The young man at my front door with a clipboard and a name tag from a cable TV company rang the doorbell and then stepped back from the front stoop. From within came the sound of ferocious barking, and I struggled to squeeze between the edge of the recliner and the bristling black hackles of my dog, Lucky, to get outside and slam the door behind me.
The barking continued, unabated, despite my repeated admonitions to the door that all was well.
“What kind of dog have you got?” the young man asked, respectfully cautious.
“Werewolf,” I deadpanned.
His eyes widened. “Really?”
Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Although Lucky puts on one heck of a show.
The “werewolf” at my house will be ten years old this summer. In dog years that’s somewhere around seventy, and there are a few more grey whiskers on his chin than in his salad days. But other than the greys, there is no sign of him stepping down from his self-appointed duties.
I brought Lucky home as a puppy, to my spacious house in the country. My youngest son, who had begged me to get a puppy instead of an older dog, went back to college the next day. I was “home alone” with Lucky from then on, an experience akin to being a single mother of an infant with no partner or larger support system.
Housebreaking was mercifully quick, and the relationship we forged over time put me at the epicenter of Lucky’s universe, as leader and pack and flock. Part Border Collie, part who-knows-what, Lucky came with centuries of breeding telling him to protect his herd at all costs.
He was certainly built for the task, with a deep chest and long legs, and an intelligent face that includes golden brown eyes accomplished at “the Border Collie stare.” He is shaped like a medium-sized wolf, and has the size and stamina of one too. Coal black except for a white slash down his chest and white tiptoes, he is like reverse lightning when he moves—darkly explosive and turbocharged.
He does not make friends easily, but neither does he miss a thing going on around him. He likes to cuddle, too, all seventy pounds of him, and tries to be a lap dog as often as he can. His sharp elbows as he “army crawls” his way a few inches further into my lap can be deadly.
Like a Knight of yore, Lucky has three imperatives that guide him every waking moment—defend the Realm; guard the Castle; protect the Queen.
When I first brought Lucky home, I had a pretty good-sized realm by any measure. The house where I had lived for three decades and raised my four children sat on nearly fifteen country acres of bucolic woods and fields. The house was surrounded on all sides by flower gardens bursting with roses and coneflowers, peonies and butterfly bushes, snapdragons and phlox and coral bells.
Set back behind a line of trees and nearly a city block removed from the two-lane road that provided a street address, it was the perfect place for a high-energy dog to spend his days romping outdoors. Lucky divided his time between walking the land with me, chasing deer and wild turkeys, and feasting on the occasional rabbit. Yes, Lucky was also really fast.
Visitors at the front door, other than my boyfriend and occasionally my grown children stopping in, were scarce. Mail was dropped off in a mailbox where the driveway met the road. Trash pickup and newspaper delivery were accomplished there as well. With the exception of having to bark at the occasional evangelizer who drove up to deliver religious pamphlets, Lucky’s guard duties were fairly light.
Life is never static, however, and things changed up a lot when we moved four years later to the Midwestern city where I worked. While I had originally planned to buy a house of my own, staking out a new realm and castle and cheerfully planting more roses and coreopsis and delphiniums, the clock was working against me and so I played the cards I was dealt.
We rented a small side-by-side duplex.
The duplex was in a quiet neighborhood with friendly folks and quiet streets, and had a large yard that wraps around three sides. The yard was unfenced, which meant that Lucky would have to adjust to being on a leash and I would have to walk him several times a day to answer nature’s calls … and to get both of us some exercise.
Although it was a struggle at first, Lucky has recalibrated his duties and his horizons accordingly. While he has learned to remain calm (mostly) in the face of every squirrel and rabbit that crosses our path, he still senses that threats to safety and good order are legion.
He views the mail carrier who parks his truck nearby and dares to approach the mailbox mounted beside the front door as a Centurion might have eyed the Visigoths as they marched on Rome. UPS delivery trucks, with their cumbersome and uniform brown shapes, are similarly suspect and cause him to raise hackles and growl when he sees them lumber down the street two blocks away. And woe betide the FedEx driver who rings the doorbell before dropping off a package. Lucky is always on the job.
My realm, alas, has been vastly reduced. Where I once had big skies and fiery sunsets and tall grasses tossing and fluttering like silk in the wind, I have a corner lot with an abundance of violets and dandelions. Where I had flower gardens full of radiant colors, I have a small boxwood hedge and four flower pots on the stoop holding geraniums in summer. My living space has been cut by a third, and there is no central air. I’m still selling off excess furniture.
And yet I have Lucky at my side, or prancing a few steps ahead. He has mastered the difficult transition, redefined and embraced his new guard duties in the urban jungle, and keeps a vigilant eye on me at all times.
And as we step through the door for one of our innumerable walks and I scan the horizon for any dogs, cats, squirrels, rabbits, and small children he may perceive as a threat, I am reminded that in Lucky’s golden brown eyes, I still have a realm in need of defending. I still have a castle that needs guarding.
And yes, with my erstwhile werewolf companion and protector beside me, I am indeed still a Queen.