Life Lessons, resources, and random bits for rescue dogs, cats, bunnies, and their peeps

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Specials: The One I Couldn't Save


I’m taking a slight detour from The Specials series to share a personal memory of my first canine love, Lucas. Our time together was brief, beautiful, and in the end, tragic, but our bond changed the course and shape of my life forever. Essentially, this is the how it all began story …

I have always loved animals. Maybe because I was a shy kid who moved frequently and didn’t fit in anywhere; animals were just easier. Given the choice between a play date or sharing a good book with a dog or cat (or even cow or pig) I almost always chose the latter.

My early years were complicated and at times, chaotic. My parents divorced when I was two. We moved about eight times before I was in fourth grade and I attended five different elementary schools. My father is also a combat veteran and has struggled with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder my whole life.

Second grade was kind of the peak of the bad stuff. We moved about a third of the way through the year. My new school was overcrowded and rundown. The teacher never bothered to learn my name and I never bothered to care. The building we lived in was chock full of single moms and broken kids. It was seventies and we were the first generation of divorced kids and it was all like a big experiment gone wrong. We had a crackpot, kleptomaniac babysitter with a serious rage problem. My dad was also in a really dark place and homeless for six months. Not a good year …

Fortunately, I left school early and went to stay with my grandparents in southern California. My grandparents were both artists and there were paintings, canvases and craft supplies everywhere. Their yard was like a southern California version of The Secret Garden – overgrown with flowers and thorns, fruit and palm trees, half-finished craft projects and canvases, broken statues, and the occasional Cannabis plant. There was a narrow path that twisted through the back corners of the yard, covered with a ceiling of thorns and brush just tall enough for a second grader to make her way through.

The story of Lucas, the dog I couldn't save and how he changed my life
istock.com/sjallenphotography

Lucas was a mid-sized, brown and black dog with medium-length fur, probably a Spaniel Border Collie mix. The picture above is not actually Lucas. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of Lucas. In real life, Lucas's legs were shorter and he had more brown in his fur, but these are the kind eyes I remember.

By that summer, Lucas had already been around a few years. My grandparents had kind of an open yard policy and dogs, cats, and occasional wildlife appeared and disappeared frequently. They were animal lovers, but in an old school way. Dogs and cats were welcome in the yard, but not in the house.

Lucas and I spent many days tucked away in the back corners of the garden, a few rays of sunlight shining through the palm trees with the smell of Eucalyptus all around us. We had picnics, napped, and made up stories and adventures. I read while he remained curled up loyally at my side. Sometimes we were just quiet, but when I called his name, he looked up and his soulful eyes were deep, brown and all-knowing. Lucas was grounded in a world that was otherwise topsy-turvy. Like so many dogs, he was all instinct: he knew what I needed, when I needed it.

Lucas the dog I couldn't save and how he changed my life
istock.com/sjallenphotography

But later that summer, everything changed when a new dog arrived. Buffy was personality plus, young, adorable, and outgoing. From the start, she was given special treatment and was allowed inside the house whereas Lucas was not. I reassured Lucas that he was still my favorite, but he grew jealous and gradually became aggressive with Buffy. Clearly, he just needed some time, extra reassurance, and training. I tried to speak up for him, but my words were jumbled and childlike and didn’t do any good. The decision was already made …

I rode with Lucas on the way to the pound and I can still feel his head resting in my lap. Lucas was incredibly wise and intuitive and I believe he understood and accepted his fate. When we entered the shelter, he grew agitated and pulled at his leash, but only for a few moments. At age seven, I certainly didn’t know about euthanasia, but something inside me knew Lucas was going to suffer and die alone and he knew it, too.

As he was led away, he looked back at me one last time. But then the warden yanked him forward and he was gone. My whole life changed in that moment and I promised him that I would find my voice and fight to save other animals from suffering a similar fate. And although my life has taken many detours, I always return to my love and passion for animals, especially misunderstood ones like Lucas.

The story of Lucas the dog I couldn't save and how he changed my life
istock.com/sjallenphotography

Lucas embodied the healing power and wisdom of animals. His friendship saved me and his loss broke my heart, but most importantly, he gave my life purpose and direction. I celebrate and believe whole-heartedly in the human-animal connection and encourage others to do the same. Some of my greatest lessons have originated at least in part from my relationship with animals – compassion, patience, forgiveness, generosity, acceptance, and the ability to live in and celebrate the moment. I’m not perfect, but these are the qualities I aspire to everyday and they can all be traced back to the summer I loved and lost Lucas.

Please do not adopt an animal if you are unable or unwilling to provide a lifetime of loving and compassionate care. If you are ready for adoption, please consider adopting or fostering a special needs dog or cat because second chances are amazing whether you are on the giving or receiving side.

If you would like to read adoption stories with happier endings, please check out my posts on adopting an abandoned dog and 
adopting a puppy mill survivor. Please also feel free to share stories of your first canine or feline love in the comments below.

Disclaimer: I loved my grandparents dearly and do not fault them for what happened to Lucas. When we know better, we do better. And thanks to Lucas and many other animals, I know better and try to do better, always.
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48 comments

  1. this is a wonderful horrible story.. and i agree, dogs are special as are cats and all 4 footed creatures. i am glad your expericence has helped so many animals... my life was much like yours, but not the divorce, but we moved a lot and i was just like you. daddy did not like animals but he allowed me to have a dog in the yard. my first dog at age 7 was from the pound. i walked along looking and Sticky Baby sat back in the corner staring at me and saying I am ugly and no one else will take me. i said i want that one. mother and daddy both said not that one. why do you want him? i said because no one else will take him. we had him for 15 or 16 years... every dog i have had over the years has been a rescue that no one else wanted. all 17 of them in 65 years

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  2. What an incredible - thought provoking story. Beautifully written. Your words speak volumes. I shall share. Thank you.

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  3. There is always one that changes your life forever. Thank you for sharing this story. Stella rose and momma

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  4. Wow. This is one of the most profound, though-provoking post I've ever read. It must have broken your heart to write this, as it broke my heart to read it. At the same time, though, it must have been very cathartic for you, and it speaks volumes to me about you and your mission and about the truth of animals and how special they truly are. Thank you so much for sharing this, and for being such an amazing person who stands up for all those animals who can't do so themselves.

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  5. Hari OM
    ...am I allowed to say... I LOVE YOU... for coming out the other side, for bringing the learning and building on it, for remembering, for improving on the 'better'... YAM xx

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  6. it was a different time when we were kids....and I think we were lucky to grow up to see things from a different perspective and bring about change

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    1. Agree completely. We're so privileged to be able to make a difference!

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  7. what a difficult thing to go through and thank you for being so honest about it. I love this post and it so true. I know of a women now who is giving up a dog she got from a breeder 12 years ago so sad

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  8. What a terribly sad story. My heart breaks for the little girl who had to lose her best friend. Lucas was a truly beautiful dog and he must have been very happy that you loved him so much.
    Lynne x

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  9. Your story is so touching. Made Mom tear up. You may not have saved Lucas in the end, but we bet you and he shared the happiest moments of his life. You both needed each other - so glad Lucas was a part of your life, even if for just a short while. Your words explain so much about the kind person you are.

    The OP Pack Mom

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  10. What a sad story but a wonderful story at the same time. Lucas made you the caring person that you are.

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  11. LANA here...

    OH KRISTEN... this is one of the very best posts I have EVER read... I think he was one of the first examples of PET THERAPY ever to be recorded... PROOF that under their FUR... beats a HEART full of UNDERSTANDING and LOVE.

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  12. What a touching story and thank you for sharing it with all of us. Though you couldn't save Lucas, your relationship with him made you what you are today...a caring advocate of animals.

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  13. We are sorry that this story ended so badly. This sort of happened to our mom too and her dog Teddy. She came home just in time to wave goodbye to him.

    Keep Calm & Bark On!

    Murphy & Stanley

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  14. That was sure a tough one, but thank you for telling it. If it reaches just one person and helps this not to happen, well, that would be a good thing.

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  15. This is a gorgeous piece of writing. It must have been difficult to get every word just right, but that's what you did. It's a very touching and wonderful tribute to Lucas. I know he'd be proud of you and the person you have become.

    Jean from Welcome to the Menagerie

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  16. I am so sorry you had to face such a harsh reality at such an early age. My heart is heavy for you. Lucas' legacy lives on in all you do for other animals. That is an amazing thing.

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  17. I can't imagine sharing this story was easy, but wow... what an amazing force it has behind it. Their time with us may be short, but what an impact those special dogs have on our life. Thank you for sharing this story, it really touched my soul.
    -Jenn

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  18. What a wonderful, yet heartbreaking story. Thank you for sharing a story from your life, and introducing us to one of the many reasons you fight for animals. You showed Lucas compassion which he may have not experienced prior to your paths crossing. This piece was a tearjerker for sure.

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  19. Thank you for sharing this story, Lucas does live on in you
    hugs
    Mr Bailey, Hazel & Mabel

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  20. I read your post this morning and thought what do I say. I measure my life in dogs for they have been the one stable constant thing I could depend on for love in my life. My first dog got me through a childhood having a schizophrenia mother and an absent father. My second dog got me through a fathers suicide and a totally mindless Alzheimer's mother death. My third has gotten me through cleaning up their messes and my own lupus diagnosis. My dogs have been the constant reliable loving thing that I have. Even my grandparent was gone when my folks divorced. It was hard putting up the picture of her horse today. I wonder often what makes the people that blog who they are ~ would I want them in my day to day life. The answer for you would be yes but there are many who I would ay no to.
    Thanks for being a friend
    Sweet William The Scot

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  21. So very very tough for a young one like you were (or an older one too). But Lucas actually lives on, in your acts of kindness to animals who need you. He's guiding you, with the same love he showed when you were a young somewhat lost little girl. Thanks for telling this. I have a somewhat similar story in my past but I've never been able to tell it - because I still blame myself, the inexperienced girl, who didn't know how to make it different.

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  22. Wow. I'm so glad you were able to turn this heartbreak into positive life work advocating for so many animals.

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  23. Thanks for sharing this story... our tears were running... that must be one of the hardest moments as he looked back the last time...

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  24. This is such a hearbreaking story. It really does explain a lot about you and why you are so passionate about animals.

    On a side note, you out owe me a mascara for thr office...sniff sniff... I must have had something in my eye.

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  25. My heart is breaking for little you. That is so sad. You have definitely kept your promise to Lucas by helping so many and being their voice. XO

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  26. That must have been a terrible experience for you. My grandparents also had a dog that didn't have a happy ending...

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  27. Such a tragic story but it made you who you are today. Lucas' purpose was to steer your life in a certain direction and he succeeded in that.

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  28. That was a great story, although very very sad. It is amazing what good friends and companions that animals can be. They sure have helped me get through life. But that is so so sad you had to give up Lucas. What a heart breaking thing to happen to a child.

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  29. I started to read this at work yesterday and almost started sobbing at my desk so I had to navigate away. Thank you for sharing such a personal and deeply moving story. You're absolutely right - when we know better, we do better. I feel I take much better care of my cats today than I did when I was in my 20's. I loved them and did the best I knew how, but now I know better. Big hugs from me and kisses and purrs from the girls.
    Dawn

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  30. What a touching story and thank you for sharing it with all of us <3
    It´s true that when we know better , we do better

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  31. So sorry... that's a hard loss, but clearly you've learned something from it and you do good for other dogs in Lucas' name.

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  32. This story brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing such a raw event in your life.

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  33. I am tearing up here...this so touched me and I wanted to reach out and save Lucas for the 7-year-old version of you. A beautiful, although sad, story. I'm so happy you had Lucas, and that Lucas had you.

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  34. What a sad but moving story, and an important one to read!

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  35. Very sad - but an important message.

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  36. Thank you for sharing your story and Lucas's story. Beautiful, yet heartbreaking, with an important message.

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  37. This is the most beautifully written post, Kristin. I'm writing my response through tears. I'm so sorry about Lucas but I'm glad he helped your young heart see something special, paving the way for your life's purpose. What an incredibly special dog!
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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  38. This is the most beautifully written post, Kristin. I'm writing my response through tears. I'm so sorry about Lucas but I'm glad he helped your young heart see something special, paving the way for your life's purpose. What an incredibly special dog!
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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  39. I'm so sorry you had to go through this, especially so young - this life experience clearly set you on your path and your mission to speak for these animals will change and save lives. Thank you for sharing this personal story with all of us.

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  40. You wrote this so beautifully! I also love the photos----they really capture the soul of your story. Lucas was so special.

    It's so hard to go through a loss like that when you're young. I came home from school one day and couldn't find our dog anywhere. I asked my mother where he was. Turned out he was euthanized because my mother thought he was dangerous. The day before he'd bit my brother's hand. What my mother didn't know is that my brother pulled our dog's tail and that's why he got bitten. As a child, I'd look up at the moon at night and write letters to the dog who was now gone.

    It is amazing how these stories and experiences shape us. I've worked for around 20 years in the veterinary field----from an animal shelter to several veterinary hospitals. Doing just what you said.....helping to spread the light and educate others on how to care for their pets. It's so satisfying to be able to tell pet owners about options they never knew they had.

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  41. This story brought tears to my eyes. The 70s were a different time period and people really didn't treat pets like they do now. Lucas definitely had a positive impact on you, even though his time with you was short.

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  42. OMG this is the first I read this post. I am so very very sorry that you and Lucas had to go through that. My heart breaks for the child you and the sweet dog that loved you.

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  43. Hi Daily Pip,
    This is beautiful and sad, tragic and inspiring, and made my heart ache for the little girl in you as well as for sweet Lucas, the hero of the story. But he taught you to be a heroin, a champion of animals and helped you through such a difficult time. I am amazed by the power and healing love of dogs. Our house is full of rescues and special needs dogs, including my Pixel.
    Congratulations on having this wonderful story be chosen as a 2016 Nose to Nose "Best Blog Post" finalist. Your story was truly wonderful!
    Jenny Lewis (Pixel Blue Eyes' Mom)

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  44. Kristin...and Angel Pip...how did we miss this original post...? I don't have a clue but my word I think I'm speechless...which is rare. This is the most heartfelt story of a love lost. At age 7 you learned about unconditional love. Lucas' short life had a purpose and the purpose has just been shown. Bless your heart this is just beautiful. I'm so very sorry you had to go through this but as the old saying goes,
    'what doesn't kill us, makes us stronger'! I never really gave much thought to it
    until today. You are stronger, you found your voice and you are an advocate for all that have no voice.
    with love
    Cecilia

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  45. Congrats on your BlogPaws win. This post is incredibly touching and I had to tell myself, "Do not cry. Do not cry." I am sorry you lost Lucas, and grateful that he left a lasting influence on your life. Although our stories are different, I can relate to the solace of a pet. For me it's always been horses. I have always felt my best and capable when I'm with them. And my dogs are my angels too. It's a different bond but I celebrate all animal bonds. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal account.

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  46. Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this. Kathy C

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