July 2nd was Lilly’s birthday.
That means nothing to anyone outside the four people in our family, but to us it brings back great memories of our wonderful Sussex Spaniel, Lilly. It has now been ten years since she was last with us, but anytime we gather, her name inevitably comes up.
I’ve told the story before of how Lilly joined our family, after her “show career” was over. When “Stump” — another Sussex Spaniel — won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club show, I knew that inevitably I’d be stopped during my morning ritual of walking Lilly by someone who was fascinated to see this breed ambling* along the streets of Silver Spring. Lilly was also a fixture at the annual Blessing of the Animals at the Washington National Cathedral, where her dark coat and “Sussex Smile” would draw attention.
When we said farewell to Lilly, I wrote a long post that included our best Lilly stories. Most show her faithful and gracious side, but she wasn’t always that way. Sussex Spaniels were bred as working dogs, and although she was small she was strong, powerful, and protective of her family. Probably our favorite “Lilly being Lilly” story is the saga of the cleaning ladies.
“Lilly wasn’t always old, and she wasn’t always peaceful with everyone who came to the house…especially our cleaning ladies. I don’t know if it was the vacuum cleaner (which she always hated) or the fact that she felt that Candice was threatened when they were here, but she would bark incessantly when the house was being cleaned. One time she went beyond barking and nipped the ankle of our wonderful cleaning lady. Candice ran upstairs to wake up Andrew (it was summer) to have him translate in Spanish with our cleaning lady who was too distraught to speak in English. He was successful in convincing her not to quit on the spot. When Andrew and Candice tell the story now, they break up laughing at the absurdity of the scene. Afterwards, Lilly was banished to the garage or a locked up room every other Wednesday.”
As Lilly got older, she epitomized the traits that Gene Weingarten captured so beautifully in his book Old Dogs Are the Best Dogs:
“But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce. Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these flaws are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But, above all, they seem at peace.”
Andrew recently sent us a video he took from a dog show in London. He came across a group of Sussex Spaniels, and they immediately bonded as he found just the right places to rub and scratch. The joy in his voice and hands is palpable. And Claire — who was the force behind Lilly coming to our family — became the first among us to bring a new pet into her life. She and her partner recently acquired a Russian Siberian cat they named Chai (short for Tchaikovsky). A cat fits her lifestyle (and apartment regulations) at the moment. It has been great getting our Chai “picture of the day” which brings back memories of delightful pets from all our pasts . . . none more wonderful than our Lilly.
Showing vulnerability, exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. In her old age, Lilly exhibited those traits every day. We could all do worse.
More to come…
*At that point in time, Lilly was getting old, and ambling was about the best she could do.