“Lucy! Come here girl. Luuuuucyyy!”
I’ll never forget the first time I met a street dog named Lucy.
Hairless and emaciated, she came running down the hill out of the housing projects, happy to answer the call of the woman who’d been feeding her scraps off and on for a year.
“I named her Lucy because she’s a real sweet dog.”
I watched her run to the woman who called her, amazed that this homeless street dog managed to be so obedient and sweet, despite her near-starving condition. Discarded hypodermic needles and broken glass littered the corner where I was standing, and I’m pretty sure the exchange going on across the street was a drug deal. In my eagerness to help a stray dog, I didn’t care.
I was standing behind an abandoned building on a rough street in Richmond’s south side. I'd pulled over and parked after almost running over a tiny little stray dog, the size of a lap dog, who'd run right in front of my car. But now I'd given up trying to catch that scrappy little stray.
The woman was telling me there was no hope, that scrappy dog had eluded animal control officers for years. As we talked, I explained that I worked at a vet hospital and with rescue groups, and wanted to help the dog I’d almost run over. The woman - I never did get her name - said there was a really sweet stray that needed my help more. She'd named her Lucy.
“I would’ve kept Lucy, but they don’t let us have pets here."
“Here” was the Bainbridge Public Housing development, a nondescript group of white cinder block apartments on a hill near 28th Street. The woman explained that she fed Lucy kitchen scraps whenever she had them.
“Lucy just had puppies, but they died because she couldn’t get that sac off them in time. It was really sad to watch.”
It broke my heart to hear this. How upsetting must it be to a mama dog? I'll admit I wondered why the woman didn’t help save the puppies, but with age comes understanding. I now know that different people have different comfort levels and what seemed like an easy task to me, a veterinary technician, was probably not to others.
And when you’re living in public housing, trying to put food on the table for your children as this woman described to me, saving puppies may not be high on your priority list.
"Thank you for taking her. She'll make a real good pet for someone."
The woman cared deeply for Lucy; I saw it in her eyes and her body language as she longingly said goodbye to the dog. Lucy climbed happily into the back seat of my old Volvo.
As I drove Lucy to my vet hospital, she suddenly vomited. Oh, the smell was horrible. I had half-digested onions and pieces of bread all over my back seat. (Considering that onions are toxic to dogs, it’s a good thing she got carsick.)
I brought Lucy into the hospital and began to bathe her. My coworker came up and asked what we should name her, since we already had a mean, old cat named Lucy living there.
“Who are the other female characters in Peanuts?”
This dog wasn't a Patty. Nor was she a Sally. I massaged the flea shampoo into the dog’s hairless skin, thinking of names. Her ribs were poking out, her hip bones almost breaking through her skin, and yet she was obediently standing in the tub, obedient but hating every second of it.
She needed a special name, one that was strong but playful. A name that other female dogs wouldn’t have. And then it came to me:
"Let's name her Charlie."
Epilogue: Charlie came home to live with me, endured surgeries for bullets and eye removal and many other ailments, but through it all she was happy and stoic.
I said goodbye to Charlie on Christmas Day of 2013, after a valiant battle with cancer. I held her head in my hands, pressed my forehead against hers and silently cried as she took her last breath. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. She gave me an amazing 10 years of her life, and inspired the launch of this very business, Janery.
I will forever remain thankful to the woman who helped this incredible dog find me and become my best friend.