In a pack full of superheroes, Lily was a sidekick. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, Lily was our solid good dog. It was wonderful to have ONE dog I could trust, no matter what, in all situations, with humans, dogs, bears or porcupines. Lily was that dog.
She entered our lives late in the summer of 2007. I had just moved in with Tom and we were planning to get married in September. These were pre-Facebook days, and my connection to the world of Belgian dogs was via the listserv called “Belg-L.” It was there I saw Lily, in a shelter in Cheboygen, Michigan. To our knowledge, Lily had had a good life up until being left at the shelter. She was purchased from a breeder and had been well cared for. When her owners had a baby, they dropped Lily off at the shelter but she was there only few days before the wheels started turning to get her out. The shelter labeled her a “chow mix” but one of the women involved in Belg-L told me she knew Lily’s breeder. Lily was a purebred groenendael, but she was what’s known in some circles as an “ugly” groenendael – her head was boxier than the slender long-nosed dogs you’ll see if you search google images.
Lily was my entrée into the world of crazy dog people. Sight unseen, I committed to adopting her. Elsa Gambert – a malinois owner who lived about 5 hours away from the shelter – drove to Cheboygen and picked Lily up, and about a week later drove Lily to Falconer, NY, where Tom and I met her. Elsa taught me how to brush Lily’s gorgeous coat (I’d never owned a long-haired dog before), gave us some gifts for Lil, and handed her off to us. Elsa refused to take a penny for gas or her motel room, or even Lily’s adoption fee. “Make a donation to the shelter” was all she asked.
Lily was dog number 2, second fiddle to Iske, my malinois. Iss was about 5 and Lily was 2 and a half when she arrived. This was my first attempt at owning more than one dog at a time. I made mistakes and learned at their expense. Lily challenged Iske for dominance and I let them battle it out. After several months, Iske emerged the clear winner and Lily never challenged a newcomer after that. She accepted her status as omega and there she remained for the rest of her life.
In a pack full of extremes, Lily stayed the middle course. Iske was the highest drive, most neurotic intense malinois I’ve ever had. She was the poster child for Velcro dogs. She tried to crawl inside my ribcage or up my nose when stressed. Some dogs live to play ball or chase birds. Iske lived to please me. She would turn herself inside out, leap into the fires of hell, and fly to the moon if I asked her to. She could read my facial expressions and obey commands before I’d spoken them out loud. She was uncanny, prescient, and unbelievably intense. Lily was there, being beautiful and good — a solid good dog.
We fostered Red Cloud. He was the single worst case of starvation I’ve ever seen. He had been a street stray from Miami, and was a huge skeletal mess upon arrival. Intense and extreme. Lily was there, standing by, being a good dog.
We adopted Cinder. She arrived with baggage that did not fit in her overhead compartment, her teeth having been kicked out by a brutal “trainer.” She behaved normally outdoors, but indoors, she would not budge from the living room rug. For months, I had to bring food and water to her on the rug, where she lay tense and worried. Cinder soon distinguished herself as our prey drive problem dog, and she considered the neighbors to be prey. Lily wagged and waited with me for Cinder to stop being so intense. Lily was a good dog.
We fostered Jack. Poor guy bloated on transport and was driven straight to the emergency vet for treatment before he ever made it to our home. Jack’s arrival was extreme and intense, but he settled down quickly, and rapidly showed himself to be rather like Lily – a solid good dog. We only had him for a few weeks.
Shortly after Jack left, we stepped up to foster Mica. Mica could not have been more of a rockstar in our household. She was loud and proud, and the epitome of intense and extreme. Lily just moved over and made room for all of Mica’s wow factor. Iske and Mica clashed. Cinder and Mica clashed. But Lily just ducked her head and looked the other way when Mica got in her face. Lily let Mica be as extreme and intense as she needed to be, and Lily just stood by, watching and being a good dog.
Not long after we moved to Bovina, we adopted Hawkitt. At this point our status as crazy dog people was well established: we’d been living with 4 Belgian bitches for a year or more. Iske was aging and Mica was in the throes of her second round of cancer, but we added a Dutch shepherd puppy to the mix because Extreme and Intense. Hawkitt just about broke my spirit. Huge, stronger than any dog I could safely handle by an order of magnitude, he was a mannerless goober. Mica bullied him, but Lily showed him kindness and canine friendliness. Of all the dogs in my pack, past and present, she was the only one who responded to his entreaties to play with a play bow and a wag. He was always on the verge of becoming out of control, a psychopath around bears, and so damn adventurous, he was off befriending the resident coyotes or the human hikers on the public trail… while Lily stuck by my side, being a good dog.
Not long after Hawk arrived, Mica died. A few months later, we adopted Peeka. Physically ill and frail, and mentally utterly unlike any dog I’d ever encountered, Peeka took the prize for being intense and extreme. She quite literally would chew glass. If she could run with scissors while shrieking expletives and lighting off M80s, I believe she would have. After several months of living with her, I doubted that she was a dog at all. I really thought she was some sort of wild animal. She embodied “not right in the head.” And through all of her outbursts and shenanigans, Lily was right there, ready to chomp on Peeka’s head. Peeka took all the corrections Lily doled out without any reaction, because I think even crazy malfunctioning Peeka understood that Lily was a good dog.
Lily is the only dog in my pack that never got quilled by a porcupine.
As a young dog, Lily was a spectacular athlete. Once, coming down North Dome following an especially terrible route, we found ourselves in a steep and ledge-filled area. We watched Lily hurl herself down a rock chute, twisting in midair to bank off one rock and reorient for a landing below. She completed multiple rounds of the Catskill 35, and easily a thousand trips around Bramley mountain, most of those strenuous hikes completed without Tom and I ever realizing that she had severe hip dysplasia and by the looks of her x-rays should not have been able to walk. She adored playing fetch, and charmed hundreds of visitors to Hunter Mountain when she accompanied me to my volunteer fire tower duties. She was a fabulous swimmer.
We teased her, calling her a rug with legs, and often said “black is the new blonde” but her comfort and ease around people and dogs was such a relief and desperately needed counterbalance to all the crazy intensity all the other dogs brought. She was not without the means to be a formidable powerhouse; she just chose not to be. Once, while playing Bite The Water with Tom and the hose, she bit Tom by accident. She opened him up like a tin can, the power of her jaws sobering. She could have been a real liability and a danger. Instead, she was a good dog.
We thought we were going to lose her when she was diagnosed with Addison’s disease. She didn’t respond to the oral cortisol, so we gave her that first injection on a Friday. She had stopped eating, and was suffering terribly. I called the vet on Monday morning to schedule her euthanasia. The vet, dog bless her, said to me “hang in there. Give her one more day.” I did, Lily rallied, and we got 4 more years.
As her arthritis worsened, she got bullied out of food or balls by the others. This led to separate meals and special one on one play time with her, every day, for the past few years. She waited her turn for play and understood that when Hawk and Brody came in, she would go out. She waited at the door and pushed through with enthusiasm and surprising strength, even a couple of days before she died. She would push out and then as often as not these last few weeks, lose her balance and faceplant on the driveway. We picked her up and rearranged her increasingly useless back legs for her and rolled the ball a few feet away. Up until 2 days before she died, she went after it and brought it back, wagging.
In any other household, set against any pack of normal dogs, Lily would have been the rockstar. She would have stood out as a ravishing beauty and a smart and capable companion. It was just her rotten luck to have landed in a home where she would be outshone by the extreme and intense malinois and dutchie housemates she ended up sharing her life with.
At the vet’s office, she was given a sedative first. When it took effect, I could feel the tension and effort leave her body. For the first time in days, I felt her receive our pets, rather than brace herself against them. It hit me hard that she had become so unstable she could no longer enjoy being petted. Ease and comfort had been elusive for way too long. Feeling her let go and receive our touch gave me all the confirmation I needed that our decision was the right one. She slipped away peacefully.
Peeka searched for her this morning. We will all adjust. Lily’s infirmities created routines. Her absence will create new ones. I’ll have to get used to saying “I have 4 dogs.” She will be missed. I will fight the urge to fill her absence with another dog in need. We will find a new normal. And then we will go through it all again. It’s what we all sign up for when we fall in love.