The Lady of the Pier
The largest funeral in the history of the town coincided with the closing of the pier. The “Lady of the Pier” had died and the town criers decreed that in her honor the pier would be closed. No one objected. More than eight hundred people attended the service and several notables gave short eulogies about their missing friend. The best was perhaps that offered up by the Professor and when he was done there was hardly a dry eye in the crowd. Not bad for a dog!
Yes, Lady was a dog, but no simple dog for she managed to befriend all types at the pier and was able to change the thinking, if not the lives, of several regulars. It didn’t even matter if the person liked dogs; it was simply hard not to like the Lady.
Martha gave her that name and somehow that name stuck and spread among the pier rat faithful at the pier. The first day Lady showed up she was still a somewhat young dog, not overly small or large but medium-sized and with very dainty lady-like features. She was friendly but not bothersome and seemed to take her time and judge each regular on his or her own merits. Somehow, she seemed to know which people she could greet immediately and which needed a little time. With time though there were few that didn’t become fans. It seemed strange because she was, after all, just a dog.
Lady would arrive most mornings about 9 AM and would do a complete loop of the pier checking out all the buckets of the anglers. Quite often the bucket would contain live bait—smelt, anchovies, or small brown bait—which she would watch for a few seconds and then she would nod her head in agreement and move on to the next bucket.
If someone caught a fish she would, like many of the anglers, move over and watch the commotion but as soon as the fish was returned to the water, or killed, she would return to her normal routine. If the Family were in attendance she would often stay with them an hour or more either sleeping quietly or letting Jasper Robb and Cassidy scratch her behind her ears. She never barked or begged for food but would take an offering if there were extras.
As a rule, dogs were not allowed on the pier but within weeks of her arrival everyone seemed to know her and the pier authorities chose to overlook her attendance. Somehow, when other dogs were brought to the pier, even those that had a nasty disposition, she would be able to dampen their hostility. How, no one could understand, but no dog ever fought with her even though she never cowered, she simply stood her ground and her presence seemed to drain the hostility out of others—even visitors to the pier who knew nothing of her background.
Lady’s fame was fully enhanced by two main events. The first was the appearance one day of a strange-colored dolphin that seemed to be surfing the waves with the surfers, as sometimes happens. Lady happened to watch the dolphin for a while and then gave a high-pitched squeal, something the Family had never heard her do. Almost immediately the dolphin seemed to change its behavior and swam over, quite close to the pier. Amazingly it too gave a high-pitched squeal, which was answered by Lady. This went on for about fifteen minutes as amazed anglers and pier-gawkers stood and watched. Finally the dolphin seemed to turn on its side, waved with a flipper and disappeared. While everyone stood around and wondered what they had just seen, Lady went back to the family for a nap.
The next day about 11 AM, the same dolphin, with the patch on its side, reappeared and the scene between Lady and her new found friend was repeated. The regulars now were really paying attention.
After a few days of similar scenes a writer and photographer from the local paper appeared on scene and recorded the strange picture of Lady standing near the railing “calling to her friend.” It made the papers throughout the nation and, when the dolphin returned day after day throughout the summer and fall it was given the unoriginal name Patch (someone suggested Tramp but it just didn’t seem right). Although Patch disappeared for about two months during the winter he was back in the spring for his daily visit. The pier now had an adopted dog and an adopted dolphin.
The other event happened one late summer day when the pier was crowded with families and as usual too many of the parents were paying less than perfect attention as to where their kids were headed. A little girl, only two and a half years old, managed to lean through the railings on the pier and fell to the surface of the sea. As soon as it happened Lady raced to the spot, squeezed between the railing, and dove into the water where she grabbed hold of a spot high on the girl’s dress and paddled with all her might. Although it took a couple of minutes for people to see Lady and the girl, and another minute for two former lifeguards to dive into the water, Lady continued to keep the girl’s head above the water. While the lifeguards pulled the girl into shore Lady stayed with them swimming just to their side. No one even knew Lady could swim but all agreed the girl would have drowned if Lady had not dived in and grabbed her.
The deed was written up in the paper and that of course meant that the politicos would step in to share in the publicity. The City Council decreed a “Lady of the Pier Day” and came down to the pier where pictures were taken and everyone seemed to radiate respect and love for the dog. No one bothered to ask where Lady’s owner was but it didn’t seem to matter given the front-page publicity the pictures were sure to earn. Lady though was granted an official place on the pier, the first and only such honor in the history of the pier. To commemorate the award, Martha brought her a small pillow on which she could sleep whenever she stayed with the family.
Lady would leave the pier most days around 4 PM but no one knew where she went; all assumed it was to a home near the pier. Lady visited the pier every day for nearly six years and her dolphin friend was there most of the year for nearly four years. Each day Lady would greet all her friends—as well as Patch.
One day Lady appeared at the pier and although she displayed her usual effervescent personality she also appeared to be tentative or weak. When Cassidy went to scratch her she tensed as though in pain and when they looked into her brown eyes the family knew something was wrong. That afternoon the gang went house-to-house trying to find her owner but no one claimed ownership. Finally, around 4 PM, they decided to let her go to see if they could follow her to a home. Sadly she led them to a boxed in corner of an alley where she had managed to fashion a home of sorts. In truth the Lady was homeless and all in the family wondered how she had been able to be so friendly and apparently healthy given the circumstances of her life.
Cassidy took her home that night, fixed her a small bed next to Cassidy’s own, and spent most of the night talking to Lady as though she was a long lost sister. The next morning she took her to the veterinarian. After several tests he announced the results: she had cancer and it was inoperable. Lady seemed to understand that something was wrong and happily moved in with Cassidy in her home. However, each morning Lady would whine until she was taken down to the pier to see her friends. She would do a once around the pier and then settle down with the Family for the day. Jasper had rigged up a small couch of sorts for her in the middle of the group along with bowls for her water and the goodies that he always seemed to have for Lady.
She was now a little slow, a little frail and becoming, for some, a sad sight to see. Still, she greeted every regular and even continued to speak to Patch. Too soon though, just four weeks later, a morning came when she did not get up. She lay on the small bed that Cassidy had prepared but was too weak to visit the pier. That day the Family met and although it was one of the hardest decisions the family had ever had to make, they decided it was time to put The Lady out of her pain. All were in tears and none slept peacefully that night.
Early the next morning every member of the Family accompanied her to the veterinarian’s office and each took a few minutes to caress her head and look with love into her deep brown eyes. Finally Jasper said it was time and Lady seemed to nod her head in agreement. With her head on Jasper’s lap, with Cassidy scratching her ears, and with the rest of the Family providing a background halo of sorts to the event, the veterinarian applied the shot to her foreleg. It took just a few moments for peace to reach within Lady’s soul but for the Family it seemed an eternity.
News of Lady’s impending death had spread throughout the pier community and Ellen had received an offer from the local cemetery to donate a plot to Lady. The news was printed in the paper, the town declared the pier closed for a day, and a huge and dolorous crowd assembled for her funeral. To some it seemed strange that a dog could attract a larger crowd to its funeral than a human being, but those who so speculated did not know The Lady or the love and devotion a dog can show to its friends.
The next day Patch appeared at the pier but his squeals went unanswered. Two more days Patch showed up at the pier and two more days his calls were in vain. Patch too disappeared from the pier.
Bob Dylan once sang in regards to a lover “She takes the night out of the nighttime and leaves the daytime black.” Lady’s passing seemed to take much of the day out of the daytime and leave it black.
A small plaque now sits at the entrance to the pier:
“In loving memory of our Lady of the Pier,
Heroine and Friend to All.
She Gave Us Her Love
And We Loved Her In Return.”