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lucy and hogan

I live in Portland, where dogs are treated like kings.  Here, “Person Who Gave Away Dog” ranks third on the list of reprehensible human beings, right behind “Driver Who Hit Biker” and “Non-Composter.”  So it is with no small measure of shame that I tell you that about a year ago, I gave away not one dog, but two.

“How could she do that?,” you’re thinking.  I’ll tell you exactly how I came to do that.  First, we misidentified ourselves as “dog people.”  Then, we bought a dog right after we got married, a time when you are delirious with happiness and suffused with the certainty that your life is going to go exactly the way you planned it.  Her name was Lucy, and she was a small yellow lab, with a pink nose and perky ears.  In those early years, we would take leisurely walks to the dog park, and lavish her with love and Greenies, which she would swallow whole.

Time passed, and we both started working longer hours.  We had less time for the dog park, and it seemed that any time we came home, Lucy was there, looking forlorn, judging us and our inability to make time for her as we once had.  I felt terrible guilt, but also, resentment.  I was tired and strung out, and Lucy was unhappy and bored.  She started peeing inside and wouldn’t leave our sides when we came home.  So we made the mistake that many do, and bought a second dog to amuse the first one that we were already neglecting.

Hogan was a walleyed Boston Terrier with a funny underbite.  He slept under our covers, tucked under Tom’s bottom or mine.  At night, he’d occasionally fight his way out of the duvet for air, pant loudly for 30 seconds, and then burrow right back in.  Lucy slept on top of the covers, on top of my legs.  Tom is 6’4″ and I’m 5’8″.  We had a queen size bed, and none of us got any sleep.  Also, we might have all had fleas.

Even before we had kids, it became apparent that our two-dog plan wasn’t working out.  Instead of amusing Lucy and keeping her occupied, Hogan began devoting most of his waking hours to chewing our furniture.  He whittled away all four legs of our dining table, and then our vintage Henredon coffee table, and then, after our kids arrived, all of their wooden toys.  We began socializing less, because both dogs would jump all over visitors.  I began calling them Cujo and Mini-Cujo, and only partly in jest.  The kids took up increasing amounts of time, leaving even less time for walks and trips to the dog park.

We could have kept going this way for a long time.  But a voice in my head kept telling me that my dogs could have a better life with others.  And instead of feeling guilt at neglecting them, I began feeling guilt at holding onto them, when I knew I couldn’t give them the time and attention that they deserved.  So we began looking for families to adopt both dogs.  Hogan, being a popular breed, received loads of interest, and we interviewed several families before settling on a childless couple who worked from home.  I felt good about them, knew that they would love Hogan and cherish him.

But for Lucy, there was no interest.  And until the day I die, I will feel sadness and shame that I did what I did, which was to take her to the Humane Society.  I rationalized the decision by reasoning that only people who really wanted a dog and could care for one would adopt one from the shelter.  I left her behind with her bed, her collar, food, and instructions that if she was not adopted, I was to be called, so that I could retrieve her.  But after four days, she was gone.  And I have to believe that she was adopted by someone who would love her and see her as I had not.

I miss Hogan a lot. His new owners send photos from time to time, like the one below, from Halloween.  And in them, he looks happy and well-loved, if a bit overdressed.

But it’s Lucy that stands there in my mind, the one I think about.  I remember how soft her ears were at the very top, where they joined her head.  I remember how pink her belly was underneath the fur.  I remember her fine, skinny legs, and her tiny, feminine feet, shaped just like wooden spoons.  I remember how sweet she was.  And if I close my eyes, I can see her there, waiting by the door, perpetually hopeful, but inevitably, always to be disappointed.  I think about her, and hope that she is loved wherever she is, and that she has forgiven me.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. So sad! But it’s nice to have some closure with Hogan at least. He looks suitably spoiled and sassy.

    I wish you had the same closure with Lucy, though. Thank you for sharing this experience and post. A sad, but lovely account about life’s tough decisions.

    December 8, 2011
  2. Lori…simply, thank you. For your comment, and for that poem.

    December 8, 2011
  3. Lori #

    Makes me think of the last few lines of Mary Oliver’s, In Blackwater Woods:

    Every year
    everything
    I have ever learned

    in my lifetime
    leads back to this: the fires
    and the black river of loss
    whose other side

    is salvation,
    whose meaning
    none of us will ever know.
    To live in this world

    you must be able
    to do three things:
    to love what is mortal;
    to hold it

    against your bones knowing
    your own life depends on it;
    and, when the time comes to let it go,
    to let it go.

    **
    None of us measure up…especially to our own expectations. I think those of us who move through this world as rather high-achievers are particularly sensitive to our “failures.” Though who doesn’t live with guilt and regret? I can’t imagine that Lucy’s lesson for you looks anything like shame.

    Thanks for sharing your soft spots, along with your razor-sharp wit and humor.

    December 8, 2011

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