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Laughing All the Way

Essay 

“Your dog,” said the trainer in a tone of professional disapproval, “is a bit of a flibbertigibbet.”

The dog in question, Launcelot Gobbo Hashe (Lance to his friends, which was everyone), sat grinning at her, pink tongue hanging out of the side his mouth. It was clear that 9-month old Lance couldn’t really see the point of “sit-and-stay,” especially the “stay” part.

“Why just sit here,” he appeared to be asking, “when there are smells to be smelled, intruders (aka squirrels) to be chased off the premises, and let’s not forget stuff to be peed on?”

I stared in exasperation and affection at the large, goofy, and unquestionably lovable subject of this conversation.

One of the first times I’d seen Lance, a few months earlier, he had been loping down the street with a string of ivy in his mouth. His then-humans had apparently not realized that a puppy destined to grow to 80 pounds would not stay voluntarily in the unfenced yard of a triplex. As soon as he was given the chance, he was out on a neighborhood adventure.

The problem was, he lived on a road that wound around blind corners, making it very dangerous for an energetic pup with no street smarts. But he needed company. Badly. Each day, as I passed by with my 16-year-old Wheaten terrier, this black Lab-with-maybe-a-little-something-else greeted us joyously, insisting on accompanying us back to our house, ignoring my pleas for him to “Go home,” and then wiggling under the fence to attempt to lure Perdita into play.

She was so not having it. A gentle dog with a tranquil disposition, she felt her advanced age gave her privileges that this upstart was totally ignorant of. No, she did not want her tail tugged on. No, she would not run around the yard with him. And definitely no, he was not invited to go through the doggy door after her when she’d really had enough. Dog people may suspect where this is going.

Eventually, I left a note in this puppy’s then-humans’ mailbox, offering to adopt him. “I have a fenced-in yard,” I wrote, “and you could come see him whenever you want.” I fully expected either no response, or a nasty phone call telling me to stop trying to steal their dog.

Instead, I got a sad call admitting they were looking for a new home for him. And a few days later, the young male owner showed up with the pup on a leash, and, obviously regretfully, left him with me. He did not tell me his dog’s name and I forgot to ask.

I immediately named him after a doofus character in The Merchant of Venice. And newly named Lance proceeded to cry all night.

Enter the dog trainer. Lance was not likely to do well in a group training situation, where he would spend every minute trying to interact with his classmates. So I hauled out the credit card and had the trainer come for private lessons, which were, for the most part, a complete waste of time. All his days up to then roaming free were way too attractive to give up for “discipline.” He did — eventually — learn to sit, “leave it” (that was an accomplishment), and more-or-less respond to his name. “You’ll need to work with him every day,” said the trainer, departing after giving me a long written list of tasks we were supposed to practice. That lasted about a week.

Lancie proceeded to have a glorious remainder of puppyhood, chasing around the backyard, chewing up at least eight pairs of foolishly unguarded shoes … and then came the “Why is the backyard white?” incident. It wasn’t winter, and yet, as I pulled into the driveway, I could see that the backyard was covered in something white, which turned out to be feathers from the pillow Lance had grabbed, torn up, and gleefully shaken all over the yard.

But this boy had another side. He was an incredibly loving dog. He adored children. Because his long legs made him so tall, small kids could look him straight in the eye, something many dogs dislike, but he would simply kiss them and let them pat him. He had a special relationship with a friend of mine’s tiny and somewhat frail mother, who loved him, and he seemed to know he could not be boisterous with her.

When Perdita died, as she did about six months after Lance came to live with us, Lance understood and accepted. He was there at her passing, and he did not mourn her, but he comforted me as I mourned. When we got Blondie, abandoned by another one of our neighbors, he easily accommodated himself to her. He was just not the alpha dog type.

Starting in 2008, when his human was coping with some drastic situations created by the Great Recession, he snuggled with me as I told him, “As long as we have each other, everything will be OK.”

I had to let my boy go on April 19. At age 14, his hip dysplasia had progressed to the point where he couldn’t stand without help and couldn’t make it out of the front yard. Yet even in his last days, as he lay in the grass, he smelled the air with joy, totally present in the moment, still happy just to be with me and his friend Blondie.

He passed gently and bravely, with me stroking his soft ears.

He was a big dog, with a big personality, and it has touched me deeply how many people continue to ask after him, and clearly miss him.

I miss him every day.

But I know something of him has gone on to a new adventure. He will never be forgotten, and he will always be an inspiration to live joyously, as he did.

Janis Hashe comes from a family of dog lovers. She now lives with 13-year-old ever-patient Australian cattle dog mix, Blondie. Lancie, we will always love you. She lives in Richmond.

Above, Lance, always a goof with a smile. Below, Lance’s pal Blondie.

 

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Main article photo by: Janis Hashe