatibly in our house at the lake.
We took her to the vet that day and to a groomer for a bath. The vet said by looking at her teeth she was probably six or seven years old. That would make her about 16 when she died.
At the end of that first day with the vet, the groomer, a dog bed, a leash, dog license, dog bowls, toys, a collar, dog food and blankets for each car, we had a $385 stray dog. We soon added a $2,100 invisible fence, and, even at that early stage, would have gladly doubled it if we had to.
Barbara gets the credit for naming her. She chose “Lucy.” Whenever anyone asks why we named her Lucy, the absolutely accurate response is, “Because she looks like Lucy.”
Lucy probably had a tough first part of her life. The vet that first day also told us she had recently been spayed, leading him to believe she had been used by a breeder to make puppies. We also think – because she always began to tremble and crouch at the sound of a gun or a truck backfiring or a firecracker – that she had been abandoned by some Franklin County hunters. Her worst day of the year was the Fourth of July. Clearly she had been on her own quite a while just making do as best she could until she walked into that tire dealer’s shop.
She loved living at the lake. Her reaction when she first saw the water made us think she had never seen it before. She was clearly awed. She didn’t like to get in the water except to get a drink at our little natural beach.
She loved to roam through the woods, chase a squirrel every now and then and look quizzically at the ducks and geese that live there.
When she first came to us we would take very long walks down the various country roads. She loved it. That was quality time for her with her mama and papa. No cats along.
She slept in our bed with us. She loved to claim the spot next to Barbara’s pillow so she would be close to Barbara whenever she came to bed. She was very hard to move once she had planted herself for the night. And if she needed to go outside during the night we had steps for her at the foot of the bed. She would be sure one of us knew to get up and open the door. She usually chose me for that little chore.
Lucy was unusual in a lot of ways. Among the most striking was that she was a beagle who seldom barked. A lot of beagles not only bark a lot but also howl. She never howled. She was with us for more than two weeks before she spotted something off the deck that evoked a very “big dog” sounding “woof.” Just one.
Eventually, two other circumstances would move her to bark. First, if Barbara was not getting out of bed quite as soon as Lucy preferred, she would put her paws up on the side of the bed near Barbara’s dozing face and give her a rousing “woof” that bounced her to the floor pronto.
The second barking occasion would occur when we were having snacks with cocktails. If Lucy didn’t think she was getting her fair share, we could count on a close-quarters “woof” and a look as if to say, “Come on, guys, fair is fair.”
About four years later we built a condominium in the Old Colonial American Bank building at 204 Jefferson in downtown Roanoke as a second home. At the lake house, if Lucy needed to go out, all that was needed was to open the door. She pranced out and in a minute or so came right back.
On the 10th floor of a building with an elevator, that process is more complicated. But Lucy mastered it in no time, giving plenty of notice to wait for the elevator, ride down to the first floor and make it either to the Chamber of Commerce mulch patch or the grass at Wells Fargo Tower.
The first time in her life that she rode an elevator going down she looked up at me when the drop started as if to ask, “Is this going to be all right, papa?”
We could leave her on the 10th floor to go out to dinner or a movie for as much as two hours and she was fine. No anxiety. No accidents.
For longer periods than that we would hire the building’s superintendent to help us. Lucy was content, either way.
She was kind of a minor celebrity in Downtown Roanoke. A lot of people got used to seeing us on walks around town so it was not unusual for someone to yell from across the street, “Hi, Lucy.”
Not so many people called from across the street, “Hi, Warner.”
She knew all the places downtown where she could get a treat. Shelby Tucker in her barber shop on Church Avenue across from the No. 1 firehouse, always kept a box of dog biscuits in case Lucy came by. Even on Sundays, when the shop was closed, Lucy would go up to put her nose on the glass. She would not pass by without stopping to see Shelby.
Leah, who works the entry booth at Center in the Square parking garage was also a must stop for Lucy and a quick treat.
Then I would take her into Hometown Bank and announce to the tellers, “This is Lucy and she is here to get a treat. If she doesn’t get one, she’ll make a deposit.” She always got one.
Among my most cherished memories are the times we spent together in the city parks and on the greenways. Those weren’t walks, those were frolics. She loved it. We discovered an entrance to Tinker Creek greenway is about five minutes by car from downtown. We went there a lot.
Smith Park along the Roanoke River was also a favorite because she could go by the water and sometimes con a treat from a fisherman.
Her favorite of all might have been Vic Thomas Park at the far end of Wasena Park across the metal bridge. When it first opened it was largely undiscovered for months so she could romp off the leash so she could get to decide what direction we took. What fond wonderful memories of her experiencing pure joy.
Lucy began to slow down noticeably during the last months of 2012. Just little differences like being unable to jump up on the couch or much more finicky about what food she would eat. Nothing startling, just noticeable changes.
But then, on Christmas Eve at about 9 p.m., she had some kind of seizure so she couldn’t coordinate her legs to walk steadily and would fall over onto her side in a thud.
We took her to the emergency vet off Peters Creek Road, one hour from our lake house, arriving about 10 p.m. By the time we got there, she was all right again, walking and acting normally.
The vet on duty, Maureen Noftsinger, did tests and blood work and decided she had had either a small neurological seizure or perhaps a mini-stroke. She said Lucy could possibly have a brain tumor so we could consider taking her to Virginia Tech for an MRI. But, she also conceded, if we learned that to be true, we probably wouldn’t want to put her into that kind of surgery at her age. We agreed.
We returned to the lake, arriving about 1:30 a.m., Christmas Day. Fatigued, but happy about her apparent condition.
Lucy was fine on Christmas Day, acting normally for the most part, begging for treats and nosing around in the wrapping papers and gifts of Christmas morning.
During the three weeks after Christmas we held her close and watched her intently. It was soon obvious that her little body was shutting down, with no appetite for food at all, even her favorite treats like crisp bacon or organic chicken slices. Of course, we kept up her medication and tried to keep up our optimism.
And then Saturday morning, January 19, 2013, disaster struck suddenly and relentlessly. The seizures were cruel, painful and frightening to her and to us.
How lucky that our dear veterinarian friend Bridget Quatmann was in her office – she was replacing the carpet in her private lair for special patients – and was so responsive to our need to have her see Lucy and advise us. It was Bridget’s special attention and medications that had given us at least two more months with Lucy.
We talked briefly about Lucy’s condition and possible options, but it was clear and Bridget was definitive: “It is time for Lucy to move on.”
Barbara held her in her arms. Of course, we hoped for a miracle but we both knew we couldn’t let Lucy continue to experience these terrible seizures. It was a peaceful death and she looked relaxed and relieved.
We were devastated. She had been our child and our joy and an integral part of our lives for over eight years.
We’ve decided it must have been a brain tumor after all with internal bleeding provoking the seizures. She had also lost most of her hearing, another clue.
Lucy was special. Everyone who ever met her thought so, almost immediately. She was so happy with us and she let us know her gratitude and happiness every day in our every encounter. She loved the affection and the security and the comfort that she had never had before. There was nothing she wouldn’t try to do to please us, and especially Barbara.
Barbara would let Lucy kiss her squarely on the mouth and for quite a while they would smooch. After lunch, she liked to hump Barbara’s legs, one and then the other and then back to the first. No wonder they had a special bond. We called Lucy the “smoochie poochie.”
She was full of personality. She loved to have fun and to cause others to have fun with her. She was a bit of a scamp with a great sense of humor. When we had cocktail parties or fundraisers at the condominium, she worked the room like a pro, paying special attention to the catering staff who she figured out early on were the basic source of the food. She loved parties.
She was very smart, always using that lovely face and that happy nature to get almost anything she ever wanted.
She would go up to strange doors and strangers on the street because opening doors and greeting people had been good for her most of her life. She fully expected pats on the head, words of adulation and treats. She knew she was irresistible and knowing that that knowledge motivated her in all circumstances made her absolutely irresistible.
The day we had the invisible fence installed, one of the guys trimming dead wood in the woods asked me, “Why in the world are you putting in an invisible fence?”
“We don’t want her to get hit on that road out there and we don’t want her to run away.”
He shook his head, pointing to Lucy eyeing his lunch box and said, “’at dog ain’t goin’ nowheres.”
A few minutes later she stole a bologna sandwich out of his lunch box and ran away with it.
In the last several weeks of her life she became, after all these years with us, very sensitive to the crackling and pops made by the wood burning fireplaces. She would even leave the room and sometimes push open the door we left ajar for her to get outside if she needed to and hide under a bush in the planter. The night after her death we could not bring ourselves to build a fire. That was true the next night as well. I can’t imagine when we will be able to do that again.
She was the dearest, sweetest little person we have ever known. She could sense when we were a little down and try her best to cheer us up. She had a big heart, an even bigger soul and a very sharp mind.
We loved her totally and always will. This is among the worst experiences of our lives. We can never fully recover.
This morning I saw some of her hair on my black wool sweater as I was putting it on. I left it there.