Meeting Lucy: How I Learned to Walk with Three Legs

Lucy_ChristmanSomething incredibly awesome happened today.

I met Lucy.

You may not know her by name, but if you read the blog last week, you know Lucy.

Last week I wrote an entry called Pet Please #83: Animals with Three Legs. It was a feel-good entry about a three-legged dog that I occasionally see from my condo, a dog that reminds me that happiness is a choice.

And that was that. Until something really cool happened. Go check out the comments on that entry and you’ll know what I mean.

Basically, the owners of the dog were taking the dog for a walk in my neighborhood when they ran into my friend Katy. Katy mentioned that she knew a blogger in the neighborhood (me!) who had recently written about a three-legged dog, and she wondered out loud if it might be the same dog.

Lucy_Staring at a squirrelSo the owners of the dog, Andy and his girlfriend Jen, Googled “3 legged German Shepherd, St. Louis, Blog”…and guess what they found?

Sometimes the internet feels more like a miracle than a machine. This was one such time.

Andy and I arranged to meet up on one of Lucy’s walks so I could properly meet her and learn her story.

Her story, as I would soon learn, started about 3 years ago when she was tragically hit by a car. She lost the leg, and she lost her owner, who no longer wanted to take care of her (and may have been abusing her, as Andy suspects).

Around that same time, completely unbeknownst to Lucy, Andy had discovered through his blossoming career in public health that his true passion was to become a doctor. He wanted to help people, to heal people, even if that meant quitting a secure job, going through pre-med, and accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

Lucy_3-legged runLast July, Andy was busy applying to med schools when he and his girlfriend decided to get a dog. That’s when they spotted Lucy at a Petsmart, all three legs of her. I got the feeling talking to Andy that they didn’t see a missing leg when they first saw Lucy. They saw a beautiful dog with a big heart that needed a home just as much as they needed her.

At first they didn’t know if it would work out. Lucy had been through a lot during her first 7 years of life. It was weeks before she wagged her tail or showed any sign of excitement towards Andy and Jen, and certain aspects of their apartment building–like the elevator–made her cower.

But she finally started coming out of her shell. Andy and Jen learned that Lucy doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. She’s a warm and deeply affectionate animal, and the only thing that has ever made her bark is the horseback rider statue in Forest Park (I don’t blame her–I bark at the same statue). About a month into the foster care, Andy and Jen decided that they Lucy would be their dog forever.

When I encountered Lucy, a few things were immediately apparent to me: First, she’s a beautiful, healthy dog. Second, she’s friendly and calm around other people. And third, no matter what happened in her past, she trusts Andy 100%.

We took a short walk, pausing frequently to let Lucy sit at the base of trees. At first I thought she was just taking a break from putting weight on her front leg, but Andy told me that she’s actually just checking each tree for squirrels, one by one.

Rather, her front leg strength is quite good. She bounces as she walks, and she bounds as she runs. Because of the pressure on that leg, she’ll probably get arthritis and will need a special attachment to stay mobile someday, but for now she can do almost anything any other dog can do.

I asked Andy if he thinks that Lucy knows she’s missing a leg. He replied by holding his hand in front of her stump and asking her to shake. Without hesitation she shook his hand as if her entire leg were there.

LucyWe ended our walk in front of my building, and Lucy took the opportunity to lie down in the snow as she loves to do (see photo). She reveled in the belly and head scratches there while Andy told me about his career change and the impact Lucy has had on him as he went from being a financially comfortable professional to a debt-laden student.

“People react to Lucy in all sorts of ways,” he told me. “Some people cheer her on and smile, others break down and cry. To me, though, Lucy is a reminder that I don’t need nearly as much as I thought I did. It’s immaterial. If Lucy can be as happy as she is despite her missing leg, I can be happy eating peanut butter and jelly instead of going out to eat every week. It’s the company of others–the people and animal I love–that make me happy. That’s all I really need.”

Near the end of our conversation, I asked Andy if he could ask Lucy one question and have her answer in perfect English, what would it be. I anticipated a question about her past, about her previous owners, her previous life. Those are the types of things we focus on in therapy, right? We dwell on the scars of the past.

Andy took a different approach: “I’d ask her, ‘Am I really as good of a person as you make me out to be?'”

It was then, as Lucy basked in the belly scratches and the cold snow beneath her, that I realized she isn’t missing a leg after all. Rather, she lends her leg out to everyone she encounters so they too can have a bounce in their step.

Thank you, Lucy and Andy, for your time today. It was a meeting I won’t forget.

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