A rescue Boston Terrier, Lilly was astonishingly well behaved: not a chewer, not a barker, not a dog prone to accidents. She was needy and a noisy breather, a snorer, with an unfortunate tendency to lick. She had no street-smarts and no dog-sense to speak of, but she sat and stayed on command. And she didn't beg for food.
We'd meant to get a dog, but not for decades. It wouldn't be fair, since we travelled so much and were away from the house so often. Still, when the Dog of Destiny shows up, you have to open the door.
I started taking Lilly to the dog park mornings, early, when the pack of big, kindly dogs met to chase each other around and sniff. Not a fan of conflict, she protested loudly whenever the other dogs play-fought. When they didn't pay attention, she would inch closer to the fracas, barking and feinting, often breaking things up by sheer force of will. The other dog-owners named her "The Mayor."
One day, she snatched a stick from the pack: three Labs, some mixed shepherds, a greyhound, a mastiff, a pair of boxers. Twenty pounds of buggy eyes and gravelly growl. The other dogs formed an uneasy circle around her, but none dared to take it back.
Another time, she outstretched the greyhound on a gallop around the park. The greyhound's mom and I both called a halt to the game after one circuit: Lilly looked uncannily like the metal rabbit, and the greyhound's teeth seemed to be growing with each mighty stride in chase.
My mother did not make it out of the hospital. I focused on finishing the rehab of her house. At the dog-park, with half-a-dozen dog-owners standing around holding their coffee mugs, watching the dogs and throwing the odd tennis-ball or worn Kong, I was grateful to simply consider the dogs.
Lilly learned to circle back to me when she irritated the pack. I learned which owners were inattentive. I was over-protective, but she was little and foolish.
One morning, she came out of a scrum scrambling but unable to get to her feet. As I snatched her up, other dog-owners were jotting down the numbers for their doggie emergency rooms, offering advice about which place was open early. I slid her into the passenger seat and tore back to the house -- I'd left my wallet and everything else there. By the time I whipped into my parking spot, Lilly was up and moving around the front seat, non plussed by my drama.
"She got her bell rung," her vet told me. "Didn't you, sugar?" he added, to the dog.
At Christmas, a year after Mom died, I rushed the small dog to the vet. An X-ray showed that at some earlier point in her life -- pre-Mom, pre-us -- a mishap had left her with four ruptured disks. In some spots along her spine, it was bone-on-bone.
The vet didn't look at me. "You know she's on borrowed time, right?" Then, chucking Lilly under the chin, "We'll give her a shot, and maybe you can have your dog for another Christmas."
She bounced back.
All dog stories end badly -- but this one? Not yet.
Four years and Lilly continues to bounce back. She caught and ate a fiddler crab recently. The crab battled valiantly for its life, leaving the small dog with a de-crabbed claw dangling -- like one of those plastic ornaments in a not-so-mainstream facial piercing -- from her jowl. She shook it free and went after the next crab on the seawall.