“Lucy! Come here girl. Luuuuucyyy!”
I’ll never forget the first time I met a street dog named Lucy.
Hairless and emaciated, she came running down the hill out of the housing projects, happy to answer the call of the woman who’d been feeding her scraps off and on for a year.
“I named her Lucy because she’s a real sweet dog.”
I watched her run to the woman who called her, amazed that this homeless street dog managed to be so obedient and sweet, despite her emaciated condition.
Discarded hypodermic needles and broken glass littered the corner where I was standing, and I’m pretty sure the exchange going on across the street was a drug deal. But in my naivety and eagerness to help a stray dog, I didn’t care. I was standing behind an abandoned building on a sketchy street in Richmond’s south side, where I’d given up trying to catch a scrappy little stray that had run in front of my car. This local woman was telling me there was no hope, that scrappy dog had eluded animal control officers for years.
As we talked, and I explained that I worked at a vet hospital and with rescue groups, and wanted to help the dog I’d almost run over, she said there was a really sweet stray that needed help more.
“I would’ve kept her, but they don’t let us have pets here.”
“Here” was the Bainbridge Public Housing development, a dejected group of white cinderblock apartments on a hill near 28th Street. The woman explained that she fed Lucy kitchen scraps whenever she had them.
“Lucy just had puppies, but they died because she couldn’t get that sac thing off them in time. It was really sad to watch.”
It broke my heart to hear this. How upsetting must it be to a momma dog? I wondered why the woman didn’t help save the puppies, but different people have different comfort levels. Plus, some people view animals as creatures that need to fend for themselves.
And when you’re living in public housing, just trying to put food on the table for your children, saving puppies may not be high on your priority list.
“Thank you for taking her. She’ll make a real good pet for someone.”
The woman said goodbye, and Lucy climbed happily into the back seat of my old Volvo. As I proceeded to drive her to my vet hospital, she suddenly vomited. Oh, the smell was horrible. I had half-digested onions and pieces of bread all over my back seat.
(Considering that onions are toxic to dogs, it’s a good thing she got carsick.)
I brought Lucy into the hospital and began to bathe her. My coworker came up and asked what we should name her, since we already had a [mean, old] cat named Lucy living there.
“Who are the other female characters in Peanuts?”
This dog wasn’t a Patty. Nor was she a Sally.
I massaged the flea shampoo into the dog’s hairless skin, thinking of names. Her ribs were poking out, her hip bones almost breaking through her skin, and yet she was obediently standing in the tub, obedient but hating every second of it. She needed a special name, one that was strong but playful. A name that other female dogs wouldn’t have.
And then it came to me:
“Let’s name her Charlie.”
Ten years later: