December 20, 2009


Lucky, Lucky, Lucky

By Jan Gamm for for

Lucky is a rescue case. He narrowly escaped being destroyed when his previous owner got too drunk one night to keep the vet’s appointment. She was moving to Australia the following week and would not pay his fare, preferring to put an end to his life. When we heard about her intention to have him put to sleep, we stepped in and said we would take him in.

We had never seen him. For all we knew, he might have been vicious but as we had no young children we thought it worth the risk. I had a passing thought that I hoped he would not be plug ugly and waited for him to arrive.

He was plug ugly.

He was one of those dogs you see hanging around on street corners begging for scraps. His fur was a dirty grey; clipped close to his body. His legs were spindly and sparsely covered with matted, dirty fur and he smelled bad. He was quite large but skinny; his haunches stuck out and although he tolerated our touching him, he cowered away when we touched the top of his head.

“Where are his things?” I asked.

“Oh, well, I brought his bowl and a bag of biscuits to keep him going for a week. He sleeps outside”.

“No, I mean: where are his brushes and combs and toys?”

“Nah – he doesn’t like toys. He’s no trouble – he might play with a ball”.

She was not in the least interested. I insisted she walk him around our garden before she left which seemed to annoy her. I wanted him to understand that she was leaving him here with us, hoping he would not run away as soon as she had gone. She took him around the perimeter of our garden, thanked me perfunctorily for taking him in and promptly left.

He had a dirty metal bowl, a frayed collar, an extender lead and a bag of biscuits to his name. He had not been castrated (I had been assured that he was), he twitched and trembled, seemed to spend a lot of time scratching and at the slightest sound ran for cover behind a chair.

He had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen.

The first night, he escaped through the open gate at the end of the drive and tried to find his way home. A search party found him trotting happily along one of the busiest roads in town but he seemed happy enough to be rescued and settled a little better after that, although if the gate was left ajar he would try to make a run for it.

In an effort to curb his desire to wander, I booked an appointment at the vet to have him castrated. Amazingly, his shots had been regular and the vet’s address was on the card. Fortunately, he loved being in the car so getting him there was easy enough. I left him with the receptionist and was told to come back to collect him that afternoon.

I was given a frosty welcome. The vet knew the dog from a puppy and was pretty sure I was not the owner. I explained the situation and his attitude melted. The news, however, was not good.

“Señora, this dog is very sick. He is full of parasites, fleas and tics – thousands of them. I have done the operation and he will be recovered in a day or two but unless you can get rid of the fleas, he will die soon. The fleas are inside as well as outside and his skin is infected on his legs. He twitches because the itching is driving him crazy. I can give you special shampoo for his skin. He must be bathed at least once a week with the shampoo and some pills for the fleas which will make him very ill; the highest dose that it is possible to give without killing him. If he lives, he will always be twitchy and nervous. He is going to be a lot of problems for you and very hard work”.

I groaned but agreed to take the pills and the shampoo home with me, along with my twitching and trembling house guest, now limping from the effects of being castrated.

He followed us everywhere, which we found slightly annoying. Once he decided this was to be his home, he explored it happily, trotting around and marking his territory, acquainting himself with the local stray cats who wandered through the orchard from time to time; in an all out brawl, he always fared worse.

The pills were terrible. After his weekly dose he would lay on his side for a full two days, unable to move, unable to eat, his eyes sad, looking at us, begging us to help. Please help me. We gave him the full dose and petted him through the worst days. The baths were terrible. He had a horror of water and fought our attempts to get him into the bath. If the hose was being used in the garden he would run, petrified. We found out later his previous owner’s teenage boy would turn the pressure hose on him for fun. The shampoo smelled awful and took the skin off our hands. Slowly, slowly, he began to improve.

He had been sleeping on a blanket but when his flea condition began to improve, we brought home a proper doggy bed and he beamed at us, wagging his entire body with delight, turning it this way and that, pushing his nose beneath it and proudly sitting in the middle of it: Is this really for me? He slept in his bed at night in the sitting room but as soon as he heard us moving in the mornings, would come to the stairs, asking to be let into the bedroom where he could beg for the biscuits we took with our morning coffee.

One day, about six weeks after his arrival, we brought home a squeaky toy – a rubber replica of a baby’s bottle in bright colors. His behaviour was disturbing to say the least. He started to cry! We watched, fascinated as he yelped and whined and washed the toy, turning it in his paws, carrying it around the room, then settling with it in his paws again, whining and yelping and crying. We tried to take it away, worrying that it had upset him but he cried until we gave it back to him.

He had never been given anything in his life, we concluded: Lucky’s babies were born.

Lucky got a new ‘baby’ regularly, about once a month, still in its bag from the pet store. He would turn wheels in delight and open the bag himself; tossing the toy around the room and playing ‘catch me’ if we joined in. Lucky was on the mend. Slowly he inveigled himself into our bedroom at night under the ruse of being scared of fireworks and he slept on his bed in the corner.

His fur grew. He put on weight. He slowly lost his fear of the bath. The brushes and combs we used on him daily brought his coat to a shine and his natural coloring came through – pure white and ginger patching – his long coat reaching almost to the floor – time to get him clipped. We took him to the local doggy groomer and when he emerged at the end of the afternoon, the ugly duckling had turned into a beautiful, albeit comical, swan.

He loved the car and would draw comment wherever we went. He loved being petted and fussed on his walks and his favorite walk was along the seafront, where he could sniff the delightful food smells from the local restaurants and be petted by the local kids out skating and cycling. He would give his paw and enjoy all the oohs and ahhs and compliments - playing to the gallery.

It had been almost six months: time to go back to the vet for his annual shot and to see if there was any trace of fleas.

We sat in the waiting room. The vet passed through on his way to a treatment room and stopped dead in his tracks, delight all over his face. He said something in Spanish, still smiling, and squatted on the floor next to Lucky, offering his hand and receiving the usual outstretched paw.

“This is what love can do”, he said.

No fleas; no infections; no worms; no rashes; no parasites. Bright, shining eyes and wet nose; long, glossy white coat; claws beautifully manicured and luxurious tail sweeping the ground – he could pass for a one year old, said the vet… We went home as proud as punch.


He was seven when we got him. He is ten now. He follows us everywhere we go still but we are used to it now and automatically check behind us before we step back; check behind our chairs before we scrape them back and catch his paws; open doors carefully and check before we close them to avoid catching his nose. Each move we make is tailored to mark his presence. He gives us so much devotion; it seems little to do in return.

Then, last week, he started to limp. Slightly at first, then more and more. We checked his pads. Nothing. Then his legs. Nothing wrong there either. We would take him to the vet tomorrow. The next day he really began to stress. We looked him over carefully yet again, and he eventually screamed when we put our hands on his chest, near his armpit. We got him into the car and took him to the vet. Now he began to yelp and scream whenever he moved.

He had sprained his neck. Not only that, the vet thought he had arthritis too. We were given some tablets and told to dose him morning and evening and keep him quiet.

Anyone who has a nervous dog will know their reaction to panic and pain is to wander around the room. They think movement will fix things. Perhaps it is the assurance that if they are moving, they are not dying… Whatever the logic, it does not work and the dog becomes steadily more agitated, panic stricken and full of pain.

The pain went on for days. We kept him in our bedroom because the steps to the sitting room were too painful. We listened to him screaming and laid down on the tile floor with him when it became impossible to move him onto a rug or blanket. He wet his bed and looked at us apologetically as we turned it over to find somewhere dry for him to sleep. Through it all, he insisted on begging at the door to be let out whenever he wanted something more than to urinate. He dragged himself down the garden to his ‘bathroom’ and squatted in agony rather than soil in the house.

Two days. The vet gave us sedatives in two syringes to help his pain. Three…

Vets in Spain do not make house calls. Animals are sometimes loved and cherished here but in a country where not so long ago dogs and cats were killed for food in the deprivations after the civil war, house pets draw little compassion. Our vet is better than most but still will not make a house call. We begged a series of night clinics to come to our home to give Lucky a sedative. We explained he was in agony and could not be lifted into the car. None of them would come. We trailed back and forth to the vet, asking this and that, begging for more sedatives. In the end, they said to leave off the sedatives – they were making him too drugged to know what he was doing, so he wandered around the room hurting himself.

Mark went upstairs to make some sandwiches and left us, Lucky panting in pain on the floor and me soothing him as best I could. Then he called me on the house phone, his voice full of tears: I know what we have to do. He’s not going to die in agony and he’s not going to any vet either to be sent into the cold waiting room to die on the floor. We’ll do it ourselves. Here, at home. Then he rang off. Lucky continued to cry and scream. That night we spent with Mark on the floor again, Lucky wincing each time one of us moved.

Day four, Mark went back to the vet. This time, the vet spoke to him at length and said that it was possible Lucky would recover. Leave it till Thursday… Mark came home with more sedatives but also with advice not to use them unless it was absolutely necessary. He had no intention of using them. We were going to save them. In a couple of days we would get some more, until we had a lethal dose.




Today is a beautiful day. Last night, Lucky started moving around without pain. He went out into the garden without crying; he ate a meal and drank a bowlful of water. His eyes are clear again. He slept all night, hardly moving. His pain is gone.

How is it possible to be so pleased to see someone who has urinated on my bedroom floor for three days? Mark and I ate a proper meal last night and enjoyed a peaceful evening with our dog sleeping on his bed in the corner. The grisly syringes, half of our deadly dose, lay unused on the night stand.

Does he know how much we love him?

I think so.