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.