The wildlife worker found her
deep in the winter woods,
a front leg clamped by a hunter’s steel trap,
the bone nearly severed,
snow her only sustenance
for the two weeks that she was caught.
He named her Lucky,
and the veterinarian’s record
made before the amputation
listed Lucky as her name.
We had named her Lady
a couple of years earlier
when we found her at the abandoned house,
cowering inside an outside toilet,
her basset hound mother already
dead from a neighbor’s bullet,
her sisters and brothers either killed
or dead from malnutrition.
Lady’s face was malformed—
a face only a master could love,
we would later tease.
At first too weak to hold her head up,
she let her muzzle hit the ground—
every time she tried to lift it.
I braced her head
so that she could drink the water
she had thirsted for.
But after a few weeks of living in a cardboard box
on our front porch,
the shocking mass of roundworms
purged from her puppy guts
and her white gums soon pink with health,
she began to play.
And her speed
as she darted around our steep yard
would shame a greyhound;
her appetite proved phenomenal.
One Thanksgiving after she had filled her belly
with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes
(her favorite dish),
she lay in the yard to rest,
but still barked at the leftovers
that tantalized her.
That later winter
when she went for a walk in the woods
and didn’t return,
I called the city dog pound
and cried as I described Lady—
black and white basset-beagle mix,
jut-jawed, big brown eyes—
hoping the dogcatcher might have picked her up
and still held her alive,
fearing he might say I’d called too late.
But he had not seen her.
And then after many torturous days
a dog was mentioned
in the lost and found section
of our local newspaper.
I called the number and
spoke to a wildlife man
who had found her.
But I have bad news,
and told me about her lost leg
as if I wouldn’t want her anymore.
Lady lived with us many more years,
as quick a runner as ever,
and died at seventeen and a half
during a hard, cold winter,
when icy mounds of snow
piled around her backyard dog house.
She spent her final days in our basement, though,
near the woodstove.
We wrapped her in a quilt
and tended to her
as we might an elderly parent.
She suffered from incontinence,
had stopped eating—
her jaws locked—
and her eyes,
long past seeing,
had turned a cloudy blue.
It seemed her luck had run out,
or maybe it was a blessing
that the end was near.
When Lady passed,
my husband played a song on our stereo—
In the Arms of the Angels—
music that gave him comfort
and that he wanted to give to Lady
to send her safely away.
But like my mother who doesn’t want to hear
The Old Rugged Cross—
her mother’s favorite hymn
that was played at the funeral,
I have only to detect the first notes of the
Sarah McLachlan song,
and I change the radio channel.
It’s not that music that I want to hear
and remember Lady
as she was on her final night;
but rather I would like to recall
the bright sound from years earlier,
of her baying
at the Thanksgiving scraps,
annoyed that she couldn’t hold
one more bite.