I will never forget the day we literally got Lucky. It was a warm, sunny July day in 1999. My 9-year-old son, my mother and I were on a quest to find a golden retriever puppy. We had heard of a breeder near Fredonia who had a litter with one female remaining to be sold. With no delay, we headed south and soon met a 4-week-old puppy who captured our hearts. My son suggested the name Lucky because we felt lucky to get her.
In several weeks she came home with us and we embarked on the fun, unpredictable puppy years. Easily housebroken and quick to learn simple commands, she refused to give up on the golden retriever penchant for jumping up on people to greet them. I’ll always remember overhearing my young son trying to train her:
“No Lucky! Don’t jump up! NO! What don’t you understand – the ‘N’ or the ‘O’?”
With time she settled down and matured, but not without the requisite chewing off the corner of a favorite rug.
She became very much a central figure in our family life. She slept with my son, accompanied us to his baseball and soccer games, went on picnics, long walks in parks and woods and cross-country skiing, and loved nothing more than retrieving a stick or Frisbee. She seemed perpetually happy and brought much joy just by her mere presence.
Those blissful (in retrospect) and busy years of my son growing up eventually ended when he went off to college, leaving just me and Lucky at home. Her companionship helped ease the pang of an almost-empty nest. She and I grew closer. While I remained busy with work and other obligations, she was always there for me in her sweet-natured way. She knew me inside and out, aware of my schedule, my every move, my every mood. What a beautiful, tenacious bond we form with our pets!
This past winter was tough on both animals and people. Getting older, Lucky struggled to wade through the deep snow and I kept digging paths for her in the backyard. She had slowed down, unable to ascend the stairs to our second floor.
The family room became her home base, near the back door. We spent many evenings by the fire with me watching TV and her watching me watch TV. Such adoring devotion I will never experience again.
She began losing weight, needing to be coaxed to eat dinner, though still liking her treats. In July she would be 16 years old (112 people years).
And then one day in May I came home from work to find her splayed out on the far side of the family room, unable to stand up without my help. It was a heartbreaking moment of realization that her “time” had come.
Soon after, I gave her the best last night possible, complete with bowls of roast beef and hours of what she loved best, just sitting beside me, listening as I told her how special she was, how loved.
My grief has been profound, surprising even me with its depth. All in all, she was lucky to have had a good and very long life. But I, by far, have been the luckier one to have experienced and learned from her unconditional love.