Like our previous two dogs, she was a bit of an accident. We were looking at getting a third dog, and thought a male puppy would be a good choice. Terra was very bossy with other female dogs, and we didn’t want to adopt a dog that would just be dominated all the time. So we looked at the county paper, saw that there were some puppies up for adoption, including a handsome brindle male. Boxer/pit mix, was the speculation. Out we went.
But just as with the Lab before, the dog we came home with wasn’t the one we set out to get. The males from the litter had been adopted. There was a female, though: a cute, curious creature with dark brindling, who was getting stepped on a little by the puppies she was sharing a corral with. We spent a little time with her, in which she was more interested in exploring the broom closet than hanging out with us. And we decided to take her home. During the adoption process, she pooped on the office rug — well, fair warning, that’s what happens when you adopt a puppy. Her prison name was “Scooter,” but since she was advertised as a boxer/pit mix, we thought she might wind up looking like Terra, something like an African wild dog. So we named her Lycaeon Pictis, or Lyca for short. No, it wasn’t short for Lycanthrope, nor was it “Laika” — it was an individual name for what turned out to be a very individual dog.
She wasn’t what we expected as she grew up. For one, to our relief Terra never had problems with her. In fact, Lyca seemed to bring out Terra’s maternal instinct, so Lyca quickly figured out there was a lot of advantage to being “the puppy.” She would be a professional puppy all her life, squeaking and acting submissive and being very jealous of other dogs who tried to be lower on the totem pole than her.
She also wasn’t a boxer/pit mix. To the best of our knowledge, she was a Ploxer — one part Plott hound, one part boxer. It was a strange and wonderful combination. At some times she’d be gregarious and friendly like a boxer, squeaking at everyone in sight. Then her inscrutable hound nature took over and it was off for some alone time. We called her “fey beast,” because she was sometimes a boxer and sometimes a hound and sometimes she even acted feline. She loved to go up to a party at my parents’ house, and then she was ready to go home twenty minutes later.
She was quite the huntress — growing up in the mountains, she caught rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, even a wild turkey chick, although she wasn’t the best at killing them always, and Terra had to show her what to do with a squirrel once. She loved running with the groundhog-hunting expeditions my mother’s hound would lead late at night. Sometimes she’d miss dinner, out running with her second pack. A couple of times she missed breakfast the next morning, too. She had two different barks for different prey. One was her “It’s up a tree!” bark for squirrels — she’d tree a squirrel, and then sit at the base of the tree for hours. The other, more immediate bark was her “It’s down a hole!” bark for chipmunks. I could tell they were different, and so could the other dogs — “It’s up a tree!” meant the chase was over, but “It’s down a hole!” meant they could still get it. Sometimes they did. And eventually she figured out that we would take her nasty carrion prizes away from her, and give her treats for it. She didn’t even try to eat the last chipmunk she killed, when we had just moved into our new Atlanta house. She left it out in the yard, perhaps waiting for an opportunity to barter.
She got into the pork fat after the Easter barbecue one year, and after a bout of explosive diarrhea was afraid of her own farts ever after. She tore off toenails trying to climb trees, and learned to distrust the vet after an assistant accidentally clipped the quick. When we changed the rules so that peeing on the floor didn’t automatically mean a free trip outside, she housetrained herself in the space of a single day. She’d lie quietly on a couch with her chin on the armrest so she could watch goings-on without moving — “sniper mode,” we called it.
She was, in effect, a strange and beautiful and sweet creature, and there was nothing else like her in the world. They all are.
Saying goodbye to Lyca was murder. She wasn’t our first dog to die. She wasn’t First Dog. But she was our puppy, and when she was trapped in a body that wouldn’t work, unable to do anything but sit up to eat or drink or be carried outside to potty, she was depressed and miserable. Looking after this poor, sad, crippled dog was the worst Christmas ever, and frankly I’d give up all Christmases for the rest of time if I could have gotten a couple more years of health out of her. It hurts so much not to have her around any more — but it also is a great relief to know she’s not suffering. That’s the best we can hope for.
And we’re going to do it again. I miss her so much, but our surviving dog is going to need a new companion. We’re going to open ourselves up to heartbreak again. It’s awful that there will never be another Lyca — but I’m so grateful for what we got.