Do you ever talk to your dogs? I confess. I do.
When Lucy, our Yellow Lab, turned 13, she still had her sweet disposition—but we could definitely see her growing old before our eyes. She could no longer hear well, had lost one eye to glaucoma and hated to go out in the snow because she could no longer bear much weight on her rear legs. Despite her ailments, our whole family loved her more than ever and ached with the fearful anticipation that we might soon lose her.
As an only child, I had always longed for a dog, but until my wife and I brought Lucy home from the breeder’s one night, I’d never had one of my own. My mother always had a fear of dogs—at least until Lucy worked her magic charms on her. Dogs do that for us. They help us to face the most difficult of emotions. My mother eventually learned to love Lucy as much as we all did.
By age 13, Lucy had witnessed many changes in our family. When we first brought her home, our youngest son, Dan, was just entering kindergarten; as Lucy neared the end of her life, he was a college student. Adam was 9 when Lucy arrived, and had just started to venture out into the wider world; now he was a web writer living in New York City. Lucy noticed these changes, but somehow she adapted.
A few years earlier, we’d added another dog to our household—a Jack Russell Terrier named Ruby. She was to have been a companion for Lucy and a youngster to help fill our emptying nest; as it turned out, the smaller, more rambunctious Ruby tended to overwhelm and often annoy Lucy, the grande dame, and the two never hit it off so well.
At that time, my life was changing, too. My wife, Pat, had begun a job that required extensive travel. My dad had been forced to retire at age 78 and was slowing down. My friend Glenn—then a young 55—had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. And me—I was about to turn 50, and my body reminded me of it daily.
When the boys left home that year after Christmas vacation, they feared they would never see Lucy again. Before they left, each spent tearful moments alone with her. They were saying goodbye before the fact, trying to imagine what life would be like without her. They had yet to lose anyone close to them, and Lucy gave them a chance to try on death, to anticipate their grief and to guide them into adulthood.
Lucy served as a spirit guide for me, too. She was the canine muse for this book. For several months, every morning as I awoke early attempting to write, Lucy lay peacefully by my side, inspiring me to think and feel deeply. In talking to her, I was able to express myself.
On Lucy’s 13th birthday, I thought about all the meaningful conversations we’d had—not just the normal master-dog, command-response exchanges, but soulful explorations—sometimes in my study, but also while we were alone on a trail at a favorite park. Talking to a dog can be like praying to an unknown god; to someone who understands but does not need to respond directly. With her expressive Lab face, her head cocked to one side and those imploring, amber eyes, Lucy had always been an excellent listener. She rarely interrupted or turned the conversation to herself.
This book is a collection of my conversational poems to Lucy. If you ever talk to your pet, contemplate what it means to grow old, wonder about the origins of the universe, grieve losses, celebrate the miracle of a comet at sunset, give your dog ice cream, long for reunions with old friends or talk to God or any higher power, this book may bring you some pleasure. I’m not impartial, of course, but I think these poems also are great to read to the children in your life.
—Robert Pasick, Ph.D.