Updated May 2019
Our big, beloved goofball Lou died two days after Christmas, and it is a testament to his great presence in our lives and in the lives of so many others that I haven’t been able to pull it together and post anything until now.
We adopted Lou in 2008 before we were married, a Dudley Labrador of indeterminate age and chill temperament, at the old Humane Society on Sixth Street.
“He looked like a Lou”, said the staff member on duty that Veterans Day, who had allowed her boyfriend to name the thin, tick-bitten dog.
Animal Services said he had happily jumped into the van when they found him walking the train tracks near Alachua; no microchip, maybe a puppy who’d gotten too big for his owners or who’d escaped from a yard.
“If you don’t take this dog home with you, I’m buying him a ticket on the plane,” said my mom, who was visiting for the weekend, and is something of a magnet for yellow Labradors.
We hadn’t intended to come home with a dog; we’d just gone for a walk past the Humane Society before her flight that day.
“Seventy pounds,” the Humane Society volunteer said, signing him over to us. “Of pure love.”
Healthy, he topped out at 90 pounds.
Louie, Lou Bear, the tail-wagging yellow Lab who loved to bark at his fence, transcended his place in our family and always had status as a public figure, a dog-about-town in the neighborhood, around Gainesville and in his youthful travels afield. While we were away on vacation several years ago, a startled dog-boarding employee recalled how a car rolled up next to her as she walked Lou down Tower Road; the driver leaned out the window, asking, “Is that dog named Lou?” It was one of Lou’s favorite vet techs, who had spotted him while driving and had to say hello.
He looked like a Lou to the gaggle of retired Lous on some type of Elderhostel tour coming down the Max Patch summit on the Appalachian Trail (pictured), circa 2009 or so (“He’s Lou? I’m Lou too!”).
Louie charmed everyone he met, no matter what fiasco he’d inflicted, whether leaving big, muddy pawprints on the seat of your brand-new car, jumping into the lap of the PetSmart Santa (pictured), or knocking a glass of red wine onto your white carpet with his tail. Or eating the apple Bundt cake cooling on your counter, the turkey waiting for Thanksgiving, the fresh quail pot-pie our friends brought over (“He is a bird dog after all”), or our kids’ breakfasts (turning them into efficient and defensive eaters).
He once ate half a dog bed while boarding, which we only discovered when he pooped out smiling cartoon reindeer fabric. He loved to eat crayons, which had a similar effect.
The clerk at the 13th Street Office Depot will never forget the day Lou escaped from the doggie daycare bus in the parking lot, bounded through the automatic doors and ambled up to the checkout counter like he wanted to buy printer cartridges. Neither the terrified pigeons nor the bagel vendor (dispensing a freebie with a stern, “This is for him,”) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan will ever forget his impressive prey drive and loping, country-dog gait.
Nor will the kayak class instructor in Charleston, who corralled Lou back to shore after he swam halfway across a dog-park lake that no canine had ever traversed. Or the vets who congratulated his prolific backyard squirrel- and mole-catching prowess (“He’s fine. Can I borrow him to clear my yard?”). Or the smitten obedience-school instructors who socially promoted him and diagnosed him as “passive-aggressive, but sweet.”
A frequent flyer at the emergency vet, he survived traumatic-brain injury while chasing a ball into a brick wall inside our house, typical Lab ear drama, and xylitol poisoning (PSA: don’t bring Orbitz gum into your house if you have a dog. Google it.).
Lou was an ambassador for rescue dogs like himself, a great foster-dog brother when we volunteered for Gainesville Pet Rescue, and a go-to acclimation specialist for newbies at boarding. He maintained his unflappable calm despite the addition of a yappy terrier and two human babies, all of whom pushed the nerves of most humans and who loved him very much.
He charmed everyone until the day he died, right after a puppy-like frenzy of treat-stealing, snuggling and leg-humping at Christmas.
He has left a great void in our house and in the community. We are so lucky that he came to us and that we got to share him with all of you.
Epilogue: We went camping a week after he died, partly to get out of the house and escape the memories. While we were away, our dog-sitter took our terrier, Ella, into her own home for a little extra TLC. A major fan of Lou and a nature lover as well, she came by to sit shiva with us while delivering Ella after our trip. When we
answered the door, she noticed an Eastern black swallowtail butterfly fluttering behind us, inside the house. Typically the late-season butterflies stay in chrysalis all winter, and we had taken this one inside months earlier. It should not have emerged for several more weeks at least. We had no idea how long it had been in the house without nectar or water, and we worried that it wouldn’t make it. Outside with the kids, I rooted for it to fly, but it didn’t seem strong enough. This little tragedy seemed magnified on top of our great loss of Lou. We left the butterfly in the grass and turned to go back in the house when my son shouted, “Look, Mommy!” The butterfly had launched off the grass, over a six-foot chainlink fence, and across our backyard. Our dog-sitter knew what had happened: “It’s Lou.” This seemed doubly appropriate as Lou had horrified my husband early on as a young dog when, after contemplating a butterfly floating on our patio, he suddenly opened his jaws and gulped it down.The signs of reincarnation continued: We had his portrait painted by Samm Wehman, a local artist, who, it turned out also focused on butterflies in her work. Samm included accurate depictions of Eastern black swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies in the portrait, and, through talent and magic (see video), captured his personality in a way that makes us feel like he’s back in our living room, thumping his big tail on the floor, full of Labrador snuggles and love.