It’s hard to sustain sleep with a 56-pound monster perched on one’s chest. Still, I’ve had roughly a thousand consecutive days of practice, so I labored mightily to ignore it and set about trying to reclaim the mellow confines of the dream-state from which I’d just been wrenched.
Bladder-alarms can be ignored. So, too, hunger-pangs and the hovering anxieties of self-employment and occasional overextension. After all, the Mighty Sun itself was still in deep slumber (as were my wife, clients, two other dogs and all U.S.-based banking institutions).
But there was no ignoring the persistent steam — more than faintly redolent of deer-“treats” – emanating from the eight-inch black snout idling just above my own, nor the slight, but rhythmic recalibrations required for sharp claws to maintain their purchase atop a reasonably puffy middle-aged man. And yet, even with my own eyes clamped tight, holding my breath, chest in fiery protest, most difficult to ignore were her implacable orbs — unblinking, scotch-hazel pools of nuclear intensity.
Fearing an eyelid might melt under the scrutiny, I risked a peek … and was promptly rewarded with a sandpaper poke to the pupil from a soup-ladle-sized tongue.
It was 4:24 a.m. and Black Lu was demanding her freedom. Right on schedule.
Minutes later, having barely navigated the stairs on numb feet, I slumped naked up against the backdoor, struggling to stay awake, but also to discern the purpose of Lu’s noisy exploration among the hydrangea bushes.
Was this the first deposit among at least twelve daily for this athlete of Olympic appetite and the digestion to go with it?
Might she be cataloging the many incursions of neighbor deer/fox/raccoon/squirrel/possum that so vexed her and her siblings?
Could this be just another opportunity to expand the network of knee-deep holes she’d dug with military precision — and Latin abandon — in our once professionally-tended garden?
Impossible to know. Perhaps all three, but Lu wasn’t interested in revealing. Inscrutable, soon she was back demanding entry, bounding up the stairs and with obvious joy, diving back in to the still-warm spot I’d recently vacated. And as I shivered in the pre-dawn darkness by the side of the bed, contemplating all that now stood between me and my eminently snuggle-able, warm, sleeping wife — the tufts of grass, the sprays of dirt and most especially, the large obsidian-black dog — I realized I was chuckling. Chuckling and smiling and nearly choking on my love for this unique and uniquely weird creature who manages now to dominate my life, while enhancing my joy exponentially and without ever earning my anger.
I’m nearly 50 and so far, I’ve been blessed with exactly thirteen dogs, including Black Lu’s pack-mates, Gunner and Bella. I love and have loved, every single one of them. Deeply and in the end, always, painfully. With the first 12, my love was sparked just about instantly. They were cute, or interesting, or talented, or some combination thereof. Or, they were puppies. And that love was not just swift, but reciprocated and obviously so. Not with Black Lu. Not on any level. She evinced none of those characteristics; my good-dog-radar definitely wasn’t pinging; and she appeared a one-dimensional shell of a dog with zero interests, deep emotional scars and a total dearth of appeal. I’d never experienced anything like it.
Our sweet golden, George, had just transitioned Upstairs after 12 years of dedicating frolicking, augmenting his fan-club wherever he chose to saunter. Having survived kidney failure (in no small measure, thanks to prayers from his admirers all over the country) for two full years — as well as a twice-daily cocktail of expensive and ill-making pharmaceuticals — he departed as he lived: joyous, loyal and dignified (except around meat products, attractive ladies, dairy and baked goods).
Despite his debilitating and ultimately, deadly, illness, George rarely seemed sick. He was always handsome and cheerful and displayed an intensely regal bearing (just the week before he died, a woman in the park mistook him for a puppy, as people often had throughout his life). It’s why his death seemed so sudden and why my wife, Melissa and I were not together for this momentous event; our trio of dog — George, Bella, Gunner — had just driven up to Maine with me and their brother, our son, Charles. Melissa was due to fly up and meet us later in the week, but before she could, George died.
It was terrible. We, at least, had each other to console. Melissa was alone and her isolation compounded her grief. In that grief, she prayed and then felt called to the local rescue shelter, from which we had earlier — many years earlier — adopted both Gunner and Bella.
It was here that she found the seemingly broken dog that would, in just a few short years, undergo shocking metamorphosis and become today the champion that is Black Lu … nearly double her arrival weight, sleek and beautiful, a natural and graceful hunter and my constant companion. Intense, wholly good-natured, very smart and in-tune with all in her proximity. Also, eager, almost human in her affections. She misses zero opportunities to give or receive love. She misses no opportunities, period. Plus, she’s an A-level athlete, balanced and confident, capable of running down deer, swimming like a motorboat and retrieving anything you throw — the bigger, the better — on land, or in the water. Black Lu has an overwhelming zest for life and it’s infectious.
It was not a bet you would have confidently made. I sure didn’t.
Lucy had been starved, beaten and discarded, expelled from at least two separate Alabama foster homes. Which earned my sympathy for her and my rage at those who had hurt her. But did nothing to convince me this damaged creature would be well suited for my household, or us for her; paralyzed with fear, withdrawn from life, capable only of curling up in the fetal position, she resisted all entreaties — especially from men.
Should couldn’t be held, or, kissed. She evinced no personality, no charm and no obvious will to live. She was physically unattractive, emotionally broken, absolutely pathetic. And not in a way that was engendering sympathy from me.
“We’ve just lost our Georgie. We’re all broken by it. Bella and Gunner are sad and confused and likely feeling unstable. This dog has nothing to offer. Why would we subject ourselves to this burden … at this time? It makes no sense. She’ll probably expire of fright a week after coming home and where will that leave our already emotional family?”
Compelling arguments, I thought (so did our son). Melissa was having none of it. Her calm and persistent refrain: “She needs us and we need her. Pray about it.” She was unshakeable — infuriatingly so — and, of course, totally prescient.
Black Lu is the beneficiary of the careful tutelage of a dominant bitch (her older sister, Bella, a Finish Spitz [Bear-hunter] — a 4,000-pound personality, stuffed into a 32-pound body), without whose blessing she would not have survived a moment. She eats twice as much as her siblings, rarely sleeps on the ground, seeks out and administers love at every opportunity … and is fully engaged in the pursuit of her own personal freedom.
Buckley Carlson, a writer, lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and four children, three of whom are exceedingly furry. He has not one friend who doesn’t love dogs – because those people are irretrievably flawed and desperately unhappy. He can be reached at BuckleyCarlson@gmail.com.