Lucy: an Old Town Institution
Find out how this personable Houdini dog has worked her way into the lives and hearts of Old Town residents and shop owners in the past ten years.
- story by Ellis Anderson, photos courtesy the Wyly family and Lucy's fan club
But unlike most Serious Bread customers, Lucy’s not allowed inside. Being a dog — even the beloved “town dog” — sometimes has its disadvantages.
“She knows she can’t come in,” says bakery owner Al Jensen. “And she respects that. She sits right outside the door. She also makes it clear that she comes to socialize as much as she comes for breakfast.”
Jensen says she’s been a “great friend all these years,” and is a part of his family. He adds that while he’s owned dogs his entire life and understands them, he believes that Lucy is one of a kind.
“Lucy is a child of Bay St. Louis,” he says. “She’s also a child of Katrina.”
No argument there.
The large, ambling hound mix began her life shortly after the monster hurricane demolished the coast in 2005. A young volunteer, Katie Wyly, spotted the puppy at the overcrowded Humane Society animal shelter in Gulfport and was instantly smitten. She adopted the pup on the spot.
Katie and her parents, Teri and Bubba Wyly, were living in a trailer outside of town while their Bay St. Louis home was being rebuilt. At first, Katie tried leaving the puppy behind a baby gate in the laundry room. Lucy’s Houdini-like escape skills manifested at once. Katie arrived home from work the first day and found Lucy wagging her tail and waiting for a treat. On the opposite side of the gate.
“Ten years later, I still haven’t been able to figure out how she did that,” says Katie.
So, the young volunteer began taking Lucy to work with her each day. The puppy became the instant mascot of the Hands On program, headquartered at St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church in the Bay.
For the young volunteers who spent their days on the serious business of helping Katrina survivors reclaim their homes and their lives, Lucy represented hope and fresh energy and rollicking carefree fun. She’d accompany them to work sites, where she enjoyed her job as unofficial courier.
“We’d draw messages on her side in plaster, so it’d wash right off,” Katy says, laughing. “Then we’d send her running down the hallway to another group. It was a fun game for her and for us.”
When the Wyly family moved back into their Beach Boulevard home just before Thanksgiving, 2006, Lucy exercised her escape artist skills each time she was left at home alone. She’d been raised to be a social creature and was determined to continue that lifestyle. In those first years after Katrina, many of the city streets were closed due to construction and infrastructure work, so Lucy learned that she could escape the Wyly’s yard and take walkabouts. What’s more, she was rewarded for doing so by Old Town business people. The merchants who had reopened in those early days struggled with street closures, few tourists and a beleaguered local customer base. Lucy became their mascot as well, offering a cheerful spot in often-dismal days.
Bay Emporium owner Vicki Niolet calls Lucy a “town institution” and remembers how Lucy served as an antidepressant for the community.
“It was a really tough time. We all needed to pet on her,” Niolet says. “She made everybody feel better.”
Niolet’s own small dog Boo-Boo has accompanied her to work for the last 12 years. Boo and Lucy became the best of friends during the years of Old Town’s reconstruction, with Lucy often spending part of her day at Bay Emporium.
“I was running the town’s juvenile mutt delinquent center,” Niolet says with a smile.
Early on the Wylys, frustrated by their inability to corral Lucy, hired a professional dog trainer. The trainer quickly identified Lucy as an alpha female.
“He told us we definitely needed to do some training,” Bubba says. “Of our family. Not of the dog.”
Lucy is elderly now by dog year standards, and while the Wylys say that she’s slowed down considerably, they report that she can still jump up on the bed.
She hasn’t lost her love of the country either. On weekend mornings, (and the Wylys say that Lucy has an accurate inner calendar), Lucy eagerly waits for Bubba to take her four-wheeling out in the countryside. Although she enjoys running in the woods, Bubba says he never considered using her as a hunting dog.
“She’s got the worst sense of smell,” he says, laughing. “She couldn’t track a bull elephant through the snow.”
Yet the venerable dog has kept her Houdini skills finely honed. While she doesn’t get around like she used to, on many days the grey-muzzled hound can be found padding up the sidewalks of Main Street.
She keeps a predictable route, moving between the shops as if they are a series of doggie day-care centers. Although stray dogs in Old Town are usually reported so they can be returned to their homes quickly, Lucy’s granted the unofficial status of an elderly veteran. As one resident quipped, “It’s like she’s grandfathered in - and she should be. She's one of us.”
Lucy’s first morning stop is usually Serious Bread Bakery (131 Main Street, Suite D), where she often scores a baguette. Since she’s not allowed in the bakery, she’ll eat part outside and then bury whatever is left. Suzi Walters, owner of Identity Vintage (in the same building as the bakery, 131 Main St., Suite A) has seen Lucy bury so many leftovers, “any day now, the old community garden is going to start sprouting scones and baguettes.”
After breakfast, Lucy drops in to visit Walters where “Lucy’s my favorite repeat customer. She comes in for a cuddle and a quick circle through the shop.” Lucy’s next daycare stop is Bay Books, just next door (131 Main Street, Suite C). Owner Jeremy Burke says that sometimes she’ll bring a scone with her and eat it while getting pets from children in the kids’ book section.
“Soon after I bought the bookstore years ago, I realized I had a new dog,” Burke says. “She’s a great addition to the neighborhood.”
Lucy sometimes seeks out a second breakfast at the Baptist church office a few doors up Main, before visiting nearby Second Street friends. At Bay Emporium (112 S. Second Street), she’s sure to get a warm welcome from friend Boo-Boo and Niolet. Since the terrazzo floor at Antique Maison at 111 N. Second Street is a preferred hot-weather napping spot, she’ll often stretch across the aisle in the antique mall. Owner Sylvia Young tells customers that Lucy is her dog and asks them to simply step over her.
Lucy’s likely to see another familiar face at Antique Maison, Peggy Branger. Branger works at the store, and pet sits for Lucy when the Wylys are out of town. Branger and Lucy have a close relationship, but Branger’s been known “kidnap” the dog between shops and drive her back to the Wyly’s home. So, while in the shop, Lucy’s delighted to see her sitter. However, if Branger happens to be driving down the street and spots Lucy, the dog will lower her head and dart into the cover of the closest refuge to avoid the possibility of being taken home.
“She’s a very sociable dog,” says Branger. “It’s not like she doesn’t have a great home. She’s got a big zebra print bed, great food and a basket full of toys. She’s crazy about the Wylys. But if they’re not home, she wants to be where the action is.”
In the afternoon, Lucy makes her rounds on the second block of Main. One favorite stop is the French Potager (213 Main Street). Artist/owner Martha Whitney Butler thinks of Lucy as her own dog and is always thrilled to see her, despite the large dog taking up quite a bit of floor space in the small cottage shop.
“One morning soon after I started closing on Mondays, I got a photo and text from a friend,” Butler says. “He wanted to know why this dog was standing outside my door barking to be let in. It was Lucy, of course, who just couldn’t believe I wasn’t there."
“I love her and she’s great for business too. She’ll actually lead customers here.”
A canine love interest lives at Gallery 220 and Clay Creations (220 Main Street), so it’s another favorite napping spot of Lucy’s. Owners Jenise McCartle and Mark Currier say that Lucy has been the girlfriend of their dog Lucky for nearly a decade.
“Lucky’s 12 now,” says McCartle. “He still thinks he’s hot stuff, but he’s not. Those two are so cute as a couple though. They’re growing old together.”
Lucy’s got an accurate inner clock as well as a calendar. She always heads toward the beach in time to greet the Wylys when they arrive home from work. Perhaps she believes that ploy will keep them from realizing she’s escaped again. But that doesn’t always work. When Martha Whitney Butler sees Lucy headed home, she’ll sometimes revive the canine’s career as a courier dog. She'll tie a note for the Wylys onto the dog's collar.
“And sometimes, I’ll make Lucy a flower crown to wear home,” says Butler. “They just seem to suit her.”
Editor's note: I've been longing to write about Lucy for years. Thanks to the Wyly family and the local shop owners mentioned for making it happen.