Twelve dogs. Thirty-two people. Utter chaos.
But what would you expect at a “Sweet 16” party for the neighborhood’s aged, treat-demanding road warrior, known to all for her staggering determination as she winds her way from one friend’s house to the next, stubbornly dragging her recalcitrant back legs…and her impatient, frequently annoyed human?
Yes, indeedy, last weekend Lucy was queen for a day. Somehow she seemed to know that all her friends had gathered in our cul-de-sac to honor her amazing longevity. At a muscle-bound 70 pounds, few would have predicted a dog her size would live so long.
Was it the daily walks that started as soon as she arrived at our home at nine months? The vet-recommended dog food? The crazy mix of breeds her recent DNA test revealed (American Bulldog, Doberman Pinscher, Llewellin Setter, German Shepherd, Norwegian Elkhound, Chow, Boxer, and Lhasa Apso)?
Or, more likely, was it her newfound joy in socializing that has given her that extra oomph to keep going…and going and going? As a youngster, Lucy eagerly approached people, but she didn’t want you to touch her. If you tried to pat her, she would pull her head away like a negative pole repelled by another negative pole. We called her “the don’t touch me dog.”
And she seemed determined to assert her dominance over other female dogs, which didn’t gain her many friends. Only a few large, brave males—like her best friend Ziggy—knew how to handle her. And those two ran lightening loops around Ziggy’s house, threatening any human knees that got in their way.
But now, in her doddering years, she has softened (some), and she seems motivated to visit with all her human and doggie friends up and down the hilly neighborhood streets. It’s quite the spectacle. I fully expect someone to call the SPCA on us for mistreating an old dog. But she sets the course—and its length. She is still strong enough and oh so stubborn enough to dictate where she goes and when.
Photos courtesy of Lynne Craft and Rick Showalter.
Much has been written lately about our epidemic of loneliness. The U.S. Surgeon General recently called it a “major public health concern.” The pandemic and its isolation, of course, broadened and deepened the problem. Our addiction to our handheld devices has also contributed. It’s just too easy to bury ourselves in a digital world and ignore the wider community.
We used to be more gregarious, perhaps by necessity. We didn’t have easy entertainment at our fingertips. One of Lucy’s favorite people (she has treats and two big, beautiful dogs) recently commented how we rarely sit on our front porches or in our yards and visit with passing neighbors. That habit has been dwindling for a couple of generations, of course.
But during the pandemic, she and her husband did exactly that. They set up lawn chairs in front of their home and allowed their yard to become an ad-hoc playground for all the neighborhood dogs. As their owners walked by, they couldn’t help but be lured by the frolicking dogs and the friendly chatter and tarry for a moment.
Research has indicated that owning a dog can improve your health, in part because a dog encourages both physical activity and social interactions. As Lucy drags me out for yet another two-mile two-hour amble, I think I’m doing it to keep her joints supple. She thinks there might be treats in it for her. In reality, we’re two crotchety old women pushing each other to expand our worlds. We’re inadvertently building a “culture of connection.”
And that’s what led to the lively scene on our street on a windy Sunday afternoon in late April, as a host of joyous friends and neighbors—two-legged and four-legged—celebrated Lucy’s special day.
As the Surgeon General pointed out, “Social connection reduces the risk of premature mortality.” With so many pulling for her, Lucy might just live forever.
Happy birthday video!
Click here to watch Lucy react to her friends singing happy birthday to her. Video courtesy of Lynne Craft.