On August 17, 2017, our sweet Lilly passed away. Though words cannot sufficiently express our sadness for her death, nor the memories she gave us, nor the joy that she brought us, I’m going to try. Because what would be worse would be to stay silent, something old ‘Lil would’ve never stood for.
What Lilly stood for most was, of course, food. Literally, on her hind legs, stretching her diminutive yet plump frame to the extreme to extend her snout over anything holding grub. Lilly may not have been a purebred beagle, but her head and her stomach couldn’t have been more pedigree.
Lilly lived to eat and had a knack for finding food. While she did have a good sense of smell, any of us could find food if we spent our whole lives sniffing for it. When we were in the kitchen, so was Lilly. Like a night watchmen on patrol, Lilly paced back and forth surveying the scene with faithful vigilance. Often she would position herself directly beneath us while preparing food, and she didn’t seem to mind that we were always tripping over her.
But she was keenly aware of when her favorite foods were out, accentuating her puppy face for carrots (her healthy favorite), popcorn (her favorite to catch out of mid-air), and any meat imaginable. I never saw a deeper sense of purpose and urgency in Lilly then when I would pick the carcass of a rotisserie chicken. As her generous keeper, I’d always drop her the disgusting part.
But more than anything, the prospect of food led Lilly to incredible mischief, from the hilarious to the infuriating. On her first Christmas, she found and ate Uncle Billy’s entire fruit cake, then pooped in his room. One Easter she ate a bag of chocolate candy, then spent the night howling and racing around the Gnisci’s backyard while Charlie held the leash, watched her frantically poop, and prayed she didn’t die. Then there was the Thanksgiving where Lilly ventured upstairs during dinner, came down and moseyed under the table, and then hacked up a Brillo pad she’d seized from the laundry room. I have witnessed Lilly jump on a table to eat a stick of butter, a wedge of cheese, and a plate of cinnamon rolls. I’ve witnessed Lilly overturn a trashcan to eat a sweet potato, a bratwurst, and a whole chicken drumstick. We learned that true rage ensued when we attempted to remove something delicious from her mouth. Over time, we simply followed the sage words of Cousin Eddie: “It’s best just to let her finish.”
Lilly’s mischief extended to her love for adventure. She didn’t stop being a hound dog when she ventured outside. I loved letting her out on spring days when there was a rabbit or two in the yard. She would put her nose down immediately and begin zigzagging at the scent, then blast off like a greyhound as the rabbit took off. The rabbit would always find its way through the fence and into safety.
But a fence didn’t always stop Lilly. Half my yardwork over the last decade has been patching holes she dug to exit the premises for an excursion. Sometimes she’d be gone for a few minutes, sometimes for a few hours. She typically returned with a grin, panting and ready for water, often needing a bath due to something awful smeared on her coat.
She loved the outside and her fellow creatures. We’ve watched her run squirrels up trees, bark at hawks in the sky, and come face to face with a groundhog. A week before she passed, I had let her outside in the morning to do her business. Minutes later, Danielle awoke to what sounded like barking and scratching under the house. I went out to inspect and opened the crawlspace. As I peered in, there was Lilly (how did she get under the house?), pawing at an open storage container. I stepped in to the crawlspace, approached the container, and tapped it. Slowly and creepily, two black ears rose above the container and immediately alerted me to what Lilly was so excited about: a raccoon. I whisked Lilly out of there, and thankfully the raccoon found its way out too through the hole Lilly had dug under the A/C unit. It was a disaster averted, with the end result being a little bit of duct repair and cleaning up some poop Lilly left behind in her excitement.
While she was definitely a Snoopy dog, Lilly broke the mold with her zest for swimming and retrieving. When she was young, we took her to the beach to fetch sticks in the ocean with her friend Boone. Lilly was a natural, and simulated an otter swishing through the water, using her tail as a propeller. So arduous was her effort that she suffered a sprained tail, which sadly couldn’t erect for a few days. In our backyard, we’d have her run down sticks, tennis balls, and the occasional frisbee. Occasional because when she flagged down a frisbee, she ate it.
But there was one thing that Lilly loved more than food and adventure: people. No, not people outside of the house like joggers, bikers and UPS men—she barked like hell at them. But Lilly loved her people. She’d let us know it when we returned home, jumping on her hind legs and moaning with glee as we pet her. She loved to be with us, whether it was under the dinner table, on our couch, or in our arms. She loved to be pet and scratched, and she loved a good belly rub. Even after the rub down, she would still slide back and forth on her back, then jump up, sneeze, and shake it all out. It became a ritual she sought out, often turning over immediately on her back when we went to pet her.
Lilly loved Hudson and Ella Jane. On her last night with us, when she lacked the energy to move about, she mustered the strength and voluntarily came into the room to say good night to the kids. She let them hug and kiss her, and even stayed in their room for a moment as we put them down. She was a best friend, unto the end.
We miss Lilly and are reminded of her, or her absence, every day. For one, we have to clean up any food that falls on the floor, something we haven’t had to do in 10 years. As I walk around my yard, I chuckle at my beat-up fence and all the rocks and twisty-ties serving as barricades. Mostly, we are reminded of Lilly in the quiet. No sniffs, barks, growls, jingles or scratches that we’d grown so accustomed to.
Lilly lived an incredible 10 years. That’s a good life for a dog, but a really good life for Lilly, considering all the messes she got herself into and, remarkably, got out of. If all dogs go to Heaven, then I’m sure Lilly had a good shot. Perhaps she’s feasting at the Lord’s table, or more accurately, on top of it. Wherever her soul is, there is laughter there.
No, Lilly never caught a rabbit. But she was a damn good friend of mine, and of all of us. She’ll forever be treasured as our first family pet. We’ll miss you, sweet girl.