And they call it ... puppy love

Lucy loves dogs. If one appears in our yard, she dashes out in greeting, then circles around it as if to take in its wonderful workmanship from every possible angle. As long as the dog lingers, Lucy stands alertly, full of excitement and pride, as though she is its sponsor- even its mother. No matter how unprepossessing it may appear to us, every dog passes muster with Lucy.

I guess that shouldn't surprise me, since Lucy's a dog herself.

Not that she isn't afraid of her fellow canines, especially those that bark or act aggressive at all. On our daily walks, she whimpers as we approach the territory claimed by our neighbor Mark's sheep dogs, or the Christmas-tree farm whose boundaries are protected by a vociferous black Scottie named Lady, who's one-third Lucy's size.

Lucy's been part of our family for eight years. Before our county had an animal shelter, the local humane society held a monthly adoption day, an event I strenuously avoided in order to keep my one acre from becoming a petting zoo.

This one particular adoption day, however, I was in the market for a kitten. I had no intention of even looking in the direction of the dogs, since we already had one: Jones, a big, friendly black setter who did an excellent job of keeping the garden groundhog-free. Jones had come to us a stray to live out his golden years. One dog was enough.

But then, we hadn't met Lucy. She's one of those Benji types, with a thick tawny coat that burdock burrs and beggar's-lice were designed to hitch rides on. She's got brown, soulful eyes you can't even see unless she's running at full clip. Her tail's a long plume that fwaps like the blade of a helicopter and seems to propel her in circles at the mention of the word "walk."

In short, Lucy is the kind of dog that makes you forget blanket statements about how many dogs a family should provide bed and board for.

I'll skip the story of Lucy's adoption - and the departure of Jones a year or so after Lucy came to live with us. Suffice it to say that Lucy represents the best momentary retreat from our principles we ever made.

In the last half-dozen years, we've successfully fended off friends with puppies to give away, though we remained uneasily aware that Lucy cast a dissenting vote. Her body language was so eloquent - that tremble of pure joy in another dog's presence, the dejected slump of shoulders when we climbed into the car instead of heading up the driveway for a walk. From time to time, the topic of a canine companion for Lucy came up, always in a theoretical way. We held fast.

Which is why I had a funny feeling about a month ago, when I spotted the strangest looking dog I'd ever laid eyes on sniffing Lucy's bone collection in the side yard. The animal seemed to have been assembled out of spare parts: a terrier head attached to the upper trunk of a poodle that segued into a badly matted keeshond rump. It had skinny little legs and what looked like a broken tail.

What leapt to mind was a circus dog, standing on its hind legs, taking mincing little steps around the ring. Standing like that, the dog would have resembled a miniature ballerina in a tutu.

Whether I discovered Tutu before Lucy did, I don't know, but she quickly made him feel at home. Tutu was welcome to Lucy's bones, to her food and water, to take naps on her bed on the porch. All Lucy asked in return was the right to follow him around. That was fine with Tutu. What wasn't fine was people. As soon as we opened a door, he shot off into the woods. Calling "Here, little puppy!" only increased the distance he put between us.

But he stuck around. From my office window I watched Lucy - who's fond of napping flat on her back, legs akimbo, on sunny afternoons - try to fend off sleep to keep an eye on her glorious prize as he made his nervous rounds. Peter and I could see that Tutu was putting on a little weight. It wasn't long before we discovered Tutu's sleeping place: on the pillows on the front-porch rocker. As the old year drew toward its close, he started shadowing us on our walks.

But it was the New Year that made a new dog of Tutu. He entered it with resolve. On the first, he sauntered off with Peter and Lucy, while I baked bread. The next day, he leaped around us as we clipped on Lucy's leash - as though it were we, not he, who'd taken so long to acknowledge ties that bind.

That very afternoon I took clippers to his matted pelt. Tutu submitted without a whimper, emerging slim-hipped, with a working tail that curls up and over his back. A tail that wags almost as deliriously as hers does, when we come outside to take Lucy and her dog on a walk.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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