Lucy Lucy Come Home

by Donald W. Hyatt

Lucy has had a difficult life. She was one of 110 miniature collies, or Shelties, rescued by the Humane Society in northern Virginia in early 1989. The woman charged in this famous animal abuse case ran a puppy mill from her utility room where she continuously raised Sheltie pups for retail sale. In an environment reminiscent of a Nazi concentration camp, the animals suffered terrible abuse. Living in stacked cages, the dogs were filthy, malnourished, and disease ridden. The woman debarked the dogs by hand, cramming sharp implements down their throats to destroy vocal chords so that neighbors would not suspect how many animals were in her home. The private home was not licensed to run a kennel.

When the Humane Society finally made its raid, officials decided that some of the dogs had to be destroyed. Many could not walk or even stand since they had not been out of their cramped cages in nearly eight years. Lucy was one of the lucky ones. She was a survivor. In fact, her will to live was so strong that shortly after her rescue, she chewed through a leash and escaped from a Humane Society foster home. For two months, Lucy was occasionally seen in the Springfield area of northern Virginia living by her own wits, a homeless dog looking for any scrap of food she could find along the road. Then one day, during an especially severe storm, Lucy sought refuge in a basement room of a Springfield couple, log-time friends of our family. Soon afterwards, Lucy made her way to her current owner, me, a school teacher in northern Virginia.

Ever since that time, I have tried to undo that emotional trauma. Progress was slow: first came acceptance, eventually came love and trust, but there were many setbacks. Abused animals are much like abused children; emotional scars can run deep, often taking many years to overcome.

On December 8, 1995, Lucy had another setback. When I had to go out of town for a week to attend a computer conference in California, I decided to leave Lucy with my brother's family, fifty miles away in the Fredericksburg area. I did not want to subject Lucy to the horror of confinement in a cage at a kennel. Lucy was surrounded by familiar faces, pets she knew and liked, and she had stayed there on occasional weekends before with no problems. All went well for several days, but then the day when I was due back, Lucy apparently decided she could wait no longer. She unexpectedly bolted out of the house when my sister-in-law opened the door to let the cat inside. Lucy was heading for home.

That same day, the weather in the region turned bitter cold with occasional snow, sleet, and freezing rain, but Lucy was on the run, heading north toward home. The second or third day out, though, she apparently broke her left front leg, probably falling through the ice in one of the many swampy areas which had started to freeze. Every two or three days, there were sightings of a little miniature collie limping along busy highways or travelling with other dogs. Since Lucy has no front teeth due to a prior nutritional problems,is not a hunter, and cannot bark, she tried to survive as she had done before, living off of scraps of food found in the trash along the road. Lucy made friends with any dogs she came across, but because of her fear of people, she shunned all human contact. Although in severe pain, she would not let anyone help her.

For nearly three weeks, Lucy was occasionally spotted in a 100 square mile region bounded by the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg to the south, Interstate 95 and Route 1 to the west, railroad tracks and a swamp to the east, and several smaller rivers and the town of Stafford to the north. Each time there was a sighting, I would travel the fifty miles south to Fredericksburg hoping to catch sight of Lucy. I would often spread 25 pounds of dry dog food in any area where Lucy had been seen so that she might find something to eat if she happened back that way. Although family members and those in animal control were skeptical, I was sure that Lucy would come to me if we could meet face to face. For weeks, I drove every road in the region hoping to spot Lucy. My brother, Glenn, and I walked through large tracts of woods frequented by hunters, and we passed out flyers in the local high school offering a reward for information leading to Lucy's successful return. There was no success. There were a number of amusing anecdotes during my search, such as the Christmas Eve Story.

Finally, as the record blizzard of 1996 was gathering strength for its journey east, there was yet another sighting. This time, my niece and her boy friend actually spotted Lucy along the side of the road picking through trash, looking for something to eat. Unfortunately, Lucy would not even come to them, people she knew, but instead ran off into the woods.

Later that afternoon, the animal control warden located me as I was driving around the spot of the last sighting. He told me that Lucy had been seen again, about five miles away. I followed the warden down a dirt road, and the warden told me to go back into the woods toward a rather large stream. He remided me that Lucy may not come to me either, but it was about our only chance. She may have returned to a wild state.

Brimming with emotion, I made my way among the trees and brambles. As I reached the steep bank of the stream, I finally spotted Lucy. I wondered whether she would run from me as she had from all others, or would she remember. As I waded across the stream and climbed the bank on the other side, Lucy recognized me and seemed excited. When I finally reached her, Lucy did not run, but stood there with broken leg raised. She pushed her head against my leg and closed her eyes. I carefully picked her up, and slowly made my way back to the car. Lucy was finally going home.

Xrays taken by the veterinarian showed that Lucy had broken both bones in her forearm. The radius was in separate pieces, but the ulna was still hanging together by a small sliver of bone. The vet was able to reset the leg, and Lucy was on the mend. During her ordeal, Lucy lost over one third of her body weight. As the "Blizzard of the Century" moved in that next weekend, I sat with Lucy sporting her new cast, and we enjoyed some quiet time at home eating gourmet meals and watching the snow accumulate to nearly three feet deep. Now, a year later, Lucy's leg has fully healed and she has regained her weight. Each morning, we even jog together a mile and a half, but a little more slowly than we did before. It was good to have her home again.

Note: Lucy died on March 25, 2001, at the approximate age of 14. She showed no signs of illness until three weeks before her death, but then declined quite rapidly and passed in her sleep on a sunny afternoon from apparent cancer. I have lost a good friend.
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Copyright © Donald W. Hyatt