For the love of dog

The Four Ages of Lucy

Today Lucy is 10. That’s about a millennium in hamster years.

We will be spending the morning in Rushcutters Bay park with Grandma – a walk, a dip in the seaweedy corner with a stick or two (Lucy that, is; not Mrs F) and then a coffee and something small and delicious (for us that is; not Lucy – that would be a step too far) at the café by the tennis courts.

‘Grandma’.

To Lucy’s credit and my embarrassment, she now recognises this anthropomorphically challenged term, displaying the requisite Labrador-y joyous anticipation whenever it is uttered.

Full-body wag.

We met on a Sunday afternoon nearly 10 years ago. The silver fox was working on a refit at the snooty Scanlan & Theodore boutique de fasseeon in Paddington and kept coming home talking about the hot manager there. Turns out that the manager was only the half of it (sadly, only in his dreams). It was her dog – noble of head, green-eyed and velvet-brown, sitting serenely beside her in the shop – that he really wanted.

When the fox and I met – when he was more brown than silver, and I more brown than blonde – we were both newly minted puppy owners. Our respective friends had recognised a gap in our then-separate lives and taken pity on us. Neither of us was getting any, so we got a dog instead.

Mine was Annie, an intense, bordering-on-psychotic blue heeler who, from an early age, could amuse herself for hours by throwing her own ball from the top of the stairs of my shared terrace house in order to retrieve it.

Hours.

His was a shiny, coal-black, streetwise mutt called Judy, who spent the first six months of her life living in the back of his maroon VF Valiant, chewing through the back seat. There’s still never been a better $20 spent at Paddy’s Markets.

Annie was named for Annie Hall. I was going through a Woody Allen revival period, so sue me.

Judy is the Liverpudlian slang for ‘girl’. The silver fox has always been way cooler than me.

The four of us moved in together and lived in relative harmony for about 15 years, despite Annie’s fruitless attempts to cattle-dog Judy into bovine submission.

But then we were just two again – our first-generation family gone within a year of each other, ashes scattered solemnly and tearfully into the ocean at Little Bay.

Our official mourning lasted for three months after Judy died, cradled in my arms on the floor of the vet’s, just like Annie had a year before her. Such an aching loss, holding that soft, empty weight.

Those three months were a sad time of dog-lessness, of solitary walks and un-thrown sticks. Being a dog owner changes you in so many subtle and complex ways. I can no longer walk past a stick without appraising it for its throwability, for example.

But I digress. During those dark days, unknown to me, the quick brown fox had been, in his quaint, one-digit way, surfing the dogosphere to find a puppy of the same suave cut as that Scanlan & Theodore model.

So, on that fateful Sunday 10 years ago, we took a leisurely, middle-aged country drive to visit a place he’d been stalking online, which happened to have a couple of chocolate Labrador puppies available. Just to look, mind.

Lucy – noble of head, green-eyed and velvet-brown – felling us with a single blow the moment she curled up on the silver fox’s lap to sleep as we drove carefully back to Sydney. New parents bringing the baby home in a Doris Day movie.

And so has developed a deeply rewarding and loving relationship, weighted slightly in Lucy’s favour, despite every effort on her part to self-harm by ingesting dangerous substances. Indeed, we’ve managed to keep her in better condition than we’ve ever been in, or are ever likely to be if we make it to 70. That’s 490 in dog years.

Happy birthday, Lucy.

‘Lucy, after Warhol’, with thanks to Dan Peterson