At about 10:30 A.M. on December 31, 2010, I lost my beloved dog Lucky.
Lucky was nine- and-a-half years old and died of lymphoma. He died in my arms while we were driving to the hospital. I cannot get the last few minutes of his life out of my mind. His last cry, his last few breaths. His little heart beating, then stopping. It was surreal. I will never forget it for the rest of my life.
Lucky was a rescue - in fact my first rescue ever. I found him under a car one fateful day. It was a Friday in early June 2001. Tropical Storm Allison was rumbling towards Houston, about to unleash its fury on us mortals. I had decided to walk my little prince, Nikita, a nine-pound Maltese, before the storm hit. The day looked ominous, it was afternoon, and it had turned almost pitch black.. Nikita and I, linked by a leash, had just rounded the corner from the street where we lived when Nikita began barking incessantly and straining toward a parked car. As we neared the vehicle, he continued barking and tried to crawl beneath the car. As yet unable to see in that hidden space, I had no idea what he was after, but I knew Nikita would not mislead me. Peering under the car, I spotted the cowering animal who would become "my little boy.."
Cute as a button, he shook like a leaf. I though he could not have been more than three months old. I knew I could not leave him there. I tried to get him out from under the car, but I could not reach him, so I gently started calling him to come towards me. Initially, he refused to venture forth, but after a few tries I persuaded him to inch toward me. I think he knew he was in trouble and would be safer following me. So he did.
There we were, on a deserted street under darkening skies. I now carried Nikita, who never stopped barking. Fortunately, Lucky followed us all the way home. Back at the house, I opened the garage door and let him in. Inside, I brought him some water and some food that he swiftly scarfed down. I laid some blankets on the floor for him, and he slept in the garage that night. Outside, apparently not frightening Lucky as much as being alone and homeless under an automobile in a vast human-made landscape, powerful thunderstorms struck, anticipating Tropical Storm Allison, which would wreak destruction in coming days. The following morning, amid the storm, I took him to a veterinarian, who told me that, aside from some intestinal parasites, Lucky was a healthy little youngster. I took him home that day, and my scared little boy became a member of the Roba family. I decided to call him Lucky because I knew he was so lucky to find me that day. I knew had I not found him that day, he would have died during the powerful storm that battered Houston for the next few days and caused a lot of human and nonhuman deaths.
Luck, as I used to call him, along with the prince Nikita, became my teachers. They both taught me how to love unconditionally, taught me to be humble and patient and to have reverence for all life. They showed me the importance of living in the moment and of being spontaneous and genuine. Because Luck and Nikita showed me how to respect nonhuman animals, I soon stopped eating meat. Within a couple of years, I had stopped eating or wearing any and all animal products. I eventually was inspired to create, in collaboration with my dear sister Seble, the Amsale Gessesse Memorial Foundation, an organization to honor my mother and Seble's aunt, and more importantly, dedicated to fighting for all nonhuman animals and for all human beings devalued or discarded by their societies.
My lucky has his paw print on my heart forever. His gentle soul and his kind disposition will always be in my heart. I will never forget how, during feeding time, he would wait till all my other dogs - Sasha, who came to live with me in 2003, Duke, 2005, Suzie Q, 2009 - had finished eating before he would begin, and if he was eating and little Nikita started barking at him, he would walk away and let him eat. He was also very loyal. A cousin who has been living with me and the dogs observed that when I went to work, Lucky would sit by the door almost all day awaiting my return. When I went to take a shower, Lucky, and only Lucky, always waited outside the door.
Luck was very protective of me and my cousin. When I traveled, every night before my cousin went to bed she would take Luck, Nikita, and Suzie Q. out to the front yard to "do their business." On their way back, while the other two would walk in front of my cousin, he would bring up the rear, following my cousin all the way to her bedroom to make sure she was all right. A conscientious young dog, he never ever peed in the house unless he had no choice. Loving to drink water all day long, he would fill his bladder and awaken me in the middle of the night. Rising from a dead sleep, I would find him standing over me, knowing he would not budge until I acquiesced to take him out. Luck suffered from a mysterious condition veterinarians were unable to diagnose: He would go into seizures when overheated and exhausted. When he felt a seizure coming on, he would run to me for protection, at which time I would hold on to him tightly and he would seize for a few seconds, then be up and running again in short order, with no apparent injury.
Lucky constantly wanted to run. When he was a pup, I had to constantly throw toys across my study into the dining room to keep him entertained. He would bring the toy back to me and wait for me to throw it again, to the point that my arms would ache. He loved to run along the back fence and along the gate when people, especially bicyclists, passed by our house. He would do this for hours on end, nearly to the point of collapse. Luck also had some strange habits like getting between my legs while I walked and barking at full volume.. He did these until he fell seriously ill a few weeks ago.
Besides his middle-of-the-night urinary emergencies and his occasional seizures, Lucky demanded one other special thing of me: belly rubs as often as possible. He was not shy about asking, sometimes begging by licking my face if merely rolling on his back failed to grab my attention. If I failed to administer a thorough belly rub for at least ten minutes at bedtime, he would remain by my side until I complied. Even during car rides, occupying the front passenger seat, Luck would sit in front and pull my hands towards him so I could do my duty. I salute Lucky, and I honor him. And thanks to him, Nikita and all of the rescues that have enriched my life, I never forget that every day in the United States thousands of innocent and healthy dogs and cats are killed for no reason except that they are not wanted by us humans, and many throughout the world are killed, beaten, and starved every day. They made me realize that millions of sentient beings all over the world are killed for meat or for their skins, millions more are tortured and abused for entertainment, in the name of science, money, and other human purposes and billions of nonhuman animals and their would-be descendants have lost their homes to make way for human civilization.
The dogs' constant presence has helped me realize that nonhuman animals constitute nations unto themselves and are co-travelers on life pathways, no less important than us humans. Thanks to them I have joined the growing number of compassionate human beings who are saying NO to the cruelty we human beings visit on nonhuman beings and on each other. The profound impact my dogs have had on me, especially Lucky and Nikita, cannot be quantified. Their contribution to making me a better person is immeasurable. They saved my life, my soul, and they have made me into who I am today, a simple human being striving to do his utmost to help those who have been relegated to the margins, to help those sentient beings both two legged and four legged who are hungry, sick, unwanted and despised. For that I am indebted to them for all eternity. For all of the wisdom they have imparted to me, I am eternally grateful.
Rest in peace, my Little Boy. Your troubles are over.
Run free, my friend Luck, I love you deeply and forever.
Anteneh Roba, M.D.