In Honor of Lucy…

Call it the human condition.  We often  take the ones we love most for granted.  Until she was gone, perhaps I never quite appreciated how wonderful our little dog Lucy was.  However, there are many who do – and likely will never forget the joy Lucy brought to their lives.

“Wha hoo” says Lucy, our miniature Australian Shepherd, as walked into the large gymnasium-sized room at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.  Lucy spent eight years at the direction of medical professionals to help stroke, spinal cord injury and burn injury victims as a part of an animal assisted therapy program.

When Lucy walked into a room – everyone knew it, as she announced her entrance.  I was embarrassed and worked to correct this attention-seeking behavior.  But it was an effort in futility.  Lucy’s “Wha-hoo” sparked laugher.  What could I do?   And really, why would I?  A part of her function turned out to be simply to help people to laugh, who might not have had a reason to for a long time.

Once our animal assisted therapy assignment was to help a little boy – about 12 years old – to better use his voice by calling to Lucy from the other side of the large gymnasium-sized room.  Thing is, the boy was afraid of dogs.  Why would he ever want to call a dog who he was afraid of?

I tried telling a few jokes, and told the boy Lucy likes jokes and will laugh:

Q: What do you call a joking duck?

A:  wise-quacker!

Each time I told a joke, Lucy, would howl “Wha hoo.”

The jokes didn’t make the boy laugh, but Lucy did. And within 10 minutes, Lucy somehow broke the ice…and the boy quietly began to ask Lucy to “sit” or “roll over.” He was amazed that she listened to him. Lucy knew over a dozen little tricks, from “playing dead” to jumping through hoops.

Lucy visited the Rehab Institute weekly, and each week the boy seemed to gain more confidence and have more fun. We were told, he had two photos in his room, one was Michael Jordan, then with the Chicago Bulls and another was of Lucy.

In four weeks the boy achieved the assigned goal from the medical professionals – which was to call Lucy from other side of the room.  The following week, the boy called her so often – we had to stop him; he was exhausting poor Lucy.

The week after that, the little boy wasn’t there.  My wife Robin and I were worried because sometimes, in truth, the stories don’t always have happy endings.  One of the physical therapists came up to us in tears.

We thought, ‘Oh no.”

The therapist walked right by Robin and me, and went straight to Lucy with a cookie, and said “thank you.”  She then hugged us, and tearfully told us the little boy went home much sooner than expected, She credited Lucy.

The wonders of animal assisted therapy are mind boggling but definitive. No one knows how dogs like Lucy wiggle their way into the hearts of people – adults and kids - and somehow achieve success when medical professionals cannot.

Lucy wasn’t a dog who liked to snuggle, except for when she was working– and her job was to sit next to sick child – which she would do as long as asked.

Sometimes Lucy’s animal assisted therapy successes were dramatic, sometimes more subtle.  No doubt there are families who still tell stories of the little dog who made them smile, or helped them on their way to recovery.

Lucy came to us as an 8-week-old blue-merle puppy.  Lucy was – named for Lucille Ball – so, no wonder she made people laugh.  I can’t count how many times with a group of children, I’d ask them to holler the name of a language, any language – German, Swahili, whatever…  My contention was that Lucy could speak them all.  And somehow, without any discernable cue from me, Lucy would “Wha-hoo” as they’d offer up a language.

So one child may offer Japanese, and Lucy would “Wha-hoo”.

Then another, say Australian, and Lucy would reply “Wha-hoo.”

I am telling you – I am sure I was giving her some cue, but honestly, after a time I had no idea what that was.  Lucy just knew it was time to play this game.

Lucy was euthanized May 2, just a few weeks shy of her 16th birthday.  Our veterinarian commented, “She was lucky to have you and Robin.”  Actually, we were lucky to have the little funny dog who made people laugh.

To honor our dog, the American Humane Association has created the Lucy Fund, to provide recognition and assistance to animal assisted therapy dog dogs.  American Humane is also naming an award in Lucy’s honor at the Hero Dog Awards. Please consider contributing to help all dogs who do this important work:   www.americanhumane.org/lucy.


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Positively Expert: Steve Dale

Steve is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant who has written several books, writes several syndicated newspaper columns, hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "National Geographic Explorer," and "Pets Part of the Family."


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  • Robyn Ruffier

    Help me! Hi Victoria, I have an 7.5mo old pit bull, Eloise and our 6yr old pit, Henry. We are having the hardest time getting Eloise housebroken. We take her out very frequently and yet she still poos on the carpet and piddles on the floor. She piddled all over the couch the other day and today she piddled in the middle of our bed right in front of me! I am at my wits end. She is such a sweet dog in so many other ways. Can you help?

    Sincerely,

    Robyn Ruffier
    8/6/2011

  • Colleen

    I was touched by your telling of Lucy's story (even teared up a bit). Dogs are such magical, mysterious creatures that bring us joy and love. You were right -- you are the lucky ones to have had the pleasure of her company all those many years.

  • Dyane Kirkland

    I loved reading Lucy's story, and of the impact she made on lives. My Sunny, a Bichon Frise, also did animal assisted therapy during his life. His goal, like Lucy's, was to make people laugh, and he started with me. Through depression, losses, uprooting and other human turmoils, he was the one I could count on to be there, to help me make it through. His love and spirit taught me things about life that are of use to me and others. He made his mark on other lives, and I'm sure he's remembered. He was sent to rest in April 2009, at 15, with liver cancer. His last weeks he had not clowned at all, but once the pain medication kicked in, for a short while before the final injection, I had my laughing, loving Sunny back to say goodbye. They give us so much, and they humble us with their talent and their love. I miss him, as I know you miss Lucy, and always will. But you have the memories, and the good stories, and they will help you go on. Best wishes!

  • Joyce Cuyjet

    I was very touched by Lucy's story. It brings memories of my own blue merle male Collie, Silver. He too was a therapy dog, and visited nursing homes and Hospice. He had such a sweet gentle personality and loved the attention he received from patients. They momentarily forgot their plight and were able to smile through their pain. Silver loved everyone and everyone loved Silver.

    Silver was rescued from the local county shelter. He was 5 years old when we met and he came home with me that very day. Silver and I had a special bond and we enjoyed an additional 5 wonderful years together. I loved him dearly and he loved me. My final act of love was letting him be relieved of his suffering from the cancer that was ravaging his body. I didn't even know.He always seemed the same. Overnight, he developed a high temperature. The vet took Xrays of his chest and discovered he was filled with cancer. Saturday 8/6/11, I had to say goodby to me sweet, gentle, beautiful boy.

  • Glenn Ridgewell

    I was reading your story about Lucy and it made me smile, I have a 1 year old collie called Bella she too has a howl like Lucy, again it is almost like she is calling out for attention but it always makes me and everyone who comes into contact with her smile and laugh, I don't think I will ever stop her doing this it is an endeering quality that makes up her personality and if it makes people smile then it's a good thing.

  • Jo Ward

    Wonderful story!

  • Ron

    I was heartened to see an Aussie on your post, and then reaffirmed of the intelligence they bear. I have had one for just over 2 yrs, as the 3rd owner, and I fell in love with how easy Mickey took to me. The previous owners had him for 5 yrs, but they couldn't tell me what kind of dog he was. It wasn't until his hip dysplasia when I did research and found that he was an Aus. Shep. What astounded me the most was that without knowing any of his habits or quirks, he had a way of communicating to me if he needed something. Admittingly, he was a rebound dog for me, shortly after losing Khoury, my mother's Chow. I would have to add the 2 short years I had Mickey, I realized that Australian shepherds will be my favorite breed of dogs. So when I am ready, I would like to get another one for a full 13 yrs. Thanks for sharing Lucy's story with us.

  • Tony S.

    Thank you for sharing the wonderful story of Lucy's time here. She will be missed even by those who had not the pleasure of her company. God bless.

  • Joanie

    Thank you for that heartfelt story about Lucy. I got my very first puppy approx 2 years ago, I decided as an adult it was time to experience having a dog and having him from puppyhood. I could NEVER have anticipated the joy that Cody has brought to not only me, but neighbors, friends, my elderly Mom and just about everyone he comes in contact with. I AM SO SO BLESSED!

  • I have toy aussies. This was heart felt. When the vet said, she was lucky to have you Robin it hit home. I have therapy dogs and dog actors. I have a mix and a beagle and now my 2 aussies. Thanks for the story. My web site will be up in the fall. Hope you come for a visit.

  • Pingback: The World Honors Lucy at 100, Victoria Stilwell Honors Our Dog Lucy | Steve Dale's Pet World()

  • Beth

    Loved reading Lucy's story. The love you have for her jumps out as one reads the tribute so lovingly written about her. What a special girl with such a great spirit she was.

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