Candy Lou had that sparkle. She was quick and curious. Playful and strong. She was scrappy and sweet, loyal and fiercely independent. She was our alpha. She was my mini -- or at least what I wanted my mini to be. She was often more courageous and adventurous than I could ever muster.
Candy Lou came to us less than three weeks after losing my dear Guapo. Heart of Georgia Humane Society sprung her from what was then Animal Control on Seventh Street. She was one year old and was surrendered while she was pregnant -- in a cardboard box with children crying around her. Her foster home called her Mama Mia, since she was such a good, very young mama. She was day one into adoption eligibility when I met her at PetSmart. When I saw her, just like Guapo, it was instant. She went up on my shoulder and nuzzled my neck, in a mix of fear and recognition. She knew I was her person.
A lady looked over at me and said, “If you don’t adopt her, I will.” With one arm cradling her, I reached my other hand into my purse and fished out my pen and checkbook. I held her the entire time I finalized the paperwork, never letting her go.
Jamie and I went to lunch after adopting her. It was Christmas time. We thought of her name together. I came up with Candy, a nod to Jamie’s job. He added Lou. “She’s too cute for just one name,” he said. “She needs one of those names like the little girl from the Grinch. She looks like her.”
“Cindy Lou Who?” I asked. That was it. And Mama Mia, the unwanted teen pregnancy pup, became Candy Lou.
Candy Lou was a girl dog through and through. We quickly learned there was a reason she distrusted men. Within her first nights living with us, she ran and hid if Jamie made any sudden movements. When he went to remove his belt, she lost it. We knew then she had seen things we didn’t understand. So, Jamie worked on earning her trust. It was probably in the midst of de-worming that she realized that anyone willing to help with an undesirable situation like that was worth keeping around. I did, too. Our relationship was still new, but I knew I had found my person in Jamie. And because of that, Candy accepted him as her other person, too.
Outside of Jamie, though, Candy remained one that would always be friendly and welcoming to women and children, all while giving men either side eye or holy hell. Even in her last month of life, she jumped on the couch and stared down at an electrician working on our house. If he glanced her way, she growled intently, never taking her eyes off of him.
Jamie and I are dog people, or the Bow Wow Brady Bunch, as we often said. He had dogs. I had dogs. We merged our pack and then had one together, the first being Candy. It took a while to settle the pack structure. Candy Lou and Jamie’s Tybee were very similar (except in size) and had their power struggles at times. The rest of the dogs stayed out of their way. And they worked it out . . . mostly.
But Candy Lou instantly loved my other girl dog, Miss Kitty. Miss Kitty was an adopted neurotic, stinky, brindle mutt who rejected affection from people due to her previous trauma. But she loved her some Candy Lou -- instant besties and inseparable. Candy gave Kitty the love and comfort that the rest of us couldn’t provide. And that lasted until Kitty’s dying day at the ripe old age of 20.
Without a doubt, Candy Lou was the cute one of the bunch. She was adorable, and we think she knew it. The way she panted, cocked her head and swished her fluffy tail was a site to see. People would stop me to find out her breed. Many said she looked like a Japanese animation. Together, we took runner-up in the Cherry Blossom Festival Pet Fashion Lookalike Contest. I took the award ribbon gladly next to Candy. Girlfriend knew how to strut in her Pucci-inspired sundress!
Although she was a bona fide mutt, it wasn’t until we did a dog DNA test that we learned she was half chihuahua and half Yorkie . . . another designer dog who ended up pregnant and in broke-down palace before her rescue came along.
But don’t let her good looks fool you. She was so tough and so adventurous and such a scrappy mutt that my friend Ashley (Little Miss) and I witnessed her leap off a 12 foot deck, legs stretched out like a sailing, flying squirrel, simply to chase a squirrel. One of her favorite pastimes was being thrown in the air by Jamie. She would land in an arc onto the bed, dance around with ears tucked back and run immediately back to him for another toss. Among the many photos Maryann Bates captured of our family, a live action shot of Candy sailing through the air with a look of unadulterated joy on her face is one of our favorites.
Not long after that was her near-fatal accident, where a secret tunnel she had been working on in an ivy patch in the backyard soon led to her exploration on the other side of the fence. Luckily, someone witnessed her and Miss Kitty breaking out of the backyard. But by the time I came running, Candy was nowhere to be found. I called Jamie and friends frantic. We lived on Clisby Place, one of the worst streets for speeding in Macon, which is adjacent to the death trap that is Vineville Avenue. A search party showed up and began canvassing the neighborhood. I walked up and down the sidewalks, calling her name. An hour or so into our search, her blonde fur caught my eye. She was crawling to me from a neighbor’s yard. I ran to her and swept her up in my arms, only to be covered in blood and see the actual bones of her front legs. She had indeed been swiped by a car. She was in shock from the blood loss. I screamed for Jamie, who pulled up in his truck, ripped his shirt off to wrap her in and we rushed to Hudspeth Animal Hospital, where the late, great Dr. Hudspeth set about saving her life.
Her recovery was rough. But Candy Lou pulled through. Later in life, the arthritis from her injuries would catch up with her and she walked with a permanent limp, which appeared more like a hop (Skip to my Lou I would say). The fact is, she beat the odds that day with the extent of her injuries. And I believe our bond was sealed stronger than it ever was, considering how she trusted us to get her right.
By the time of her accident, Candy Lou had an active social life and quite the following. Her blog MaconCandy.com was created by me, writing as her, as a creative writing outlet. We all had nicknames here -- me being Mom; Jamie being Shuga D (others referenced in the parenthesis). It also helped me keep up with all of the burgeoning excitement and transition in Macon, especially in downtown development. Candy went nearly everywhere. She had a press pass. She did a press trip to Tybee Island, where she rode around in a basket on my bike. She even got into an online tussle with Erick Erickson. He couldn’t believe what this female dog had written in response to him.
MaconCandy.com transitioned through our stages of our relationship and family. Candy did, too. When Walden arrived, she understood quickly that she was no longer the baby of the family and her cuteness had serious competition. On top of that, she was no longer carried around in a purse or doted on like the days before. But she relented gracefully. She had been a mama too in her previous life. Now, we added Nanny Lou to her nicknames.
Walden grew up loving Candy Lou more than any of our other dogs. She was patient with him and learned if she leaned just right, he would rub her belly. She lived for those belly rubs. In fact, she was one of those dogs that if you crossed your legs, Candy came hopping along and lifted her leg like she was peeing on you. I can’t tell you how many times I had to tell people she just wanted a belly scratch.
Among Walden’s first words was his recognition of our dogs, or “Bark-Barks” as he said. Then he began to call the five by names, the first being Candy Lou. “Lou Lou” he’d say. “Come here, Candy Lou Lou.” Before we knew it, Lou Lou was now another moniker, this one sticking to her final days. If you personally knew Candy Lou, then you knew she came to Lou Lou or simply Lou, too. In this last week since her passing, I don’t know how many times I said to myself, Oh Lou. We miss you.
Candy Lou Lou and Walden mastered the art of cuddling and looking cute together, on and off the camera. She kept a watchful eye on him, knowing the closer she was to him, the more she could remain my loyal shadow. Walden was her person now, too.
But just like any curious wander-luster, Candy never lost her sense of adventure.
We’ll never know what exactly happened that day, but Jamie was driving home to College Street after a weekend at our now-home in Twiggs County. All five dogs had been with us over the weekend, roaming freely in the country. All five dogs were in the back seat: Candy, Tybee, Bowen, Boz Waggs and Miss Kitty. The windows were cracked, the fur was flying, the music was playing and everyone was living their best canine life. Then Jamie went to unload the pack back at home. He was puzzled and called me -- I was still at the house in Twiggs County, preparing to drive separately.
“Do you have Candy?” he asked.
“No, I don’t have Candy. What do you mean? You took all of them,” I replied.
“Well, Candy is not here,” he said. He laughed nervously, but I could hear the doubt and worry in his voice. “Let me count them again and call you back.”
Sure enough, Candy Lou was mysteriously missing. At first, we thought it happened when Jamie swung through a drive-thru closer to Twiggs County. Or she could have jumped out of the car window on I-16. It seemed impossible. But then again, it was Candy Lou.
Again, the same dear friends who were called when Candy had her accident eight years ago were frantically called again. Tabitha (Texas T) and Stephanie (Bright Blue) loved Candy Lou like their own. And the extra bonus was Elliott Dunwody. Drones were still new to the market, but E had a license to drive, and before the sun was set, we had drone footage looking for Candy. We were all frantically looking -- literally beating bushes, driving up and down I-16 and calling her name until we were hoarse. It was like she had simply disappeared.
Cue Facebook. After the sun went down, I posted she was lost. We were in the frame of mind she was lost near the drive thru or along I-16. And that’s when our Macon community rallied. God bless, y’all. First, it was discovered and confirmed that Candy was seen jumping out of the car’s window at the College Street post office, one block from our home on College. That meant she was in the Downtown vicinity. Or in the Corridor, as she would have blogged. From there, the case of the missing Candy Lou spread like social media wildfire.
It wasn’t just likes and shares. So many of you physically looked for her. Jamie would be out driving in the middle of the night and come across others who were doing the same. We followed every lead that came in, but as the days turned into nights, no Candy was to be found.
And that’s where the life lesson was learned. It was clear that if Candy Lou was still alive, she was living outside our comfort zone. There was no way with that many social media shares that Candy was among our familiar networks. The search to look for Candy among the grand homes and green spaces of Intown Macon was over. Social media wasn’t going to solve #CandyComeHome. Reaching out to your neighbors in real life was. It was time to start knocking doors in Pleasant Hill.
I’ll never forget Arielle Schlesinger for this turning point. She made the flyers and hit the streets with a staple gun. We followed her lead. And that’s when the leads started coming in. Me, Jamie and baby Walden parked the car on Woodliff and got out and started talking to people we never met. People opened their doors to us, leading us from one neighbor to another who had indeed seen the cute little dog with the fluffy tail, blue collar and limp. Nearly eight days into our search, we had concluded Candy Lou was alive and well in Pleasant Hill.
And then the call we had been waiting for came: “I am looking at her right now.”
Jamie tore out of Crown Candy and still won’t fess up to how many traffic lights he ran that day. I was on the other side of town, loading Walden up to get home.
God bless our angel in Pleasant Hill. She kept her eye on Candy until Jamie could get there and catch her. God bless our community -- and our new community -- for the love and support shown to bringing Candy Lou home.
That moment was a turning point for me, personally, in many ways. Realizing disconnect, the fine lines that separate our lives and the understanding that all things are connected -- and possible -- when our communities work together and we get outside our boxes, Candy’s disappearance would ultimately influence my later run for office. All things are connected, indeed.
And not long after the great disappearance of Candy Lou in 2016, our family would make the life decision to move to Twiggs County permanently. We all desired more nature and outdoor space in our lives, especially for our five aging dogs in their sunset years.
The happiest I’ve ever seen Candy Lou was during a trip to a South Georgia quail hunting farm. Little did we know that our fluffy little mutt could be a contender at a field trial. For hours upon hours, she hopped through the fields with fierce intent to catch field mice. All you could see was her fluffy white tail shooting up and waving like a flag furiously as she stayed on the hunt. That weekend was so much fun for all of us, but no one loved it more than Candy Lou.
The second happiest I’ve ever seen Candy was the day she actually caught and killed a squirrel in our backyard on College Street. Those squirrels taunted the dogs daily, often raining pecan shells upon their heads while they were doing their business. The maddest I’ve never seen Candy was that same day, when I attempted to take the dead squirrel away from her with a shovel. I’m not sure she ever forgave me for removing her trophy kill that day.
So, the permanent life in the country suited Candy just fine. She was a hunter at heart. The woods and wire grass were her happy place. She thrived, but age was catching up with her. So was her life of adventure and the arthritis that came from her injuries. Our pack of rescue dogs began to evolve and change with time -- and the fate of time that doesn’t give enough of it when it comes to our canine companions.
By the time Candy reached 13, we were down to three of the “originals”: Candy, along with Boz Waggs (14) and Bowen (17). We now had two young ones under two: Falcon, adopted from All About Animals, and Cowboy, straight off a Vidalia cattle farm. Like Miss Kitty, Falcon had trauma and trust issues with humans. Candy became his surrogate and doted on him like her very own baby. She also put him -- and Cowboy -- often in their places and wore her Alpha status like the Queen Candy Lou she was . . . to all of us. In these final golden years, she even began tolerating cats and our pet bunny.
The final week of Candy Lou’s life came at a surprise. Little did we know, she had been sick for some time. She didn’t have a way to tell us that her kidneys were no longer functioning. Looking back, there were signs, but our focus with her had been controlling her obvious arthritis pain, and that overshadowed the internal health.
The week of Thanksgiving, we gathered outside for a Friendsgiving lunch. It was just me, Tabitha, Stephanie and Leah (Honey Shot), who had taken many pictures of my pets over the years. Candy loved her "little creative crew." And that day, she joined us outside in the sunshine, laying at their feet and waiting for Stephanie to sneak her a fry. We all noticed she was out of sorts, but she clearly was content to be with her squad.
Candy gradually got sicker. I was at the vet the morning after Thanksgiving. The diagnosis wasn’t good. But there was hope. Unfortunately, the hope would dwindle by the day.
In her final days, Candy Lou was cradled and loved. She had the warmth of her family, her favorite spot on the couch, a fire in the fireplace and the lights of the Christmas tree, containing some of the same lights and ornaments she came home to that nearly 12 years ago we adopted her. She slept at the foot of my bed. She slept hard. But on those final nights, I woke up to find her sitting up in bed, staring out the window at the full moon-lit woods.
There are few decisions more agonizing than giving our pets that final act of grace. On Monday, November 30, just before 5:30 p.m., Candy Lou was put to rest. She was in my arms until the very end. She was fierce in those final moments but went quickly. She no doubt woke up fast and furious to tear off running with Miss Kitty, in a field full of adventure, in a body no longer in pain.
Without a doubt that right now, as I write this, I am missing my constant. Candy Lou wasn’t just my lap companion. In fact, she got hot easily and didn’t like to cuddle for too long! She was also my tiny co-worker. I could almost always look up from my desk and see her there. Since the pandemic, for the last nine months, she’s been my only in-house colleague. Among my thousands of Zooms, Candy Lou was always somewhere in the room. To adapt to this void of not having her near is a struggle. But how grateful I am to have these last nine months of being always together.
You can judge a person -- and a community -- by how we love our creatures great and small. To anyone who cared about Candy Lou -- to those who read this blog to those who shared and searched for her, to those who know me and our family, which includes the once-rejected mutts who we have loved as part of who we are -- thank you. Candy Lou was Macon’s Candy. And Candy Lou loved all of Macon, too.
Adopt don’t shop. Spay and neuter your pets. Live life unleashed. Love your neighbors. And if you’re lost, don’t be afraid to be found in the most unlikely of places. Learn something from each other, even if your other happens to be found on four legs (with a limp) and waving, fluffy tail.
Thank you, Candy Lou-Lou. We’ll always love you. We’ll always miss you. We’ll forever feel your imprint left on our hearts. Rest easy, my loyal, scrappy, inspiring, sparkle-eyed girl.