This morning I noticed a rather strong and disgusting smell in our basement. It’s not unusual for us to spot the occasional mouse down there once Fall arrives, which my husband promptly dispatches. (One of perks of being married is having someone else deal with unwanted house guests.) Judging from the smell, we assumed that one of our mouse visitors must have died down there, so we called in our dog Lucy to help us find it.
Lucy has always been known for her keen sense of smell and her willingness to chase any small furry animal that dares to cross her path. She came downstairs and obeyed our command to “find it” by sniffing eagerly around the basement walls. Then she froze in front of the recliner on the family room side of the basement, staring intently underneath it. “Good dog,” I told her, getting down to peer underneath the chair. Only to find out that what had caught her attention wasn’t a mouse at all, but her favorite red ball. I pulled it out and handed it to her, and she trotted off with the satisfied air of a dog who had done her job well. And just so you know, after she left my husband and I found not one but two dead mice down there, and one of them was very, very, ripe.
I supposed I should be annoyed with Lucy, or at least disappointed that the dog who used to be able to sniff out a rawhide toy stored on the upper shelf of my closet in two seconds flat seemed to be unable to locate a very pungent rodent carcass. But Lucy turned fifteen this month and this is just another reminder that she is aging, far more quickly than I would like.
When she first came to live with us, Lucy was eleven-months old and had been turned into the animal shelter as a stray. Although she seemed quite calm when we picked her out, we quickly discovered that was only because she was still feeling the effects of the anesthesia from her recent spaying. Lucy was actually a bundle of energy, almost scary-smart, and had very little inclination to follow the household rules. I suspect most families would have promptly returned her to the shelter from whence she came, but instead we fell in love with her and learned to live with her eccentricities. For her part, she did learn what “sit,” “stay,” “leave it” and “come” meant, and sometimes she even obeyed those commands. Later, I added such useful phrases as “Get off the dining room table!” and “Get your furry butt back in bed!” (spoken at five a.m. on a Saturday morning, when Lucy decided she needed breakfast) to her vocabulary as well.
But for some reason, I didn’t believe that a dog as energetic and smart as Lucy would ever age. I couldn’t picture her no longer being able to hear anything but the loudest noises, and not even waking up when someone knocks at our door. I couldn’t fathom a time when she would be willing to substitute a short walk around the block for her usual forty-five minute treks through the neighborhood. I didn’t envision a time when she would hesitate before climbing a flight of stairs, as if debating whether the effort was worth it. But all those things, and more, have come true in the past of year or so.
I know we are now living in Lucy’s twilight years, and that her time with us is drawing to an end. To my mind, the only thing truly wrong with dogs is that their life spans are far too short. We may have another year with Lucy, or we may only have another few weeks; we have reached the stage where either is possible. All that we can do is enjoy the time we have left with our loving, neurotic, and smart little Lucy. And if that means we have to sniff out our own dead mice, then so be it.