I’m taking a slight detour from The Specials series to share a personal memory of my first canine love, Lucas. Our time together was brief, beautiful, and in the end, tragic, but our bond changed the course and shape of my life forever. Essentially, this is the how it all began story …
I have always loved animals. Maybe because I was a shy kid who moved frequently and didn’t fit in anywhere; animals were just easier. Given the choice between a play date or sharing a good book with a dog or cat (or even cow or pig) I almost always chose the latter.
My early years were complicated and at times, chaotic. My parents divorced when I was two. We moved about eight times before I was in fourth grade and I attended five different elementary schools. My father is also a combat veteran and has struggled with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder my whole life.
Second grade was kind of the peak of the bad stuff. We moved about a third of the way through the year. My new school was overcrowded and rundown. The teacher never bothered to learn my name and I never bothered to care. The building we lived in was chock full of single moms and broken kids. It was seventies and we were the first generation of divorced kids and it was all like a big experiment gone wrong. We had a crackpot, kleptomaniac babysitter with a serious rage problem. My dad was also in a really dark place and homeless for six months. Not a good year …
Fortunately, I left school early and went to stay with my grandparents in southern California. My grandparents were both artists and there were paintings, canvases and craft supplies everywhere. Their yard was like a southern California version of The Secret Garden – overgrown with flowers and thorns, fruit and palm trees, half-finished craft projects and canvases, broken statues, and the occasional Cannabis plant. There was a narrow path that twisted through the back corners of the yard, covered with a ceiling of thorns and brush just tall enough for a second grader to make her way through.
By that summer, Lucas had already been around a few years. My grandparents had kind of an open yard policy and dogs, cats, and occasional wildlife appeared and disappeared frequently. They were animal lovers, but in an old school way. Dogs and cats were welcome in the yard, but not in the house.Lucas was a mid-sized, brown and black dog with medium-length fur, probably a Spaniel Border Collie mix. The picture above is not actually Lucas. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of Lucas. In real life, Lucas’s legs were shorter and he had more brown in his fur, but these are the kind eyes I remember.
Lucas and I spent many days tucked away in the back corners of the garden, a few rays of sunlight shining through the palm trees with the smell of Eucalyptus all around us. We had picnics, napped, and made up stories and adventures. I read while he remained curled up loyally at my side. Sometimes we were just quiet, but when I called his name, he looked up and his soulful eyes were deep, brown and all-knowing. Lucas was grounded in a world that was otherwise topsy-turvy. Like so many dogs, he was all instinct: he knew what I needed, when I needed it.
But later that summer, everything changed when a new dog arrived. Buffy was personality plus, young, adorable, and outgoing. From the start, she was given special treatment and was allowed inside the house whereas Lucas was not. I reassured Lucas that he was still my favorite, but he grew jealous and gradually became aggressive with Buffy. Clearly, he just needed some time, extra reassurance, and training. I tried to speak up for him, but my words were jumbled and childlike and didn’t do any good. The decision was already made …
I rode with Lucas on the way to the pound and I can still feel his head resting in my lap. Lucas was incredibly wise and intuitive and I believe he understood and accepted his fate. When we entered the shelter, he grew agitated and pulled at his leash, but only for a few moments. At age seven, I certainly didn’t know about euthanasia, but something inside me knew Lucas was going to suffer and die alone and he knew it, too.
As he was led away, he looked back at me one last time. But then the warden yanked him forward and he was gone. My whole life changed in that moment and I promised him that I would find my voice and fight to save other animals from suffering a similar fate. And although my life has taken many detours, I always return to my love and passion for animals, especially misunderstood ones like Lucas.
Lucas embodied the healing power and wisdom of animals. His friendship saved me and his loss broke my heart, but most importantly, he gave my life purpose and direction. I celebrate and believe whole-heartedly in the human-animal connection and encourage others to do the same. Some of my greatest lessons have originated at least in part from my relationship with animals – compassion, patience, forgiveness, generosity, acceptance, and the ability to live in and celebrate the moment. I’m not perfect, but these are the qualities I aspire to everyday and they can all be traced back to the summer I loved and lost Lucas.
Please do not adopt an animal if you are unable or unwilling to provide a lifetime of loving and compassionate care. If you are ready for adoption, please consider adopting or fostering a special needs dog or cat because second chances are amazing whether you are on the giving or receiving side.
If you would like to read adoption stories with happier endings, please check out my posts on adopting an abandoned dog and adopting a puppy mill survivor. Please also feel free to share stories of your first canine or feline love in the comments below.
Disclaimer: I loved my grandparents dearly and do not fault them for what happened to Lucas. When we know better, we do better. And thanks to Lucas and many other animals, I know better and try to do better, always.