February 25, 2014

RIP Maggie (2000-2014)

When Helen and I returned from living in Italy and got our first real place — a dumpy, $400 per month duplex owned by a short order cook — one of the first things we did was head to Denver Dumb Friends league to find a dog.

As my wife tells it, Maggie was in a pen with ten other puppies, and she wasn’t among those that came running to the gate at the sight of a human, barking, wagging her tail, or any such standard puppy thing. Instead, she stayed at a distance, her head cocked slightly to the side, as if she were checking Helen out — and it was at that moment that Helen knew this was to be our dog.

That was back in February of 2000.

Recently, Maggie had several surgeries after tearing her ACL. The first surgery left her with an infection and necessitated the removal of a plate that had been installed where a bone was strategically broken. The bone had healed, but the infection had taken over the plate around the screws. We were told both surgeries were successful. And that the antibiotics had cleared up remains of a persistent infection.

Last week, she re-undertook her hydrotherapy to strengthen the leg. Yesterday, she walked for 8 minutes on an underwater treadmill.

Personally, I was never sold on the hydrotherapy, because each infection she had seemed to follow one of these treatments. But the vet said she was looking stronger and that the leg was improving.

Today, when I went to give her her pain meds at 3:30, she looked strange to me. She was listless and held her head at an odd angle. I carried her outside, where she went to the bathroom, but she remained in the same spot, so I brought her back in, took her back up to our bedroom (where we were keeping her so that our other dog and our toddler couldn’t disturb her), and tried to get her to walk a bit. She didn’t want to — or perhaps did, but couldn’t find the energy or the balance — and instead eventually laid down by the door.

I stayed and petted her for a while. I don’t know why or how, but I had a sense that this was it. But I didn’t want to believe it. And besides, I tend to be a worrier.

After feeding the kids, I dropped Satchel off at wrestling practice and instead of coaching came home because my youngest is sick. I tended to him for about 45 minutes then we went back out in the snow to pick Satch up from practice.

When we got home, I had Satch watch Tanner and I went up to check on Maggie. And to be completely honest, I feel like I knew before I even entered the room.

I worked to close her eyes, but getting her mouth closed and her tongue from dangling out one side is not something I was able to pull off, not that I was trying overly hard. Instead I sat with her for a while saying my goodbyes before calling my wife in NY and letting her know the news.

Maggie recently turned 14. February 2nd, in fact — the day sandwiched between my birthday and my wife’s. Since that first surgery, which took place several months ago now, she’d been her old self maybe one or two days, tops. We’re sending her in for an autopsy and we’ve decided to keep her ashes. She was — for the last fourteen years — one of my best friends on earth, a dog that would keep me company when my wife was away on trips, or who would sit with me when I was feeling really down. She also would sit with me, reluctantly, when everyone went to bed and I watched some craptastic horror movie. And she always slept next to my side of the bed, waiting for me to come in and pet her with my foot before turning out the final nightstand light.

I’m not sure how my other dog, Lexi, who is now 8, is going to react. I told Satchel the news, and he was at first inconsolable but has since shown why he is a son I’m so very proud of: he put his brother to sleep, took his after wrestling shower, and is prepared to help me with the body now that Tanner is in bed. I heard him crying in the shower. And it broke my heart. It is breaking my wife’s heart that she isn’t here to say goodbye.

Maggie was at our wedding. This June will be our 14-year anniversary. On that day in June of 2000, it rained a bit, but after, we saw a double rainbow. And we’ve felt since then that as a family — at the time, just Helen, Maggie, and me — we were blessed.

I am going to miss her terribly. I guess I’m one of those people who sees dogs as a part of the family, and Maggie most certainly was. Even at her advanced age, she remained a beautiful animal, white, regal, a mix of Husky and Akita with a corkscrewish tail and beautiful black lining her eyes, almost like mascara. Until her leg injury no one would have guessed her advanced age. She was inquisitive, willful, kind, and protective of the kids.

Maybe this was just her time. But even at fourteen, it seems too soon. I still can’t believe she’s gone. And yet in a strange way, it’s a relief, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that, though the vets kept telling us she was improving, she was suffering — and much of it had to do not only with the lack of mobility but with her having to be continuously isolated, locked in one of those cone collars so that she wouldn’t lick at her incision and reinfect the wound, then kept in a room by herself for hours at a time.

She couldn’t be around us all the time like she’d always been. She was sequestered. She seemed saddened by this. And I’m not sure I’ll ever get beyond thinking I wish I had spent more time with her today, and yesterday, and the day before that…

She was one of my rocks. And when that’s taken away from you, you feel a little less stable, a little more vulnerable, and a lot less strong.

I pray she didn’t suffer at the end. I don’t know, because I wasn’t in the room. From what I can tell, I went to see her maybe 20 minutes too late. And for that I’m going to have to eventually find a way to forgive myself.

maggie at 0

maggie at 0

Posted by Jeff G. @ 7:55pm

Comments (46)

  1. There’s nobody on earth like a good dog. RIP, Maggie. Condolences, Jeff.

  2. Dogs and cats are like pieces of the people we wish we were. They grow very dear to us, almost like children. It burns like fire when they are suddenly gone. Being with them is well worth the suffering that comes when they pass away, every bit.

  3. rip maggie.

  4. >And for that I’m going to have to eventually find a way to forgive myself.<

    maggie died naturally. my dog abe i had to put down @16 because i awoke one night to find him almost drowning in his water bowl because of his weak hips. it is tough to take them vet death panel. godspeed to yours.

  5. “Being with them is well worth”

    I meant being with them for the span of their lives as companions. I worded that carelessly. I have bad habits regarding speech and writing because I used to live in a world that was causal and open and friendly and tolerant. Daring to speak or write was not about being on trial, in a kangaroo, day in and day out, just to retain a portion of the dignity of being counted as a human. I hope to get back to that world someday, before I die, or at least experience a lasting convincing delusion of getting back to it.

  6. years ago, when my german shepherd, Misty, passed at 13, the cats were as inconsolable as the rest of us.

    then later, as children grew, graduated and moved out, the last kitty passed at 19.

    Our dogs and cats do, indeed, become members of the family. They become entwined in our hearts and in our family traditions and stories.

    You and Helen have stories of Maggie that Satch doesn’t have but knows. And he has stories of Maggie he’ll share with Tanner. There will be those times when you are sitting at the table or in front of the fireplace and begin a sentence: “Remember when …” and Maggie will be there.

    Our lives are richer for having them, even for so brief a time.

    Peace be with you.

  7. I’m so, so sorry. I lost my beautiful maggie (english bulldog, 14 years old) last year. I still miss her so much.

    My Boston Terrier tore his ACL last October. I investigated surgery, and decided to try conservative management instead (there’s actually a Yahoo group on it, quite active), both because of the costs and because of the horror stories I had heard. He can walk/trot normally now – I don’t think I’m ever going to let him run again, frightened that it might happen with the other leg.

    Forgive yourself, even though you aren’t guilty of a thing (and will realize that in some time, probably years from now). You rescued her and gave her a great, great life. The ending was hard and messy and painful, but they most always are, no matter what the particulars happen to be. It’s the awful downside of having and loving a pet, and being responsible both for their life and for their leaving this world as well.

    Hang in there. Thoughts for you and your family.

  8. It’s always hard to let go of an old friend that society sees as a pet. It’s a road I’ve been down a few times myself, one that’s never easy to travel…

    R.I.P. Maggie, and condolences to your entire family.

  9. A good dog is the best friend we ever have. Maggie has crossed the Rainbow Bridge and is young and spry once more. Be glad she is at peace. I lost my beloved Lab, Annabelle, three years ago and I still miss her.

    RIP Maggie and condolences to the family.

  10. I’m very sorry to hear that.

    I had a cat when my wife and I first met. She (the cat) died of a heart attack when she jumped on the bed while we were watching the movie Burnt by the Sun in the living room. That was on New Years that fell on a weekend, so I had to put the cat in the garage until something opened that could handle it.

    We got another cat in 1998 that I’m looking at right now. Between Lileks dog and yours, I’m really starting to dread the day that’s a comin’. With any luck, I won’t have to do what newrouter did.

  11. omg i thought something happened to maggie k

    i have for reals tears now to wipe up

    off my face

    this is not a good tuesday

  12. ok yeah I knew she was older than 14 but i wasn’t practicing critical thinking skillz

  13. She went peacefully in her own home – that’s important.

    It’s a killer, man.

  14. I wish I knew something to say that wasn’t trite and formulaic. I’m saddened by your loss.

  15. Sigh. Saddened that you and your family have to experience this loss.

    Lexi will be fine after a short period of time. It’ll take a lot longer for the rest of you.

  16. dogs should live longer i think

    but i’m not on the committee

  17. A broken heart means you have one.

  18. Poor puppy. Poorer family she left behind.

    I don’t know if this helps, but animals don’t seem to experience physical pain quite the same way we do. When we’re in pain, our enormous frontal lobes light up like Vegas; because critters don’t have the big lobes, they must be having a different experience.

    Less existential angst, maybe. Less emotional distress, or less fear, at least after the initial blow that breaks the bone.

    Maggie was an angel sent from heaven’ like all dogs, she’s there now, beating her tail on the ground or chasing butterflies.

  19. The two puppies we adopted, one several months after and the other just last year, helped our broken family mend. Truly our pets are much more than just pets. They are gifts of sanity to those who need such gifts.

  20. condolences. we lost our maggie in 2008, she died while I was at rehearsal. when i got home, RTO had already buried her. there was lots of question asking, but it does get better.

  21. Jeff, my sincere condolences and sympathy.
    Having lost two of these finest friends all too soon (7 and 8 years due to cancers), I know your sorrow and the ache of the empty space.
    If there is a second life, may your friend be there to greet you and show you the new ropes.

  22. My condolences, Jeff.

  23. Just saw this. I’m so sorry. Only someone who’s knows what a friend a good dog can be and has lived with the loss of one knows.

  24. I wrote a lengthy piece to friends on the passing of a 17 yr old black cat, my daughter’s own little kitten-daughter from her age 6. It tore me in half recounting her life — how can you do otherwise?

    They are quite better at being people than people, and they may invoke a sense of spirit not known from the loss of people themselves.

    I know what you’re feeling, boss, family. My condolences.

  25. I’m so sorry Jeff.
    I get it. I think all here get it.

  26. Jeff, I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish that I had some words to ease the pain, but I guess that that is what time is for.

  27. I know how you feel and am sorry that you are feeling it. It is truly a wonder how emotionally we may bind with a dog. My family had a wonderful lab in our lives for also 14 years. What a blessing their companionship.

  28. Condolences. I understand your grief. I’m glad Maggie was at home though. We still miss one of our Labs that we had to have put down a few years ago.

  29. So sorry to hear that Jeff. I lost my dog last Wednesday and I miss her terribly already.

  30. My condolences.

  31. At this point I’m just one of the crowd, but God bless. I married a dog woman and that dog was with us for 10 years (13 on the planet all told) and it was a huge loss. We definitely get it; even knowing at the start that it will end sometime, and too soon by human standards, does little to assuage the loss. I would suggest that she was just as blessed for having been a part of your life as you were for having her.

    Bad year for the dogs of people I read – Jonah G. lost Cosmo late last year and James Lileks lost his old (18 years!) Jasper just a few weeks back.

    I must also admit that I secretly hope that you named her after the Iron Lady. A fitting and wonderful name.

  32. Condolences, Jeff and family.

    It never matters how many you’ve loved and lost or how many different ways you lose them. It never gets easier. All there is, is the realization that you gained more from having loved them, than hurt from losing them.

  33. I am terribly saddened for you and your family. I once asked my husband, after we lost our 13 year old dog to advanced arthritis, why dogs have such a short life. He said “It’s so we can love so many in our lifetime.”

  34. Jeff,

    Condolences for your loss. Dogs are amazing to come home to. No matter how crappy your day, the wagging tails and excitement of your arrival help to put those things in the rear view mirror.

  35. 14 years is a long life for a big dog.

    Having had to go through deliberately putting down an old suffering family cat, aged 18 with renal failure and then having our Silkie dog die of a heart attack suddenly at age 13, I have to say that them dying on their own is a blessing in it’s own way.

    It tore me up far more to be the death panel for our old cat, because in many ways, she was still strong and full of life when we put her down and you always want more time with them.

    And either way, it sucks. Condolences to you and yours.

  36. Condolences to you and yours, Jeff.

    Godspeed Maggie.

    Buster, Barley, Dakota, Zephyr and Sweetness, we still miss youze.

  37. Lost both my bassets a few years back. Samantha was 12, and probably suffering from a variety of cancers. Eventually she stopped eating, and after a few days of watching her fall apart I had to take her to the vet that one last time. Very sad; she was such a sweet, friendly dog. Dumb as a box of hammers, but hell, she was a companion, not my tax accountant, so that didn’t really matter.

    Chumley (my avatar/logo) died a year later, at 13, in more dramatic fashion. He was sleeping on the floor a few feet from me, and then suddenly he was in the midst of some thrashing seizure. After 30 seconds or so he calmed down, but he was no longer in there. Didn’t seem to recognize me any longer. I let him outside and he just (slowly) started to wander off, oblivious. When my GF and I tried to steer him back to the house, he turned viscious. Ineffectiually so, being old and arthritic and all, but still.

    Took him to the vet as well. But, as he was trying to kill me at the time, it wasn’t especially sad at that moment. I told myself that my dog had died during the seizure, and what was left was a viscious zombie-dog that merely resembled my old friend.

    George Carlin: “Life is a series of dogs.”

  38. Sorry for your loss Jeff. Losing a dog is a tough one. Our dog died last July. We had her for 12 years. Our boys – now adults – grew up with her. We all cried our eyes out.

    Thoughts and prayers to you and your family.

  39. Damn it – my screen is all blurry and fuzzy now.

    Jeff, I am so sorry to hear this news. I understand how the loss of a dog can be such an event in the doings of a family. My wife and I have lost 4 dogs over the years, have 3 right now (the oldest is 14), and will be getting a puppy this weekend. (My wife is a dog trainer, and we compete in agility with our dogs – dogs are a central part of our lives.)

    Please forgive yourself. You have given that dog a great life, and passing at home is a small blessing. As others have mentioned here, having to take a beloved pet to the vet to be put down is one of the gloomiest things you can do in life.

    Grieve a while, and then go get another dog.

  40. Scott Hinkley – you nailed it.

  41. When we grieve, we know we are human. Scott is right – bring a new Maggie into your lives after a spell.
    My condolences.

  42. George Carlin: “Life is a series of dogs.”

    That is so true, John. It is one of the bittersweet realities that the life cycles of humans and their best friends are completely out of phase. I have known shooting men to give up on the whole deal after the passing of their third dog.

  43. Jeff, I cannot express my sorrow for your loss as deeply as I feel right now. We had to say goodbye to our dog of 13 years last September. I know that you’re feeling down now, but know that she is in no pain. She is running around and playing again and eagerly awaits the day when she can be reunited with you.

    God Bless you and Maggie.

  44. Hi Jeff,

    My ex wife gave me a book called Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylandt. She filled it with photos… tears gush every time I am going through older stuff and see it. My current wife insists that we keep the book in an honored place…
    Someone early on said sorta dismissively that it is a book for young kids whose dog has died, and it was funny because when I was with my dog, I was a big kid having a blast.
    One time my dog was inside my truck and a guy I kinda worked with bumped into the window and my dog-who rarely barked- rumbled some come and meet your maker roar and scared the piss outta the guy… he asked me if that was my dog and I said yeah, sorry about the scare… the dumbass then decides to be a badass and tells me that if he ever sees my dog, he is going to shoot first… so I whip over and grab him by the neck push his head next to the half open window and tell him he is gonna need to shoot me first. The whole time my dog is about 2 feet away in total obedience but with a deep rumble that scared me even though I was confident he’d never bite
    The guy skulked off and my dog (who loved everyone except this douche) lived another couple years. I ran into the dickhead and he asked me where was the dog and I said he’d passed… with a catch in my throat… badass says: good…. I took a breath, real deep and acted the same way I’d trained my dog… I said “well, he’ll waiting for you just outside the gates of heaven… good fucking luck there…”

    Sorry for the long me me me story over your loss ….. God I know it can hurt

  45. I’m really sorry–there’s nothing like a good dog. We had a beagle/brittany spaniel mix named Lucy who was fearless–I’ll never forget the time she charged a pit bull that got into our yard–and scared it out. We had to give her up to our friends when she got a little snippy with the-then toddler. She had a great retirement and died a few months ago, to tears from the whole bunch of us.

    Yeah–they weave themselves into our lives more than we know.

  46. My condolences Jeff. Have a Golden Doodle named Frodo that is smarter than most leftists and more kind and loving than I deserve. I try all the time to be the person my dog thinks I am. My entire family loves Frodo more than me and I understand…heh. Always at the door to greet me, always happy, very protective (once a unleashed Pit Bull ran up to us and actually scared me, Frodo sensed this and went after him, luckily the Pit Bull was only playing)…went on too long. My heart goes out to you and your family.