Of course, I lied. Even as the lie rolled off my lips I knew what I was going to do.
It was Christmas Eve and I was bringing food to a family of three: mom and two boys. At the apartment entrance a severe looking Akita glared at me with unforgiving eyes. Inside the little boys were eating corn out of a can, and at the far end of this shotgun apartment, a young black lab type dog was leashed to a sofa, where she sat primly, in classic lab pose.
The casual conversation turned to the dogs, each tethered far away from each other.
“You can have her, if you like,” the mom said, pointing to the lab, whose name was Ladybug. Apparantly the dynamics between the two female dogs was unhealthy at best.
We had recently lost our last Newfie to cancer and were waiting u ntil spring to find a purebred lab to fill our doggie void.
“Well,” I said, looking around at the glaring Akita, the boys eating out of cans, the lab, now licking an empty can. “I will have to ask my husband first.”
Of course, I had made up my mind what I would do as soon as she uttered the words.’You can have her...’’
It was Christmas Eve; I had two services to lead; I was home alone; my daughter and husband had gone to Maryland and wouldn’t be back for two days when I would meet them at my mother’s house.
Late in the afternoon I went back and got Ladybug. Curled up on the front seat of my car, she came with me to the first Xmas Eve service where I walked her before we began. Halfway home, on a dark and snowy road she let me know in no uncertain terms that she needed to go out and so I got out and walked her again.
Little did I know how she would effect our lives, what joy she would bring.
And so our adventure with Ladybug began.
To say that my family was unhappy with my decision was an understatement. Ladybug, of unfortunate name, came from uncertain ancestry and uncertain care. She had issues that seemed unresolveable. Apparantly her previous owners had neglected to house break her and our vet told us that because of her age --3 or 4 months--it would be difficult to housebreak her. If we didn’t housebreak her we would have to put her down. But Ladybug figured it out: she was determined to settle in her new home. Her spirit, combined from wise advice from one the books on dogs by the monks of New Skete, helped resolve her bathroom issues. With that behind us, her intelligence and personality emerged and she gradually endeared herself to my husband and daughter.
Her energy knew no bounds. Of course, I, being home more than they, was the one who she led, prancing and tugging three times a day through the park..And in between I discovered that a knotted towel was an excellent toy: I would hold it in one hand, and the book I was reading in the other, and she would tug. Foolishly I once bought a stuffed toy for her at a rummage sale, hoping for some reprieve from her demands for exercise. Within minutes the entire first floor of the parsonage became cloud-like. Ladybug had shredded the poor toy, and poly stuffing filled the house. Sitting in the middle of it, eyes bright, ears perky, she smiled at me. She was indefatigable.
An adventure dog; Ladybug loved to go.Stand by the river, stick raised, and shout “are you ready?” and she would prance back and forth, eyes on the stick, ears flapping, ready, eager to go. Amazingly, from puppyhood she could judge where the river’s current would take the stick and would fearlessly plunge into the water and retrieve it every time, coming back dripping, shaking the cold water over all of us, and eager to run again.
After several excursions Ladybug knew that the appearance of a pack of any sort, , running shoes, and hiking boots signalled adventure. And she was ready for whatever adventure lay ahead. And hike she did; the green mtns, the white mtns, where ever my husband took her, she went, undaunted by weather, difficulty.
Having gone on several hikes with an empty stomach, and been forced to eat the hikers’ meager leftovers along with and all sorts of synthetic food, she learned quickly that if our behaviors signalled ‘adventure’she should eat, and eat quickly. Until the very end, if she knew a walk was in the offing, she would stop to eat before we left--just in case!
Most parents, at some point in their child’s development, spell out words so their child won’t know what they are talking about. We rapidly had to do that with Ladybug. Always alert and attentive, she quickly learned when we were talking about her, and should the word ‘walk’ be heard, she paced back and forth, poked us with her nose, tried to prod us into action. We learned to spell it out, and of course, she eventually figured that out too. She knew she was a ‘d-o-g. And woe betide you if she was leashed and you stupidly said ‘squirrel.’ That word triggered an instant response that challenged my ability to keep my feet on the ground and my arm in its socket. Pulling and tugging she would drag me in the direction of the hapless rodent and it would only be luck that would prevent me from being dragged face forward into the oak tree where the squirrel had escaped.
“Get ‘im’ signalled the presence of some obnoxious red squirrels and she would charge at them with great delight, scattering them to the nearest trees.
Early on we taught Ladybug to find each other. If Fred said” find Mother,” she would come running to find me, and if I said, ‘Where’s Fred,” she would run to him.
And then there was the great blue heron. When we lived in the parsonage on Fletcher Road, two of Orman Ovitt’s ponds lay behind the house on a small hill. Ladybug lived on a line then, and if she saw the bird on the pond, she would charge madly to the end of her line, sending the heron into languid flight just far enough away to be seen by Ladybug and torment her. Eventually the heron would return to the pond and the scene would repeat itself. I think the heron enjoyed annoying Ladybug.
She was my walking buddy, and countless splendid walks we had. We trudged through deep snow, across sun-baked fields, through autumnal woods, often twice a day. Ever mindful of me, even if she was far ahead of me, as soon as I stopped and turned to go back, she would too.
Ladybug, could be a stern taskmaster. She didn't get along well with other dogs, and sometimes even spurned people. Once, our neighbor's grandson, about 6 or 7 at the time, came to visit her, and she welcomed his piping voice and gentle petting. They were outside, I was inside. Looking out the window--and I can still see them in my mind's eye--they sat companionably on the porch stairs, she on her hind legs, he with his arm around her back. "You're so sweet and beautiful," I heard him say, "I should call you cupcake."
For years she accompanied the running and ski teams at BFA on their practices. She enjoyed running camp, and until she was too infirm she would go on all the hikes. My favorite story, an event I didn’t witness, was on a hike on the back of Camel’s Hump. Apparantly there is, in one spot, a vertical metal ladder that must be climbed. The runners were dismayed; what would Ladybug do? How could she continue. My husband counselled them to be patient, to continue, and Ladybug would figure it out. A few minutes later the anxious runners heard the clicking of toenails on metal and Ladybug appeared on the trail. Even the ladder didn’t daunt her!As she got older, she knew what she could and couldn’t do, and would go as far as she could and then go back to the base camp and wait for the runners to return until the year came when she couldn’t go. It would have been too much.
Even here at home and in the school woods, if she felt we were going too far for her aching hips and legs to carry her, she would take a short cut back to the house or car andwait for us there.
As her muzzle and paws whitened, she began to slow down. She became deaf and we quickly created our own private sign language. Slowly, her joints began to ache more--one didn’t want to t ouch her ankles--and we put her on a course of medicine that allowed her to continue to enjoy her walks. Her brain remained sharp and she remembered former runners, and other friends who would stop by to visit. Somehow she always managed to get up,wagging her tail, to greet company. But she ate less, grew thinner, and did less and less.
Finally, the time had come to stop the medicine. It no longer seemed to be effective; she might enjoy a morning saunter, but then for the rest of the day she would lie on her bed and watch, and if Jake went out, she would amble out on the deck but not go down the stairs--which were always a challenge anyway.
Finally,the vet came to put her down. Ladybug knew her time had come.She was tired and worn out. She looked at me resignedly as the vet proceeded with her tasks. I stroked her soft ears as she lay there waiting.