Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Marcus Tullius Cicero once wrote that “if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” I disagree. I do have a garden; I tend it with parental care, and take pleasure in it, on a daily basis. I also have a library that is as necessary to me as air—and like air, it fills all the available space. Both are part of  “everything I need”—but not all.

I also need an animal—a fact I learned about myself at age 6, when Tuffy, a terrier mix, followed my brother home from school. During the 10 years he lived with us, Tuffy taught me that there were creatures on Earth besides my human parents upon whom I could rely to love me unconditionally. After Tuffy came a parade of dogs and cats, all of whom filled, to one extent or another, the void that exists in all of us—the need for reciprocal love.

When we lived in Chicago, Eric and I adopted Beau, a rescued poodle/ fox terrier mix who lived (and sailed) with us for 13 years. Since moving to Savannah, Georgia, we have offered our home to a succession of rescued cats—Hobie, Bête Noire, Harlequin, Tomochichi, Willow, Calliope, Pie, and Sam—and we have loved them all. Then, last August, we became petless, a whole new experience.

“Now we can travel,” we said to each other. “Now the house will be fur-free. No more trips to the vet; no more shelf space sacrificed to cat food, cat meds, and cat treats. And won’t it be wonderful to have our whole bed to ourselves?”

As it turned out, not so much.

We couldn’t stop glancing down to avoid stepping on a tail. We missed the warmth of a furry, purring bundle in our lap. We laughed about Callie’s odd sleeping preferences—an open drawer, a flowerpot, a shoe box. We got misty-eyed remembering how Sam raised Pie, the five-week-old kitten he carried home over our high board fence. The house seemed empty with only our own four feet instead of eight or twelve or even sixteen.

My secret plan was to wait a couple of months, then go to the Humane Society and adopt two senior cats who could keep each other company but would probably not outlive me. What I didn’t plan was for my husband of 45 years to fall in love with another woman—a secret he managed to keep from me for about two months.

The truth surfaced one morning last fall when I returned from a hot, sweaty four-mile run. I was heading for the shower when Eric grabbed my arm and said, “Come quick!  There’s someone I want you to meet.

“No way,” I said. “Not looking like this.”

“Hurry,” he said, tugging on my arm. “She won’t mind.”

She! Like I want to meet some woman in my sweats! But he was so insistent that I relented. We hurried across the street to a gray Honda belonging to our friend Mylene, a woman who trains therapy dogs and walks other people’s dogs in our neighborhood.

“Look,” Eric said, pointing to the back seat. Staring back at me was the cutest dog face I have ever seen—a stray that Mylene had coaxed into her car from the streets and was caring for—temporarily—until she could afford to have her spayed. After that she would try to find the dog a good home.

Glancing at Eric, who was fighting back tears, I felt my own eyes filling, and I heard some woman say—in my voice—“We’ll have her spayed.” Imagine my surprise.

Eric’s inamorata now lives with us—a combination of Shih Tzu and poodle whom we named “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”  She has since been spayed, inoculated, clipped, chipped, and laundered—not necessarily in that order.

She came to us housebroken (which fills me with gratitude), presumably by the same person who abandoned her (which fills me with rage).

Shy at first, Lucy has now assumed responsibility for all furry or feathered critters in our fenced-in backyard. Everything makes her happy—kibbles, her chew toy, riding in the car, tickle games, and any sentence that includes the word “go.”

Now, instead of ridding the couch of cat hair, we’re vacuuming up Lucy’s black fuzz. Instead of regaining a foot of kitchen shelf space, we have given over much of the laundry room to food and water bowls, bags of kibbles, dog treats, harnesses and leashes, a cold-weather dog jacket, and a collection of plastic pick-up bags. A box in the corner overflows with a collection of stuffed animals and chew toys, every one a gift from adoring friends. The basket that two cats once shared has now been claimed by one smallish dog who digs holes in my garden and piles up our socks in the middle of the living room floor.

She makes us laugh at her antics, distracts us from TV and computer, gets us outside and moving, and reminds us with her own joi de vivre that life is wonderful and fleeting and that we are very, very lucky to be sharing it with her.

Now I have everything I need.

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  • caren gittleman September 27, 2012 at 10:39 am

    This was just wonderful! I couldn’t agree with you more. You cannot put a price on the value of the unconditional love that we get from our pets and how much they add to our lives.