The Gift That Keeps on Giving

September 26, 2011  

Once a surprise gift at Christmas, this pit bull proves her worth as a companion and caretaker

By Valerie Sherman

Daughters are expensive and Lacy is no exception!

“Santa Claus” brought Lacy as a surprise for my daughters at Christmas 2000, without my input – or even consulting me.

I met her that morning upon arriving at Dad’s house for the obligatory “opening presents together with the kids Christmas morning” event. As parents, we loved the kids enough to spend time with them on special occasions together so that they could have both of us there to build their childhood memories. (I recommend this highly if you can work it out.)

The girls discovered Lacy early in the morning, before I arrived. After all, how do you “hide” a puppy from little girls who are keen on animals and could hear her crying from upstairs? Answer: You don’t. I was met by two squealing, joyful children bursting with excitement to share their surprise with me.

I knew this wasn’t going to be good, but I never expected a dog. I also knew right away that she was a pit bull and that “Santa Claus” was a permissive pet owner who had little or no experience assessing an animal’s temperament or health. The fact was that he tended to pick out animals based on their looks, and it was always a decision made on impulse.

We both knew the kids wanted a dog, but I lived in a townhouse that did not allow pets, and he didn’t train his animals in a way that I considered appropriate – i.e. letting the dogs eat off the plates while they were still on the table during the meal.

There was no question about it. This is a powerful breed and she needed training if she was going to be part of my children’s lives. I accepted the responsibility only on the condition that she would go with the kids on visits, and that he would be responsible for vetting her for the first year and for any emergencies that should arise.

No problem. In the end, we are all animal lovers and wanted only the best for any pet. I wanted my kids to learn that animals are not disposable, so she would not be returned or rehomed out of convenience.

She was a fearful and high strung dog from the start, but she was also smart, loving and as cute as she could be. We named her Lacy for her brindle coat that looks like brown and black lace cloth over a white surface.

The first four years were expensive. She carried bricks around instead of balls, and in doing so, she cracked a tooth that had to be pulled. That cost megabucks! She loved to run in long grass, and foxtails were a constant problem on holiday weekends. Vets are not cheap, especially when their bill is multiplied times four times in a single year.

Once she escaped through a window and animal control got involved. More money for that, of course – they have rules!

Great trainers also cost a pretty penny. More money. We are fortunate to have found a wonderful trainer named Tom. By her fifth year, we had gotten a pretty good handle on things, and she was outgrowing her adolescence.

Taking Care of Papa

Just about the time we had a good schedule going and crate training completed, we noticed that my father had begun acting strangely. He was getting lost and confused. He was diagnosed with dementia. Within two years, we had moved him in with us in a rental home. Lacy absolutely worshiped him, and she showed us – with our many elderly family members – that she understood the need to be gentle with them.

She quickly learned to “sit for Papa,” which involved positioning herself between his knees with her back against the chair so that he could pet her head. It seemed to calm him, and she always initiated it when he was agitated by his dementia. By this time, Lacy was 9, and his dementia had progressed to the point that his doctors began calling it Alzheimer’s disease. He began trying to “go home,” walking out the door with a paper bag containing a few possessions and underwear and wearing his winter coat and several caps – in the middle of summer in the Sacramento Valley.

It was becoming difficult to keep him home safely with his determination. Sadly, he was often too weak or hot to make it back to the house. Lacy gradually started barking at him as he “packed,” or she would run back and forth between me and my father as though to warn me that something was up. At first it was annoying until I realized she was “telling” me that he was starting to get in trouble. I learned to heed her warnings, but he still sometimes beat me to the door.

The police eventually suggested that we put locks on the inside of the door to keep him safe. We hadn’t done it before because we didn’t think it was legal, but if it keeps someone from harm, apparently it is. (Please note: You cannot lock in a dependent person and leave them alone; it is only legal to stop them from getting out while you’re supervising them. If they’re locked in, so must you be. That’s how the protection laws work.)

Lacy barked when he tried to get in the shower by himself, if he went out the back door alone, if he even opened the door leading into the garage. She was acutely aware of everything he did, as if she had finally found a job that suited her, and she is still good at her job.

Friend to All

Over the years we had several pet rodents, mainly rats and guinea pigs. One rat I had was afflicted with a goiter, a large growth on her neck that the vet recommended we treat with comfort measures because he felt she would not survive surgery. We had named her Dot because she had a large black dot right on her belly button. As her goiter grew in size, it became difficult for her to see over the edge of her cage bottom, and climbing had become out of the question. She was almost 3 by now, and we just kept her comfortable.

I tried to find a cage that would suit her better so that she could see what was happening around her. Rats are as sociable as dogs, and I could see she that stress was causing her to start to chew on plastic.

One night as I was fixing dinner, Lacy came into the kitchen barking. I sighed and turned off the stove, sure that Dad was doing something that bothered her. I followed her into the other room only to find Dad peacefully asleep in his armchair. Lacy was standing in the hallway looking over her shoulder, and she ran up to me barking and then returned to her position in the hallway. I’m a baby boomer raised on Lassie and Timmy, and I recognized this behavior from TV, but this was the first time that I had ever seen a dog do that in “real life!”

I asked, “What is it Lacy?” and she ran into the back bedroom and out again, barking constantly. Then she turned and ran back into the bedroom, barking again. I followed. She stood right in front of the closet and lowered her head, looking first at me and then back at the closet. I’ll never forget it. I turned on the light and there was Dot in the closet! I checked her cage and found that she had chewed right through the plastic cage bottom.

My jaw dropped in surprise at the lengths Lacy had gone to, to “fix this!” My biggest shock was still to come because although my rats were often allowed to play in the house loose, I had never trusted my dog to be alone with them unsupervised. After all, Lacy is a fast and effective ratter outside, and I just figured that she tolerated the rodent pets because I expected it of her. Now I believe that she knows the difference and that it matters to her.

Lacy has performed many other family protection behaviors, but these stand out for me.

Somewhere in our Polaroid pictures we have shots of Lacy dressed up in Grandma’s hand-me-down rabbit fur car coat and silver dress up shoes with a tiara on her head. There are many showing her with red finger nail polish and a few with soda cans balanced on her nose. She loved every minute of torture that the girls dished out in fun. Now they’re grown and gone. It’s just me, her, papa and our arthritis, but we have wonderful memories.

She’ll be 12 on Halloween this year, and she has certainly served her family well with loyalty, comfort, patience and humor. I couldn’t ask for a better dog.

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9 Responses to “The Gift That Keeps on Giving”
  1. Rumpydog says:

    What a wonderful story about a wonderful dog! Lacy is wonderful, but so are you for insisting that she be responsibly cared for. As a result she’s given you as much, if not more, than you’ve given her.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @Rumpydog Isn’t it just amazing how much our dogs give us and how they seem to know just what we need. 🙂

  2. blazer says:

    Awww! Good dog Lacy! Our dog too had a rat friend and now has a ferret friend! 🙂

  3. MacySherman says:

    Lacy has been the most amazing part of our lives!! This is really well written mom. Great memories!

    Love from Macy, Elizabeth, Roxy, Missy, Manny, Maddie, Bubba and Mr. P. !

    • ValerieSherman says:

      @MacySherman We miss you guys. Hope to get together soon…give the poochies and kitties hugs from me and Lacy. Oh and papa. I give the editing credit to the stubbydog staff.

  4. ValerieSherman says:

    To anyone reading this story, the list of pets on Macy’s post are their pets. Roxy is the pup in the pic when she was about 3 months old..she’s a chihuahua yorkie mix. Missy and Manny are pomeranians. Bubba is a black Maine Coon cat and Mr P is an orange tabby cat. Lacy got along with and learned to play with all of them.

    Lacy hasn’t met Maddie.

    On the youtube channel posted in the article are clips of Lacy playing with the “other” pets.

    My children are adults now..they have never given away any pet, no matter the circumstance. They have learned that pets are part of the family and just find a way to deal with whatever that animal brings into the household.

  5. ValerieSherman says:

    Lacy has proven herself again. A neighbor called me about a “found” baby rat. I took it in and contacted Rattie Ratz. I am getting suggestions and support..but they are also willing to take her in.

    She was found in an old car that isn’t used…and stranded on top of that car…she is only about 3 months old…abandoned and stranded..that’s like a 4 year old on the street with no care..really.

    I took her home…named her Saturn after the car and called the rescue..a volunteer came over and brought an appropriate cage for now.

    She is really sweet and surprisingly Lacy is standing guard..WOW. …I just took a pic…Lacy is so great.