In memory of a best friend
Lucy, a wonderful black Labrador retriever, wasn’t my dog, but I often dognapped her for the pleasure of her company when I went on errands and chores, or off to work on my sailboat. I grew to love her as much as my old sailing buddy John Barry, who bought her as a pup in June 1991.
When I read his e-mail Dec. 14 about the sad news of Lucy’s death at the age of 14, the news wasn’t totally unexpected. But it hit me like a blow to the stomach, and I choked up. “Oh, no,” I said aloud, startled. Barry couldn’t discuss it over the phone, only through e-mail.
What a great boat dog Lucy was. She followed you on board, invited or not, her long tail whipping in a frenzy, and with her tongue hanging out. Barking at birds and other boat dogs was a passion. Keywords: “Duck Alert!” “Bird Alert!” and “Dog Alert!”
She slid about the foredeck but always kept her footing and stayed low. If there were no birds or dogs at hand she barked at crab pot floats. She fell overboard a few times when she was a puppy but caught on quickly.
On land it was time for “Stick Alert!” Upon hearing “Where’s your stick?” she would dash off and find one for me to throw. She especially liked leaping into the water after it and bringing it back to me, but not without first shaking off the water and demanding a tug of war. I always had an extra stick nearby because she didn’t let go easily until I distracted her by tossing a new one. This could go on all day.
It was so much fun watching her go airborne and looking back at me for guidance if she couldn’t find the stick. Barry, who worked at West Marine in Annapolis (no dogs), was delighted when I would pick her up, knowing she would be looking out the front window, watching and waiting and listening for a visitor. But he also worried that I might exhaust her. “She won’t stop fetching until she drops,” he warned. Lucy sometimes smelled from repeated submersions in still cove water and had to be bathed, which she didn’t like.
Barry and Lucy lived nearby, and whenever they came around for dinner he always sounded off with, “Jack Alert!” Lucy would go nuts. She sliced open a few screens on my kitchen door until I covered it with a kind of chicken wire. Not particularly attractive, but it saved the screens. It was impossible to get angry with her, and she sensed when she did wrong.
By last year they were living in Oak Island, N.C., after moving there from Cornelius, N.C., where Barry transferred from a West Marine in Lake Norman to one in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Lucy was deaf and no longer responded to Jack, duck, bird, dog or squirrel alerts. She wouldn’t take the bait of a stick placed in front of her, either. Just wasn’t up to it anymore.
Her eyesight was probably fading, too, but she loved to look at squirrels from behind the glass front door. She knew me by scent, I suppose, and would welcome me with one of her rare kisses, a quick lick sometimes accompanied by a slightly raised snout and the baring of her front teeth. (We could never figure out that expression — some sort of canine smile, I suppose.) Her muzzle was white with age, but her black coat was soft and shiny, her brown eyes glowed, and her tail thumped the floor.
There was no keeping Lucy off Brown-Eyed Girl, Barry’s Grady-White Overnighter, which he named after her. It’s parked on a trailer in the driveway, ready for the launch ramp and fishing trips off Cape Fear Inlet.
“She would stare forever at a fishing line, intrigued over what might grab the other end,” Barry recalls. “And when the line moved or I threw a cast net for bait, get out of her way because here comes the excited barking and the wagging tail knocking things over.”
Homeward bound, Lucy always sought out a shady spot near a pot of cool water under Barry’s helm seat. She was an outdoors dog, so the cabin wasn’t to her liking. There was no room anyway, with all the fishing gear strewn about.
While working in Annapolis, Barry had a Sailmaster 22 like mine and kept it in the next private slip, along with a Sailmaster 22 owned by mutual friends living there. This also was the venue for much stick tossing, along with duck, squirrel and rabbit chasing.
Lucy was often on one boat or the other, dashing around the deck and up at the bow, listening for the bird-alert series of high beep-beep-beeps from osprey nesting on shoal markers. When she settled down in the cockpit, it was always with her head resting against Barry’s leg or in his lap.
When Barry was supervising a fleet of charter sailboats and a crew of dock boys on Spa Creek, the fun and games would begin after all the charter boats left. Rigger and mechanic Harry Rose was the instigator for what became impromptu swimming parties, pushing one another off the docks. Lucy joined the fun, barking and wagging her tail, and winding up in the water, too.
Lucy was a dock dog when she couldn’t be a boat dog, and when Capt. Barry was skippering the excursion day schooner Woodwind out of the Annapolis Waterfront Marriott, she was always waiting to grab the first line tossed to the dock when the schooner arrived. Knowing she wasn’t allowed aboard the 74-footer with 40 or 50 passengers, she waited patiently for the return, keeping watch for ducks.
Woodwind’s owners — Capts. Ken and Ellen Kaye and their daughter, Capt. Jen Brest, and her husband, Dan — e-mailed their sympathies to Barry when they heard of Lucy’s passing. “We all have fond memories of Lucy catching Woodwind’s dock lines, and keeping the dock free of ducks and pigeons. In her honor we will train our dog, Stormy, to also catch dock lines and be on constant duck alert to carry on Lucy’s legacy.”
Before leaving Annapolis in 1997 for North Carolina to be closer to his ailing widowed mother, Barry — a bachelor and only child — had several boating jobs, and whenever he left one of them there were always inquiries of, “Where’s Lucy?” (not necessarily “Where’s John?”). The same thing happened after he left West Marine stores in LakeNorman and Myrtle Beach.
The old black Lab died at home at 3 a.m. Dec. 14 in Barry’s arms. He knew the end was coming and was grateful that it didn’t take place at the veterinary clinic. As he dug a grave at dawn in his backyard, a lone robin arrived and lingered for the burial.
“She was such a big part of my life, and her death has left such a hole in it,” says Barry, now a mate on the Bald Head Island Ferry out of Southport, N.C.
Barry filled that hole in his life earlier this year with Sally, a 15-month-old purebred English black Lab, though he says there will never be another Lucy. I look forward to being announced with another “Jack Alert!” when I visit Barry this spring and we go fishing in Brown-Eyed girl with Sally on board.
Duck Alert! Duck Alert!
Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.