Goodbye Lucky

On the 29th January 2020, we said goodbye to our beloved dog, Lucky, whom we’d had for nearly sixteen years. This is hard to write about – that’s why it’s taken so long for me to write and post it – but I felt like it would be a dishonour to him to not write about him so this is a piece about his life, how much we loved him, and how much we miss him. I’m not going to lie: I’m already crying as I write this so fair warning that this will be an emotional piece. It’s going to jump around a bit but I’ll try and keep it roughly in chronological order.

We first met Lucky when he was two or three days old. I was pretty young – only nine years old – so I don’t remember how we found out about the litter of Labrador puppies that needed homes but we’d been talking about getting a dog for a long time. In fact, it was one of the reasons we moved from London to Brighton. We didn’t want to have a dog in London. As it turned out, we lived all but next to a park and the puppies were on the other side.

Holding such a young puppy is a magical experience. They’re all sleepy and soft and they have too much skin. Plus, they smell amazing. I’ve never understood the whole baby smell thing but puppy smell is just wonderful to me. I don’t know if the puppy I first held was Lucky but I like to think so. And there’s no way for any of us to know.

We spent the next eight or nine weeks visiting them, playing with them and bonding with them. There was certain ones that had already been claimed and we ended up with the runt. Lucky, our beautiful, little runt. He was so funny looking as he grew. He was all disproportional: he had a long body with short legs, a big head, and a squished up face (don’t worry – he ended up proportional and I may be biased but I think he turned out to be the most handsome of the litter). But we thought he was gorgeous and loved him from the moment we knew he was ours. It was great to be surrounded by puppies, playing together and chasing and chewing each other, but we were just entranced by our baby and spent every possible moment with him.

Eventually they were ready to leave, eating solid food and mostly house trained. I remember the first night: he spent a lot of time exploring his new home (he was only allowed downstairs, giving our cat, Snubby, the upstairs floors to escape from him if she needed a break) and then fell asleep and we let him sleep on the sofa. He wasn’t going to be allowed to do that but we figured it was a special occasion. It was so cute.┬áHe was still so, so small. Then we put him to bed and went to bed ourselves. He cried all night, suddenly alone for the first time in his life. We all ended sitting on the top landing, out of his sight, desperate to go to him but knowing that it was the right thing to do. It’s what you have to do.

As I mentioned, we already had a cat, Snubby. She wasn’t a particularly social cat at the best of the times and she was deeply disgusted by this enthusiastic, bouncy… thing. She mainly stayed upstairs for the first few months but when she had to get anywhere near him, she’d swipe at him, leaving him bewildered as to why she didn’t want to play or at least engage. But she wanted nothing to do with him. Over time, she became a bit more relaxed around him (i.e. less swiping) but she never did anything more than coexist with him.

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We got to straight to work with the training. He was really smart. We continued with the house training, sit, stay, drop (the toy, stick, whatever he was holding)… he never quite grasped that one. Or wanted to grasp that one. He loved to bring you things; he just didn’t like to actually let you have them.

One of my favourite memories of training him though, was teaching him his name. In various combinations, we’d go down to the woods where there was a somewhat closed off path (meaning he couldn’t really go anywhere but down the path) and stand about ten metres apart. We’d call his name, again and again, and he’d run back and forth, rewarded with treats. We probably spent hours doing that and eventually he learned that his name was Lucky.

Season after season, we’d walk through woods, over fields, by the sea… Because of school, Mum working from home, and what turned out to be my Autism and Chronic Fatigue, Mum did most of the big walks but I still managed some of them. My favourite ones were in the summer, flinging balls for Lucky and he’d run so fast that he’d overtake them, sometimes tripping over his own legs. The woods and the fields… they were all especially magical at golden hour. Those are my favourite memories of walking him.

He also loved to swim, which was very helpful when he developed a problem with his elbow and needed hydrotherapy. Labradors are notorious for problems with arthritis so we knew that it was something we were going to have to deal with during his life (thank god we insured him: he had so many medical problems throughout his life). Anyway, he loved hydrotherapy. He would chase a toy around a small pool of warm water and the hydrotherapist would actually have to hold him back to stop him exerting himself (the jacket is a flotation jacket so he could focus on swimming and not on keeping himself afloat). He absolutely loved it and it really helped his elbow.

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One of my family’s yearly traditions is spending a week in Norfolk, usually in the autumn. We’d stay in a cottage and then a caravan closer to the beach and we’d walk through the woods and through the sand dunes. It’s one of my favourite places. I step onto that beach and it’s like I’ve found something I didn’t realise I was looking for. It’s magical.

Lucky has always loved it, from the lounging on the caravan deck to chasing sticks into the sea. As he got older, he managed less and less until he was basically just chilling on the deck with the odd walk around the caravan. But during our last trip together, we drove to the flattest beach and walked slowly out to the shallows. We paddled together and rolled the tennis ball that Lucky had picked up somewhere back and forth. We were very aware that this could be the last time so we took our time and tried to enjoy every second. Then we slowly walked back, stopping multiple times for Lucky to rest his legs. There was a sadness to the day but we tried to just live in that precise moment and having said all of that, I look back on that day and smile because I know Lucky was happy.

There were years of love, years and years of love. I wish I could describe all the details but we’d be here until Christmas. Longer. For a long time, my morning routine began with a shower and walking the dog at about 7am. That was my day and it was a good way to start the day. I missed it when life changed, even though the early start was early.

When Snubby was put to sleep in 2014, me and Lucky got even closer. He’d stick close to me and greet me with great enthusiasm whenever I came home from uni. He was always very sensitive and in tune with people’s emotions (the older he got, the more sensitive he got until he even had to leave the room when people on TV got upset). We spent a lot of time that winter, curled up in front of the TV together, warmed by the fire. It was very comforting.

About a year after Snubby was put to sleep, we got a new kitten, Lucy. My world just didn’t make sense without a cat in it. And Lucky’s reaction was so funny. You could almost see him rolling his eyes. I tried to make sure I still spent a good amount of time with Lucky, just the two of us. But I could almost see the ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ look in his eyes.

Hilariously, Lucy adored Lucky and wouldn’t leave him alone. She always wanted to play, bringing him toys and pouncing on him and so on. It was so cute. And he didn’t know what to do with that because he’d only ever known a cat that swiped at him. So it took him a long time to adjust. I don’t think he ever loved her the way she loved him but he tolerated her and her love of him. She was always in his bed, both when he was in it and when he wasn’t, and she even went on his evening walk around the block with him. It was adorable.

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Once the elbow issue had been resolved, he didn’t need hydrotherapy again for a long time. But then, as he got older and his muscles in his legs started to weaken and waste away, we went back to hydro. He loved it and would swim so hard that the hydrotherapist had trouble monitoring the extensions of each of his legs. Over time, he slowed down, content to get to the ball; he knew it would be there when he got there. We continued liked that for years, managing the muscles in his legs. As an older dog, we couldn’t build the muscles back up but we could keep him going, keep him as strong as possible. And he loved it. And I loved watching him do it because you could see how happy he was.

As I said in my Birthday Rules post, for my 24th birthday, I actually got to do it with him once, which was a really special experience. It was really hard work and there was a lot to concentrate on, but it was surprisingly therapeutic for me as well as him. We both fell asleep on our respective soft surfaces when we got home and could barely make it through the day. It was funny to think that I was experiencing what he experience every time he had a hydro session. It was a really cool way to spend my birthday.

Moving house changed things, as much as I wish it hadn’t. The living room was upstairs and having spent his whole life being told he wasn’t allowed upstairs (plus his rather dodgy legs – he was about fourteen at the time), it was a difficult adjustment. He did eventually make sense of it and join us upstairs, in the living room (where I spend most of my time), which made me so happy.

He was making his way upstairs quite easily until one evening when everything changed. I was sitting at the kitchen table when I looked up and saw that Lucky was tilting his head almost ninety degrees. I thought he was having a stroke. Mum drove him to the emergency vet and they said he would be okay but I wasn’t convinced. The next morning we took him to our usual vet and he was diagnosed with Geriatric Vestibular Disease, so he was essentially having constant vertigo. Poor baby.

The next couple of weeks were very stressful as he was treated and slowly recovered. He did eventually recover but he was never quite the same. Personality wise he was, but physically, he had deteriorated quite dramatically. His balance was awful and was until the end and his legs, especially his back legs, were very weak and kind of like they weren’t completely within his control. From that point on, he needed a harness so that we could help him up when he was lying down, as well as up and down the stairs into the kitchen. Plus his head remained tilted for the rest of his life. That always made me sad. It’s something you never think you’ll miss: your dog looking at you straight on. I really, really missed it.

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Interestingly, he became much more attached to my Mum after this experience. Apparently that’s not uncommon: for a pet to become particularly attached to one person after a traumatic experience like a period of serious illness. The hydrotherapist said she’s seen it happen a lot. He always wanted to be with her and couldn’t settle if she was absent, for ten minutes or a couple of days. It was quite distressing, not to be able to soothe him.

As I’ve already said, his legs were very weak. I got home a few weeks ago and he couldn’t stand. And whatever I did, I couldn’t get him on his feet. It’s like his back legs had given up. It was like he’d give up, like he was done. Like it was just too hard. It was horrible. I ricocheted between calm and rational and then terrified and frozen. I don’t think I can write any more about that night but in the morning, the decision had been made – as I’d expected – that he was going to be put to sleep. I knew it was coming and I knew it was coming then. I was expending every ounce of energy holding everything together. I felt like I was literally holding the pieces of the outer shell of my body together, and therefore holding all of the overwhelming emotions inside. I managed it for the most part, although a few tears escaped on occasion.

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We got him to the vet and stood around him, stroking him, as the vet gave him a series of injections and then he was gone. But this was different to my last experience, different to when Snubby was put to sleep. I held her in my arms as they injected the drugs and I still remember the moment she was gone. But it was like Lucky was already gone (god, this is horrible to write). That thought was a sickening, awful one but that’s how it felt.

They left us alone with him to have a few moments but when it was time to leave, I had Mum get someone to be with him. I just couldn’t leave him alone. I couldn’t do it, even though it wasn’t really him anymore. At least that’s what people say. I’m not sure what I truly believe about that. Anyway, we stood outside the vet (they let us deal with everything later) – the four of us – and cried. And cried. And cried.

We went home and I spent the day collating photos of Lucky because I needed to have something to do that related to him. I needed to hold onto him. And now we’re moving forward, physically at least. I don’t think we’re moving forward emotionally yet. I don’t like the idea of ‘yet’.

We’ve since had a card from the vet with his paw print and a little packet of forget-me-not seeds, which I personally really appreciate. That was really kind of them and it’s already really special to me. We’ll have to decide where to plant the seeds but personally I like the idea of doing it where we can see them. Through the kitchen doors, maybe.

Soon we’ll get his ashes and have to decide what to do with them too. One idea is to scatter them where we taught him his name. I like that idea. But it has to be unanimous and we haven’t made a decision yet. We don’t even have the ashes yet so there’s no point worrying about it just yet. We’ll figure it out.

As a soul, he was a bit of a legend. Everyone who knew him loved him, even people who weren’t that keen on dogs. He just had some magic in him. I love him more than I can ever express and I will miss him for the rest of my life. The house feels empty and there’s a big gap that actually feels tangible in our lives. I have moments of calm and acceptance and then suddenly I remember and the bottom drops out of my world. It’s awful. And I just want to cry all the time, about Lucky but also about anything and everything. I’m just so sad. My body – my universe – is just so full of sadness. I just can’t believe I’ll never see him again. I’ll never stroke the brown patch on his nose or stroke the softest ears in the world. And when I automatically glance downstairs as I move around the house he’s NOT THERE and it just doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s awful; I think anyone who’s ever lost a pet can relate to this.

I was talking to a friend the other day and they said that he lived a good life. And this friend wasn’t wrong. But when I think about it, I think the more important part is that he lived a loved life. And he did. He lived a very loved life.

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