Seven Lessons From the Dog on How to Live Your Best Life

Dave Barry Tells All in His New Book, Lessons From Lucy
By Michael W. Michelsen Jr, November 2018, Updated December 2018
Lessons from Lucy

Over the past 40 years, humorist and Pulitzer Prize– winning Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry has poked fun at his generation. He has joked about its delusions, its self-improvement campaigns, its indulgences, its emotional limitations and its do-gooder impulses. He’s written about everything from kitchen appliances to RV camping at Walmart. Until now, however, he has never tackled one of life’s most important relationships: the one between people and their dogs.

Practically every dog owner will admit that they learn a lot from their dog. In Barry’s case, as he faced the obstacles and challenges of getting older, he found himself turning to his dog, Lucy, to learn how to live his best life. The result of these experiences will appear in a book, Lessons From Lucy (due out in 2019).

“I never set out to write a selfhelp book,” Barry said candidly from his home in Miami. “The funny thing is that when you set out to not do something you end up doing something entirely different, which is what happened to me in this case. I ended up with a memoir that happened to tell the story of what I have learned from Lucy.”

The result is an outrageously funny book in which Barry touches on all the things readers have come to love about his unique brand of slightly curmudgeonly, self-deprecating, stream-of-consciousness humor. Try as you might, however, it is hard to escape the fact that Lessons From Lucy is deep, sweet and downright touching. Perhaps best of all, dog lovers will no doubt find they have a lot in common with Barry’s day-to-day adventures and Lucy’s take on their meanings.

As Barry noted, “When I turned 70, it didn’t take long before I realized that Lucy was far better than I was at dealing with old age. This was not obvious to me at first. It was only later that I noticed that she had more friends, fewer worries and way more fun than I ever did. This led me to try to figure out how Lucy managed to stay happy and how I could take what I learned from her by doing the same kinds of things she does—except certain things, such as sniffing crotches and drinking from the toilet.”

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Lucy began her reign over the Barry household after Dave and his wife, fellow Miami Herald columnist Michelle Kaufman, promised their daughter, Sophie, that she could have a dog. A dog was not their first choice; they initially tried to placate their daughter’s pleas for a pet with tropical fish. When that didn’t work, the couple relented, and the family began looking at rescue agency websites, which included photos of available dogs as well as brief descriptions.

Monaco, the dog who caught Sophie’s attention, barely looked like a dog at all. Barry says that in her photo, which showed two glowing orbs surrounded by a black blob, she strongly resembled the Demon Dog from Hell, but Sophie was smitten. Female, about six months old, the dog had been found several months earlier wandering the streets of Miramar, Fla.

In her online profile, Monaco— soon to be renamed Lucy—was described as “couldn’t be sweeter if she tried,” a trait that was temporarily lost on the Barry family at their first meeting as they watched her drag the volunteer around the room like a freight train.

The first thing most people ask about Lucy is what kind of dog she is. Barry’s answer to this question is “Heck if I know,” which is why he ordered one of those DNA testing kits. The result? Lucy is a mix of Boxer, Dalmatian, ChowChow and Golden Retriever. This inspired Barry to submit his own DNA to a testing company, only to learn that his biological father is Warren Buffett. (Just kidding.)

Despite the lack of a clear heritage, Lucy seems to be loved by all. Everyone from family friends and neighbors to the bug man who services the Barry household gets along with her, which makes lesson number one from Lucy easy to figure out: Make new friends, and keep the ones you have.

Second Lesson: Readers may be surprised to learn that Dave Barry is not quite the fun-loving humorist most people make him out to be. In fact, after beginning his career, he discovered that he generally disliked humanity. It’s hard to tell where this problem came from, but Lucy has her own way of dealing with it and Barry is taking it to heart: Don’t stop having fun, and if you have, start again. (This may explain his longtime membership in the World Famous Lawn Rangers, a drill team that performs precision lawn mower-andbroom routines in parades across the country, from small-town fairs to presidential inaugurations, such as Obama’s 2009 celebration.)

Third Lesson: According to Barry, if the company you work for requires you to take a course in mindfulness, be afraid. Be very afraid. It has a high statistical probability of being stupid. Instead, as Lucy suggests, Just pay attention, especially to the people you love.

Fourth Lesson: Barry is quick to admit that he has a knack for developing instantaneous hatreds for people he doesn’t know. Lucy has a lesson for this too: Let go of your anger, unless it’s about something really important, which it almost never is.

Fifth Lesson: You can tell a lot from looking at someone. Unfortunately, a lot of what you think you know isn’t true. Thus, Lucy’s fifth lesson: Try not to judge people by their looks, and don’t obsess over your own.

Sixth Lesson: We live in a materialistic society, but you may have noticed that it hasn’t made us any happier. As a result, take Lucy’s sixth lesson to heart: Don’t let your happiness depend on things; they don’t make you truly happy, and you’ll never have enough anyway.

Seventh Lesson: Experts agree that 60 percent of us can’t go 10 minutes without lying. Lucy’s suggestion? Don’t lie unless you have a really good reason, which you probably don’t.

Admittedly, this is a lot to learn, but Barry advises you to make the effort. You’ll be a better companion to your dog, not to mention a better person.

Michael W. Michelsen, Jr., is a freelance writer who lives with his wife, and their two Dachshunds, who have both taught Mike many lessons about growing older.

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