Rescuing Lucy was the right decision

When I first saw Lucy, she was cowering in a corner of her kennel at the Heart of Jackson Humane Society in Holton, Kan.

Every inch of her velvety brown fur shook. Her tail was tucked between her hind legs. She wouldn't even look directly at me.

I knew right then: This was the dog for me. I've always been a sucker for hard-luck cases.

It was Father's Day weekend 2008. While visiting my father, I asked if Holton had an animal shelter.

Yes, Holton had a shelter, and there we went. I wasn't even sure I wanted a dog and didn't know what kind, except that I didn't want a yappy little dog that could fit in a purse. And I knew that I would never buy a dog. There are too many unwanted animals that need forever homes.

The minute I saw Lucy, I fell in love.

She was so beautiful, with her chocolate Labrador coat, brown and gold eyes and athletic build.

But she also was obviously damaged goods.

The other dogs in the kennels would come running up to anyone who came to visit. Not Lucy. She ran away.

One of the shelter's volunteers let me in to Lucy's kennel, and she shook even more.

I got on the floor with her.

She moved as far away from me as she could.

Her eyes looked wild, like the horse's in "The Horse Whisperer." She wouldn't get near me, but she wouldn't take her eyes off me, either. Nervous, twitching, "What are you going to do to me?" eyes.

The volunteers let me take Lucy for a walk. She relaxed a bit once we got outside, but she was still very afraid.

Lucy had been at Heart of Jackson a very long time. A man briefly adopted her but brought her back because she wouldn't warm to him. I didn't care if Lucy ever licked my face or snuggled up to me; I just wanted her to have a good home.

I told the staff that I would think about whether I wanted to adopt her and would be back the next day.

That's what I told them. But I already knew that I would take Lucy home, if they would let me.

The next day, we went back to get Lucy, and I learned a bit more about her. She had a scar on her neck from a collar that had grown too tight. Her previous caretakers hadn't bothered to adjust her collar as she grew, apparently.

I learned other things about Lucy later, things I will spare you.

I put Lucy in my car and drove to Wichita, with a new collar and leash, a bag of dog food, a water bowl and a few toys. And a promise. The shelter volunteers had reminded me that Lucy was a special dog and that if things didn't work out, I could return her and get a refund on her adoption fee. As if I was ever going to give her up.

On the way to Wichita, she sat on the floor of the front passenger seat, panting wildly.

When we got to my house, she ran immediately to a desk in the corner of my living room and hid under it.

I found an old cushion from a papasan chair and thought it could serve as a dog bed for the night. I put it on the floor next to where Lucy was hiding.

That night, I "slept" on the cushion but didn't get any sleep because I was so in love I couldn't stop watching her.

For the first two weeks, Lucy mostly hid. She was difficult to walk, yanking on her leash any time a noise scared her. And just about everything scared her. She popped her collar and escaped at least three times.

But as the weeks wore on, Lucy began to change. She started realizing that no one was going to hurt her again. She felt safe. She started to fall asleep when I was in the room instead of always keeping her eyes open.

One day, she gathered all of the cats' toys and put them in her new dog bed, declaring them hers. I knew then that she felt at home.

Lucy has not been an easy dog to have. She remains terrified of men, save for my boyfriend and my next-door neighbor. New environments still scare her.

She has, however, been the best dog to have. She is kind and loving. Despite everything she's been through, her loving heart allows her to groom my two old, fat cats and tuck them into their beds at night.

The first time I saw Lucy wag her tail, months after I adopted her, I knew I had made the right decision by bringing her home.

This past summer, Lucy gained a new friend, a border collie that showed up in my yard, dirty, hungry and full of heartworms. Just like I fell in love with Lucy, Lucy fell in love with Scout. They now are the best of friends.

There are days when I curse myself for getting more animals. My mom and some of my friends tease me for having an "animal farm." The dogs are a handful, they're expensive to care for properly (and I care for them properly), and they're demanding.

But at the end of the day, every day, when I get kisses from Lucy and Scout, I know that I made the right decision giving two dogs others had given up on a forever home.