11 years and one week ago today we brought home a floppy eared, six-week old beagle.
Today, after a week of increasingly failing health and a night I don’t soon want to repeat, we buried Luke Skybarker in his favorite outdoors place, our backyard overlooking North Mecklenburg Park.
The story in-between those two sentences is some of what life is all about.
In 2001, as our youngest son Aaron approached his 9th birthday, we heard the words many parents regret: “I’m getting older now; I think I’m ready for more responsibility – like a dog. “
Somehow I equated more responsibility to helping around the house, maybe a neighborhood job to start a college fund. But to Aaron, responsibility = a dog. And being the softy parents that Anita and I are, we agreed. After a little research, we located someone in Lincoln County that had two litters that were just about ready to wean, and we had our pick.
With parental veto power firmly in check, we let Aaron pick a small male, the runt of the litter. There was also a female that Aaron passed over, because his choice “was quiet.”
Not for long.
Shortly after arriving at our house, our new pet demonstrated his “quietness” with the first of countless howls that beagles are known for. And so began the saga of Luke Skybarker as a part of our family.
The name Luke Skybarker is homage to our family’s (well, at least the guys in our family) intense fondness for all things Star Wars. Over the years, we have seen all the movies (on opening night in theaters, then countless times on DVD), acquired many LEGO sets of SW characters, read dozens of books about the series, and even dressed as SW characters at Halloween. So it’s no surprise that our howling new addition should be given the name Luke Skybarker.
After a short while, though, I was sure we had misnamed him. Due to his adorable cuteness but all puppy-like actions, we soon had a Bark Vader on our hands, because he definitely went over to the dark side.
Luke was actually an interior decorator, though we didn’t know it at first. Over a period of months, he: chewed up our couch legs and fabric; ate the bottom of several strips of wallpaper in the kitchen; chewed up several chair legs; ripped the carpet in several places, and ate big chunks out of the vinyl floor in the kitchen. I guess he operated on the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” philosophy. We tolerated it, and over a period of time we replaced everything. So in a way I guess we owe some thanks to Luke for new hardwood floors, a new kitchen table and chairs, refinished walls in the kitchen, and so on.
It was one of those times when Luke began the first of many trips to a place he had a love/hate relationship with: LakeCross Veterinary Hospital. He met Dr. Donna on his first check-up, demonstrating that dogs can also have the white coat syndrome (and the staff doesn’t even wear white!). After one of his interior decorator attacks, AKA eating carpet, we decided to rip up all the carpet and put in laminate floors in most of the house. Shortly after we finished the project. Luke began acting strangely. He would act like he was in pain but we couldn’t pinpoint anything. At the vet, after a round of tests and examinations, Dr. Donna told us there was nothing physically wrong with Luke, but something was definitely causing his strange behavior. She asked us if we had made any changes in our home routine, and we mentioned the new floor. In her opinion, absent anything else, that was it: Luke was having a nervous reaction to the new floors. Personally I thought he was just missing the extra chew toys, but anyway he soon reverted back to normal.
Back to that responsibility thing – it didn’t last long (like I didn’t know it wouldn’t). And so I ended up with a new team member in my job (I worked out of a home office by then). As co-workers go, he was great most of the time. He rarely invaded my space (except for those seasons when the early morning sun tracked across my floor; he would follow it until it was no longer possible to soak up the sun). He was content to listen to an occasional rant about work without so much as a bark. As a sounding board, he always gave a paws up to my project ideas. I never had to worry about what to get him for parties – as long as it was bread, he was happy. I never had to worry about him taking over my job – it would have interfered with his sleep.
Somewhere along the way I had these visions of Luke being like the vet’s dog in “All Things Bright and Beautiful” – where the dog accompanied the vet on drives around town, etc. Early one Saturday morning, Luke accompanied me to the local farmer’s market to buy some veggies. After a fairly quiet time at the market, we left to go back home. Luke was sitting in the front seat of our van – until he dived out the window. Luckily, he had his chain on and we were not going too fast. I grabbed he chain just before it went out the window and hurriedly pulled over to the side of the road. With visions of the dog in National Lampoon’s “Vacation” movie in mind, I found a bloody Luke hanging by his collar. He had bounced off the front tire, tearing his right dew claw out and bleeding, but not in a lot of pain. When I came in the house cradling him with blood all over the place, everybody freaked. Off to the vet we went where he was bandaged up and given his own personal “collar of shame” to keep him from bothering the wound. So much for car trips…
Over the years, there would be many more trips to LakeCross. From Dr. Donna to Dr. Kay to Dr. Tom, all the vets and technicians and staff loved to have Luke Skybarker visit. He genuinely seemed to brighten their day, but I still haven’t figured out why. They loved him and fussed over him and gave him treats at every stop of the visit. About a year ago, Dr. Gretchen became our regular vet as much as possible. We began fighting a skin infection that soon became an indicator of Cushing’s Disease. All along the way, Dr. Gretchen tried so much to make Luke comfortable. We actually began to turn the corner with the Cushing’s but unfortunately it was something beyond our control that took Luke. Over the last week, he began having seizures that would cause him to fall over where he was. The X-rays yesterday confirmed the worst: a large mass around his heart and lungs, causing fluid buildup and other issues. Luke came home with us to see if he would last the weekend, but it was a very restless night (because of all our company, Anita & I were sleeping in the great room sofa bed, and Luke was right at our feet by the fireplace). Several times I thought he slipped away, but it was evident his breathing was becoming more labored and painful. After taking Jason, Jaime and Lucy to the airport, we returned to get Aaron and Amy and head to LakeCross one last time. As always, the staff could not have been kinder, and Dr. Kay eased Luke from a painful existence to peaceful rest.
We are now in a house that is much too quiet – no toenails clicking along those hardwood floors, no built-in vacuum to get up food spills, no dog alarm when the front doorbell rings, no cold nose on your hands or feet.
We miss Luke, but we will always have the stories…
We discovered early on that you should not come between Luke and his Oreo’s. While fixing lunches for the kids one day, Anita dropped a bag with some Oreos in it. Quicker that I had ever seen him move, Luke grabbed the bag before Anita could pick it up. When she tried to get it from him he snapped at her. From that point on, we were careful about dropping things, but when we did, we let Luke have them (unless it would hurt him, at which point it became a wrestling match with teeth and snarls).
Luke loved his food and would fight for it, but when it came to defending his territory, he was all bark (and howl) and no bite. We always said Luke was one of the pets burglars feared most because they would trip over him in the dark and wake us up. It seems that he saved his most ferocious barks for other dogs who dared walk down “his” sidewalk. He would let them know – loud and long – but never take it past the bark. While he hated other dogs, he loved cats. Most of the neighborhood cats soon realized he was no threat to them and learned to taunt and tease him on walks. Luke was never the wiser.
As other animals go, Luke was a squirrel watcher. Our large kitchen window has a ledge that was just the right height for Luke to rest his chin and watch the squirrels run and play outside. He never barked at them – even when one jumped off the tree by the window and clung to the window screen before scampering away. They seemed to know it to, because when we would walk out in the back yard, they would run and scamper, but never seemed to fear him. It’s like they knew…
Maybe they know now, too. Luke’s final resting place is in the thick of the trees in our back yard. Overhead, the squirrels run and play.
I think he would have liked that.