For Maggie

Yes, I’ve had to make that hard decision, too. To let a close friend go rather than watch her suffer.

I grew up with dogs. The first dog I remember was a Shepard mix; Princes. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven. We always had dogs, mostly big ones, though. We even had a St. Bernard. I still remember the Thanksgiving turkey she half devoured. It was fresh from the oven and cooling on the counter. Mom was in tears.

When my kids were ten and five, I knew how they would benefit from a family dog, but I remembered the destruction the dogs I grew up with caused in my father’s house. I never considered a small dog. Small dogs were for old women and small men. My ego wouldn’t let me go there.

Then my daughter, after months of campaigning, wrote a school paper on the care of a family dog. It was laced with subtle hints that would ‘help me’ to change my mind. I came home one day to find a very energetic dark tan colored hound tied to the back porch. Both kids were desperately pleading ‘Chocolate’s’ case. “We will take care of him, Dad, you’ll see, he won’t get into trouble, Pleeeease, can we keep him?”

We were a family with a dog for about four hours. Three holes under the back yard fence and a mess in the kitchen sealed Chocolate’s fate. I don’t remember what we did with him, but he was gone before too many emotional ties could cloud my better judgment.

Then a few months later the solution presented itself again. Maybe a small dog would make a smaller impact. You know, smaller holes and smaller messes. How those kids wanted a dog. Yes, maybe a small dog.

Maggie was about nine weeks old when I brought her home in my coat. She was the last in a litter of Shi-Tzu pups. It took about ten minutes to win Mom over and the kids were ecstatic. Right from the start she had a chip on her shoulder. This pocket-sized dog had attitude, she always had to get the last word in. What a mouthy little thing.

Of course, after the novelty wore off, my wife reminded me that this was all my idea. So it was up to me to take Maggie out in the snow to go potty. “Go potty, Maggie.” I would say as quietly as I could and still sound commanding to the dog. I didn’t want the neighbors to hear. It still felt funny to be on the end of this small dog’s leash. But that’s where I was, on the end of her leash. I loved her spunk and the little chip on her shoulder; the way she carried herself, her confidence, the ‘Little Lion’.

Maggie was a smart dog and took well to training. She showed real pride when being praised for an accomplishment, but displayed real shame and disappointment if she had an accident and made a mess in the house. She delivered her only litter of puppies one October by herself in the middle of the night. I found her the next morning with that look of shame on her face. She thought she had made a mess. With my delight and a little praise, her countenance changed completely. Seven little pups all got names and lots of attention, until one by one they were sold off. All but two of them.

When I got a call on Christmas eve, I thought I was going to win this puppy game. Then the whole family attacked me. “How could you sell our dogs on Christmas?!?!?!”.(Our dogs?) I was a bad daddy. Even my wife was disgusted with me. Now we were a two dog family.

Maggie’s son Casey was my wife’s ‘Circus Dog’. He would do tricks that he seemed to dream up on his own, but he was dumber than a box of rocks, nothing like his mother. Maggie would watch him walk into the screen door, and eat bird seed. Many times she seemed to turn away from him with body language that said ‘… what an idiot…’ They were never far apart though. One summer afternoon Casey was backed over in a driveway accident and died instantly. Maggie, close by, walked towards the accident with her ears perked up and neck forward as if to express shock. I’ll never forget the body language.

Years later, even in her older years, she would still demand that our teenage son play with her. She’d stand off and bark at him until he gave her a tussle. He would lie on the floor while she would bound back and forth over him. Even the night she collided with the corner of the trunk in the family room, she only gave out a sharp yelp and went right back to their play. But, some days later, we noticed her eye was swollen and draining. Countless trips to the Vet couldn’t save her eye. But, she had another eye, and she seemed to be in good health otherwise.

Then problems started with her other eye and she was completely blind within six months. She didn’t take well to this darkness after such an active life. She would take cues from our voice to navigate. She still got around somewhat, but certainly wasn’t herself. It was sad to find her standing in a corner facing the wall. We knew she wasn’t happy and she appeared to be uncomfortable. The confident little dog that was such a big part of our lives was declining rapidly. I remember kneeling with her and promising I wouldn’t let her suffer.

When the time came, my wife and I were there with her. We buried her next to her son Casey with her favorite toy between her front paws.

This was much harder than I thought it would be. It’s been two years last month since we let go of Maggie. I’ve loved and lost many dogs in my life. I knew that time would come for Maggie, too. It’s just part of having a dog. What I didn’t know was how big a piece of my heart that little dog had taken. I miss her.

Todd from NY

3 Responses

  1. Vicki Gattuso Says:

    My husband & I just put our beloved sacred white Peke to sleep on Sept.29,07. I have cried every day for him. He was 11. He loved to ride in the car, I couldn’t put my shoes on without him running to the door in hopes we were going to ride. Last night, a waitress grabbed my husband’s salad plate before he was finished and my husband remarked to me” I wasn’t done with that” which made me think of my dog. Hey, I wasn’t done with him! I just hope he’s in a better place and I hope your dogs are too! The toy placement was a heartbreaker! I realize I’ll never really get over this loss.

  2. Donna Says:

    Todd ~ I still have tears streaking down my face after reading your story… Yes, some of them are for your sad loss… And, yes, some of them are from the laughter that I simply could not control! Your story is one that I can identify with… Thank you so much for sharing… Maggie’s memory is alive and well here… She is precious… God bless ~

  3. Brenda Says:

    Reading Todd from NY’s story about Maggie brought tears to my eyes. We too found a wonderful friend at the pound that the worker said was the dumbest dog he had ever seen and they were going to put him down the next day. We found out that he was about 2 years old and soon learned he was leash trained and house broke and would not get on the furniture unless we invited him up there.

    Ten wonderful years later we also had to have one eye removed and he developed Alzheimer’s. We struggled with the decision about what to do. After a year of watching him stand in the corner from hours and having to encourage him to eat and go outside we realized that we were being selfish because we didn’t want to let go.

    My husband (retired and disabled Vietnam Vet) had to be the one to take him to our Vet. I just couldn’t do it and he didn’t want me to be with him. For days afterwards we both cried and even now 6 months later I still say his name when talking about our other dog and the tears are still there often.

    We do have 2 other dogs but this will be the last ones. The pain of losing that wonderful talented animal was more than either of us could stand. I understand how people who don’t have children (we have 2 grown children) feel about their animals.

    I can’t wait to read this book.

    Brenda – NC