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Jul 27, 2011 04:57PM

Lucie's dogma: Lessons on the good life from a four-footed friend

By Sarah Gardner, sgardner@qconline.com
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Paul Colletti
Pam Kaufman, of Bettendorf, sits with her dog, Lucie, the 2011 Radish magazine Pet of the Year.
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Pam Kaufman has learned a lot from her friend, Lucie. Live in the moment. Greet your neighbors. Don't be so self-absorbed you don't see the flowers, smell the roses or feel the breeze. It's the kind of wisdom you expect from a meditation master, serenely seated in the lotus position, although you won't catch Lucie in such a pose. After all, she's a dog.

To be more precise, Lucie is a 12-year-old border collie/blue pointer mix. At least, that is as near as anyone can figure. Kaufman adopted Lucie from a shelter, so her age and origins are subject to a little speculation. One thing is crystal clear, though: Lucie's patient, friendly demeanor touches hearts, including those at the Healthy Living Fair where she was voted 2011 Pet of the Year.

When they go out on walks, says Kaufman, Lucie "rarely knows a stranger -- the vast majority of the world are friends she hasn't met yet personally." Because of this, Kaufman sees Lucie as more of a community ambassador than her own personal dog.

In fact, when Kaufman and Lucie began doing nursing home and hospital visits as part of the Delta Society, something funny happened in their first-year pet-therapy team evaluations. "The evaluator told me that my dog scored better than me because, of course, she was not nervous and just approached the whole adventure as another opportunity to make friends," explains Kaufman.

Not that Kaufman would complain about Lucie's high score. Part of her ability to be gracious comes from the fact that she herself has been on the receiving end of Lucie's therapeutic talents. A few months after bringing Lucie home from the shelter, Kaufman lost part of her house in a fire. "After the fire, I had second-degree burns on my lower legs and feet, and Lucie was my best walking therapist, with her continuing enthusiasm to go farther and faster without any judgmental critiques," says Kaufman.

Kaufman even credits Lucie with helping her to survive the conflagration, which began directly below her bedroom in her garage. She was checking on Lucie, who was crated in the basement, when gas fumes from the garage ignited. If she had been in bed instead, a firefighter later told her, she would have never woken up.

When Kaufman adopted Lucie from the animal shelter, Lucie was past her date to be euthanized. By adopting her, Kaufman saved Lucie's life. And then, a few months later, Lucie was there to save Kaufman -- a connection that hit Kaufman a few days after the fire."I was rubbing her behind the ears, as she so loves, and it dawned on me, well, nearly bowled me over would be more accurate, that we were now 'even,' " says Kaufman.

Although it would be easy to assume this is why Kaufman is so mindful of Lucie's well-being, the truth is Kaufman has been a dedicated pet owner since day one. Even before she brought Lucie home from the shelter, Kaufman had set appointments with a veterinarian and a groomer to make sure she received proper care.

As Lucie has aged, Kaufman has given her supplements to support her bone and joint health. She is careful about what Lucie eats, steering clear of pet food containing food dyes and additives that are taxing on a dog's digestive system. For the last several years, Kaufman has even acted as Lucie's dentist, too, cleaning her teeth.

In addition to their daily walks, Kaufman has also provided Lucie with a big backyard in which to run around free of pesticides and other chemical lawn treatments. This is especially important to Kaufman, as Lucie sometimes likes to eat grass and licks her feet to clean them. "Could you imagine directly ingesting pesticides and herbicides?" Kaufman recoils.

Ironically, until she met Lucie, Kaufman considered herself more of a cat person. "Living in a city, I didn't think I could have a dog," says Kaufman. But Lucie won her over.

"She didn't have a ferocious bone in her body," says Kaufman, describing their first meeting at the shelter.

Their encounters with neighbors on their daily walks has led Kaufman to muse, "I think this world would be a happier, healthier place if we all walked more and knew our neighbors better, in our immediate neighborhood and the larger community -- city, region, nation and world."

It's an insight that must make her furry guru proud.


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