Last month, I had a tough decision to make. It’s one of the hardest, most gut-wrenching decisions a pet owner ever has to make. When to say “goodbye.” Honestly, it’s taken me until today to gather the courage to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys for that matter).
A little perspective. I know Lucy was “only a dog.” I have lost both friends and family in my short 35 years, and realize the devastation left in the wake of their passing. My focus is not on the pain felt in my decision, but to celebrate the amazing dog that was my best friend, hunting buddy, and “first born.”
Lucy was my first dog. I grew up with dogs, but she was the first one that was my own. My graduation present upon finishing my B.S. in wildlife biology from Michigan State University, she was there for the beginning of my career in wildlife advocacy, buying my first home, marrying the love of my life, and the birth of both my children.
My first true “gun dog,” I did what any wannabe dog trainer would do after bringing home a new puppy; I read all the books, watched as many videos as I could, and then promptly forgot it all. I tinkered here and there with different methodologies, vacillating between pointing and flushing/retriever skills, never really deciding if I had the German Shorthaired Pointer her pedigree told me she was or the Labrador Retrievers I had grown up chasing through the woods.
As I muddled through her first few months of training, a clear goal began to emerge. The dog I was searching for wasn’t a four-legged Rambo, it was a dog that trusted me and that I could trust. Her instincts were amazing, I didn’t need to (and couldn’t hope to) train her on “how” to hunt birds, I just had to get us to the point that we both knew our role in the field and let each of us do our respective jobs.
To that end, we began our training anew. Tennis balls replaced training dummies, and thousands of sticks were thrown into area lakes and rivers. Long hikes were taken and her spot on the couch was firmly established. What developed was a relationship, one between dog and man, as friends. She wasn’t a tool, she was a hunting buddy.
After marriage, a move to the city, and children arrived, we began to spend less time in the woods. Times change, and so did we. Lucy transitioned into a city dog and dutifully protected our back yard and home from squirrels and other invaders. But she was always ready to shake the rust off and take to the woods when opportunity presented itself.
Last year, after noticing how long it was taking Lucy to recover from a round of fetch or short runs through the field, I decided it was time to retire her from hunting. It was a tough decision, and it hurt to see the look on her face when I would suit up Dillon (her younger “brother”) for hunting, knowing she wouldn’t be going along. She was going deaf and having trouble keeping up with the younger dogs. I wouldn’t have minded moving slower to accommodate, but an inability to hear commands in the woods was more than a mere inconvenience.
Lucy’s last year was filled with love, long naps in warm, comfy beds, and a seemingly endless joy of fetching tennis balls, even as her body slowly gave out on her. Her last day was spent in my office, curled up in front of the fireplace, kicking wildly as she dreamed about flushing pheasants or grouse exploding from the aspen.
In the end, Lucy will always be remembered as my first dog, and my (and my son’s) best friend.
Forever, Logan’s “Lucy girl.”