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Walking with Lucy

Lucy

Since everything in my world revolves around canines, I immediately thought about a dog named Lucy when a friend told me about a viral twitter feed. Danielle Muscato asked women, “What would you do if all men had a 9pm curfew?” Some women said they would go dancing, to the grocery store, and the park. But many others answered exactly like I did. We would walk.

Full disclosure: I’m a walker. I started walking two decades ago at Penn State and haven’t stopped since. In the beginning it was transportation, but now it’s ritual. I walk six miles a day at home, and when I visit other cities for work, I often walk there.

Walking alone seems like such a simple ask, but for women that activity comes with a whole load of complications that all boil down to one factor. We are the weaker sex. We learn about our inferior strength young. Many learn because of an incident, a reckoning. For me, it happened in the sixth grade. A disturbed boy with messy black hair and laser-beam blue eyes pinned me against the wall and pressed his hard-on against my thigh. I’ve always been thin and athletic and managed to wrestle away, but that second of panic, that second of understanding my physical limitations lingers into adulthood.

We also learn about our vulnerability from other women, a shared lore passed on from one to another. Throughout my life, cousins, friends, mother, mother-in-law, professors, and colleagues have all warned about the dangers of walking alone. Don’t wear headphones. Keep a wide berth of personal space. Never lean into a car to give directions. Don’t make eye contact with strangers, but don’t look down either. Stay away from large groups of men on empty streets. Always carry your phone. And never, ever walk alone in the dark.

Women’s personal reckonings combined with this shared lore creates an internal alarm we all carry. Whether consciously or not, a vigilance exists in every woman. It’s what makes us street-smart, but it also comes with a whole load of restrictions. For years I carried that alarm around like dead weight because it limited where and when I went places, until I met Lucy.

Lucy was a purebred, shorthaired German Shepherd. Someone found her running down Charlotte Pike and surrendered her to a shelter. We adopted her with a small rip in her left ear, but otherwise she was beautiful, colored a warm brown with black markings that aligned like mirror images on each side. She had a stubborn streak and hyper personality, and at home, she acted like a wild child. Lucy was the dog who taught me how much I didn’t know about raising a canine. But she loved to walk as much as I did.

I discovered Lucy’s gift the first time I walked her without my husband. In the early years of my marriage, we rented an apartment in Nashville, right off West End Avenue. It was after ten. I wanted to go to Centennial Park and see the Parthenon, a full-scale reproduction of the Athenian original. For the month of July, the city splashed floodlights on the replica. The lights changed from red to white to blue in waves. But I was alone, and that was the only reason I paused. Was it safe to go to a city park alone and after dark? The more I considered the reason I shouldn’t go, the more annoyed I felt. Then, I became defiant. I leashed Lucy and headed out the front door.

Vanderbilt University was a few blocks from our apartment, and we cut across campus. At one point, three college guys moved towards us. They were loud. Drunk loud. My internal alarm started ringing and my body stiffened. In a span of ten seconds, I rationalized the best case scenario was a snide comment. In the worst, they approached me. I never once entertained the idea they would simply leave me alone.

Lucy sensed my unease because a heightened awareness vibrated from her every step. She stood perpendicular to my thigh, matching my pace stride for stride. She looked intimidating, like she belonged on a poster for police dogs or a WWII flick. One of the guys caught sight of her, signaled to his buddies. They looked up, paused, digested the woman and her dog approaching. In unison, they moved off the path and circled wide to pass. They never said a word.

Lucy and I kept moving, but I felt as though I’d won some sort of battle. I felt like I could fly. Like I was soaring. I didn’t realize how caged I had been until that exact moment. The moment when I understood what it meant to be the toughest motherfucker in the room.

Lucy and I hiked for five miles that night. We strode down West End Avenue and up Elliston Street, circled Centennial multiple times. Lucy kept her snout high, rarely sniffing the ground. Her pointy ears rotated like satellites towards a couple talking on a park bench, a bum rustling through a trash can, an old man rolling down the sidewalk in a wheelchair. She saw it all before I did. The incident with the college boys wasn’t a fluke either. Multiple people crossed the street when they saw us coming, an act I had always initiated prior to that night.

Before we went home, Lucy and I sat for a solid ten minutes and watched the lights on the Parthenon morph from red to white to blue. Their reflections stretched and shifted across Lake Watauga, as though there were two versions, one real and one abstract. And I got to see all of it because of Lucy. With her, I could hit snooze on my internal alarm. I could forget a lifetime of warnings and enjoy the simple act of walking.

In the following months, Lucy and I trekked miles through Nashville. Often, I wore headphones and listened to music. Sometimes, I carried a phone, but mostly I forgot it. When we moved to Robertson County, Lucy and I hiked in the woods together. We went at night in the winter with the trees so bare it felt like the whole world watched. And I didn’t care who watched because I had my dog. Lucy never left my side, acted completely oblivious to the simple yet rare gift she gave me. She gave me the freedom to walk alone.

Everything Happens for a Reason

Lucy Break 1

Ninety-five percent of the time Lucy is a chill dog. So chill, one potential adopter decided she wasn’t a good fit because she was too aloof. In fact, the only time I see Lucy get excited is when she sees her foster dad Geoff Reed. The moment that dog sees Geoff she goes nuts and acts like a misbehaving puppy, jumping, leaping, kissing. I guess she knew before the rest of us she belonged with him.

If you haven’t already guessed, Lucy’s foster dad Geoff is adopting her. I have to give him props because he held out longer than most. Lucy was adopted out in January, returned after several months, and then multiple potential families fell through for one reason or another. It finally got to the point where Geoff couldn’t even interview interested candidates anymore. He was tired of resisting and finally conceded Lucy belongs right by his side.

A lot of the time, I get angry when people return dogs, but the longer I foster animals the wiser I become. Now, after seeing where Meadow, Rosie, and Lucy – all returned dogs – ended up, I’m changing my self-righteous tune. I’m beginning to accept that everything happens for a reason.

Congratulations, Lucy and Geoff.

Lucy’s Meet and Greet: Canceled

lucy look 2

Poor Lucy. I feel like the universe is sabotaging her. That dog can’t catch a break. She’s been rejected twice since a week ago Friday. First, a young woman named Miranda drove forty-plus miles to the Farnival just to meet her, but decided she wasn’t the right fit. Then, the family that wanted to adopt Lucy today canceled at the eleventh hour, long after her co-foster parent Geoff Reed had already grilled her a hotdog for a farewell dinner.

Pure Guesswork

lucy look

(Lucy)

Tomorrow afternoon Geoff Reed and I are going to visit Lucy’s possible new home. ICHBA calls this visit a meet and greet. It’s the last step in ICHBA’s adoption process. If we think her new family is suitable, then we’ll leave her there. If not, Lucy’s coming back with us.

Geoff and I talked on the phone yesterday and agreed that if for one second we get a bad vibe, then we’ll tell the family it’s not going to work out. It would be a hard thing to explain to the parents and their two little girls, but Donna, ICHBA’s founder, gave me a tip last year that I carry with me to every “meet and greet.” She said that if I put the dog’s well being before any human feelings, then it’s easier to say no. And she’s right.

Still, picking the right home is complicated. I’ve been wrong three times out of twenty eight. Those bad decisions eat at me for the same reason that I can tell the wrong family no. When the dogs are my number one priority and I fail them, it feels like I stepped on a nail, a rusty one.

The problem with making the right call about a family is that up to a certain point, it’s all a guessing game, a gamble. Families can have great recommendations from friends and veterinarians, positive interviews with both the foster family and Donna, amiable meet and greets, yet still end up returning the dog six months after they adopted them.

It’s always nice to know you’re not alone, and I’m finding a lot of companionship in David Wroblewski’s book The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. In general, his writing is singing to my dog-loving heart, but in particular, I’m finding quotes reflecting my feelings about picking the right home. The novel is a big book about a deaf boy named Edgar and his dog Almondine, but it’s worth the time.  (Thanks for the recommendation, Todd Langston.) In this scene, Edgar and his father are discussing the possibility of socializing an adult feral dog:

“Every time I think about that dog, something your grandfather used to say comes to mind. He hated placing pups, really hated it. That’s why he started keeping them until they were yearlings-said most people had no idea how to handle a pup. Wrecked their dogs before they were six months old…Anyway, what I mean is, he hated having to choose where the dogs went. He thought it was pure guesswork. (80)”

I’ll let you know if Geoff and I guess right or not as soon as possible.

Welcome Back, Lucy

Lucy Break 1Lucy returned to the Farnival on Thursday after two weeks of vacationing in Nashville with her co-foster parent Geoff Reed. She’s like a different dog. When she stayed here last month, she was either a timid or aggressive loner, but being at Geoff’s house did wonders for her self-confidence. In the two days she’s been back, Lucy’s been acting like a normal, playful, well-adjusted canine. Because of her aggressive history, I’ve been closely supervising her play sessions with any other dog, but so far (fingers crossed) no more fights have broken out.

Unfortunately, Lucy’s weight is still an issue. Even after a month of diet and tons of exercise, she’s clocking in at 47 pounds, meaning she’s only lost 3 pounds and needs to drop 7 more. Poor Lucy. I walked her Kardashian-sized rump off this morning. At the end of our hot, sweaty, five-mile hike, I let Lucy get a drink in a small waterfall. She sat down in the cold, streaming water, panting so hard her whole body shook, and gave me that “are you kidding me, lady” look. I told her welcome back.