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Luka

Angel Baby

Luka

A Retrospective

August 2nd, 2017 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

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I feel that I need to begin with with a disclaimer, just in case Luka is watching what I am doing. By putting some of our experience into words, I know I diminish it to what is knowable, and most of it is not. I recognize that. It has been a close, tender, resilient life: a deep and ineffable way of being. Writing is SO undoglike that the essence is totally lost.

I found Luka at the Oregon Humane Society in Portland after he had been collected off the streets of Salem when he was about nine months old. I loved him immediately and could sense his zen and dignity from the way he was in his kennel (in the “yellow pod”), with erect posture and pointy ears. He sat against the wire, near the aisle where people could come along and touch him. His space was extremely clean, and he seemed stable and sweet. I was lucky to have found him that day and put my name in, because after I did, a huge waiting list for him developed. During the period when he was having his microchip inserted, was given shots, and was neutered, I visited every day and we would take short walks in the yard. It was hard to leave him. When the day finally came that I could take him home, he was shy about the car, so I had to lift him in. Once home, we came in the back door, through the kitchen, and he just stood there, not wanting to venture farther. I let him hang out in the kitchen for a day or so, but then I had to block it off so he would explore the house. I sleep upstairs, but he would not walk up the stairs, so I moved to the downstairs bedroom so we could sleep near each other. When a friend visited three weeks later, I gave her that room, and for the first time, he walked the stairs to be with me. I felt at that point, we were starting to figure this out. He was boundary sensitive and maybe had some attachment stuff going on. Not sure. I’d never experienced that with any dogs in my sphere. It makes sense though. Who wants to go live with a stranger?

A couple months later, we started an obedience course because Luka was hell on the leash. In fact, just a couple of days after he came home, I called the Humane Society nearly in tears because he was pulling so hard I thought he was going to choke. (My neighbor once called out to me as we walked back home on the sidewalk “Hey, is Luka rock climbing?” because of the crouching and straining–) Of course, I eventually figured out that only a harness would work for him (as it does for all rock climbers). Duh. It seems like such an obvious thing now. In the obedience class, he was so tuned in and easy. The biggest gain I made was learning how to work with eye contact. Even a few months in, Luka would not look at me, and I was sad about that, but after practicing some training tricks, we busted through somehow, and soon, he was checking in with me and we were becoming more connected. (Such a distance from who he became: Mr. I-Love-You gazer.) The one behavior that was a little problematic all his life was the need to eat cat, and even though there are all these ways you can supposedly train your dog not to be distracted, I still don’t believe that it’s a trainable thing unless your guy already has a predisposition for quelling the urge.

So there were definitely a few feline scrapes throughout the years. The first time, on an almost-full-moon Halloween night, he injured and treed one that had wandered into my friend Joe’s yard. We had to call the fire department to get it down and then search the neighborhood for an owner. (Did you know cat rescues are at the top of the list of all fire department calls?) Luckily, we found the owner and the cat ended up eventually being OK. The second time was also on Joe’s block when I was away for a week. He caught and injured a cat by bolting down the street. (Have I said Luka was FAST?) Again the cat was OK, but I had to pay the vet bill and beg Animal Control not to put Luka on their Most Wanted list. (The owners had reported it, so I also had to beg them to retract.) The third time was also on Joe’s block, but I intervened in time to get mightily bitten up by the cat in question, who was clenching Luka’s neck. And finally, the fourth time was in our own driveway. A cat had wandered under the parked car one night, and Luka went for it when we were coming back from our walk. He chased it into rose bushes, and when he was back in the light, I noticed a swelling around his eye, so I took him to Dove Lewis, the animal hospital. (Jeez, as I write this it is starting to warm up here, and my immediate thought is that I need to close things and turn on fans so Luka will be comfortable.) The specialists there discovered that his cornea had been punctured. Luckily it was from the cat’s toenail and not from a rose thorn, so it was a clean in-and-out with no little pieces of debris. We began an eye care regimen for weeks that included a specialist at the same veterinary clinic where he would have his chemotherapy this year. The eye healed perfectly, and that was the beginning of a trust I now have in vets. I am always skeptical, yes, and ask millions of questions because Luka is my love, but I have found his treatment over the years to be, by and large, extremely caring and of high quality. Anyway, overall, four cat scrapes in thirteen years I figure isn’t too bad a number for a guy who’d eat a moving cat for every meal. (Funnily, a cat sitting frozen, at least in the last couple of years, has had much less appeal.) The moving squirrel was also irresistible. A dead one was once delivered to the kitchen floor, and another was left in the yard. Others might find the small-prey drive to be reprehensible, but there was always this beautiful wildness about Luka that I admired and loved so much. (I notice that I keep switching verb tenses. Clearly, I haven’t quite processed the difference between present and past yet; he is everywhere.)

Once he moved into a more adult phase, he became very protective of me and the house and had an excellent alarm voice. His playful puppiness in the dog park has remained his whole life, but I had to learn a lot about dog body language and the different kinds of approaches that signified dominance and submissiveness. If the approach from another dog was at the nose, Luka would always challenge him. Although he was never what you would call aggressive, it could scare other owners. If the greeting was at the rear-end or in the groin, we were good. Luka’s nose was a relationship map. Even if he hadn’t seen a dog for a couple of years, if they had been buddies as pups, there was no meet-and-greet before jumping into a romp session; once a friend, always a friend. At home or at someone else’s house, there was never a struggle and Luka usually played a submissive role if the other dog wanted to be dominant—he would give up his food, give the other dog a wide berth, and stick tightly to me—sort of like the way he was with little kids. He’d always let them touch and pet. He thought little babies smelled interesting, and he would play with anyone wanting to play, but he tended to give the little ones more space than he gave to adults he liked, on whom he would lean for some love. I think that with known human friends, there was just a tacit understanding of the expectation. With them and with other dogs, he was clearly following a code that took me awhile to understand, and I loved his complexities. When I was not around, he was a perfect playmate, apparently. He went to doggie daycare all his life until the amputation, and they said he was always friendly and silly, so I think the alpha hackles were more about protecting me from others. It any case, we started going to the dog park at night.

Around 9:00 each evening, Luka ramps up to go outside. In the more recent months, we have just gone for long walks, but before all this drama, he was a superb retriever. He would never quit fetching his glow-in-the dark ball unless I deemed it time to go—thirty throws, forty throws, whatever–always dropping it at my toe. (It did take about a year to get to that point, which I always forget—throwing the ball and then fetching it myself . . . ) Tonight will be my first night of walking without him. Even last night, we walked down toward the park but stopped outside it and just sat. Luka took in the neighborhood, observed the squirrels on the electric wires, the frozen cats looking back, the way the breeze moved the leaves. It has been much like this the past couple of weeks. Mid-walk, he’ll just stand and smell and look around, absorbing more than questing.

I have spent so much of my life with Luka trying to learn him and his perfect sensibilities and his intuitive knowledge about others and our surroundings. When I was in my twenties, I had a border collie who had a completely different way of being. He was submissive and really liked tricks and toys and things, sort of what you grow up thinking family dogs are—go to the dog park, play with others nicely, toss around squeaky stuff, etc. Luka has taught me so much more about boundaries and loyalties and quiet observation and consistency of core. It has been an unbelievably deep journey of love and friendship. I have never loved anyone this well or this long, and no one has ever known me like he did. I know the best that I am able to do for him now is to carry these lessons into my world and when I lose my balance somewhere to tap in to him.

Late Monday evening, when the vet came, he had a peaceful send-off in the dimly lit living room. I stuffed my face into his ruff to try to memorize his smell, and took long inhales of his pads, whose natural scent resembles vacuum bag. I adore it. It was hard for me to believe her, that he was really gone, and I felt like I could still see his sweet tummy expanding and contracting. The vet said that we see what we have always known. A little rustle of the leaves has become his toenails–his soft approach to wherever I am in the house. A shadow at his height—he is around the corner. 5:00 arrives and I can only think of him waiting for dinner, wanting to go out. The back door is open; he must be outside sniffing the yard, gazing at the fence top: the squirrel line. A bothersome fly. Will he snap at it? The mail just came. Where is the alarm? (Luka would bite the mail from the inside of the slot.)

I watched my baby be swaddled on the stretcher, his spirit having taken flight somewhere I could not see. His head lay on a pillow, his ears perked, and his eyes sleeping slits, sealed with his orange lashes. He is so beautiful, and he was at that moment, too. He is my heart, and I will do my unsatisfactory human best to move his spirit into the world.

A few of the more tangible lessons from Luka:

Marking leaves a powerful scent but will only last until the next rainfall. Don’t get attached to your glory.

Step away from the bone so your guest may have it. There will be another. Or there won’t. Whatever.

Your toy is cute, but I don’t want one.

Stand on a friendly human foot. Then lean.

Bark loudly at intruders and imposters and never trust a big stick.

Don’t jingle the keys unless you mean it.

You need only three things: food, your pack, and a place to sleep.

Know who your real friends are and let them know you.

Stay alert.

Licky kiss a little but not too much.

Play hard. Run as fast as you can. Jump for joy, somersault after the ball. Be silly.

Sleep in your own bed.

The smallest humans leave the biggest crumbs. Eat from their shirts first.

If you need some space, take it. What are you waiting for?

Sighing feels good.

Accept help when you have to.

Look closely. Listen through all the night’s sounds. Smell everything.

Trust that three legs will do. Or better, don’t even think about it.


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2 Comments so far ↓

  • jerry

    Whoooooaaaah. Lisa, I have tears forming in my eyes right now, you have captured the essence of Luka so beautifully. I never had the honor of meeting your sweet boy but he will be unforgettable in my heart and soul. What a ride you had with him!

    They say that the toughest dogs to raise end up being the ones we cherish most. Clearly it’s true. Luka had so many challenges but he overcame them because you and he were the greatest team there ever could have been. You were brought together to lean on and support one another and you both evolved into wiser souls when it was over.

    But I know it’s not over, it never will be. Luka’s little signs are everywhere and as heartbreaking as it is that his body is no longer in your home, his spirit will always be part of your daily life. You have learned his lessons well and I have no doubt you will do him proud by carrying them into the rest of your life.

    We are so sorry for your loss. But thank you for allowing us to be part of your world with your one of a kind Luka. He will be missed, but never, ever forgotten.

    xoxo

  • misterrustybucket

    Lisa,
    I just read your beautiful, beautiful post for Luka and am incredibly moved by your love for your boy. What a captivating spirit, your Luka. There may have been a waiting list for him but he quite clearly had to be yours. I love your story about how the two of you came to accept each other and understand each other’s needs. You had a very special and very deep bond that will never be broken. I loved Luka’s lessons and will cherish them and him – your big beautiful orange furry cat catcher.
    I am very sorry for your loss but very happy for you because you have known true love, true friendship, true and lasting connection and you did not miss it, you did not waste it or let it pass you by. You soaked up every minute, every morsel of Luka.
    Thank you so much for sharing his story, I am the better for knowing it.
    ❤️Amy & Rusty

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