Thursday, May 08, 2008

Maggie on my Mind


Ode to a Friend
by Holly Dare Copyright 2002
It has been a week and still I am in shock. The pain seems too much to bear. It is amazing to realize what huge part of my life Maggie is. It’s overwhelming to realize that life can change in an instant.

It all starts so innocently. Maggie has a huge cactus stuck in her front right paw. I run to her, taking off my sweatshirt as I sprint. I drop to my knees, wrapping my hand in the thick fabric and yank. She limps back to the Jeep.



I pull out the myriad of photos I have taken of her over the last six years. I love taking pictures… she loves posing: a match made in heaven. I laugh out loud at the ones with her goofy looks. Maggie has a tendency to get her upper lip hung up on her canines, causing her to look like a dog-clown. My favorites are of her smiling. Or the ones where she looks as if she’s bearing the weight of the world; she must be thinking of the year she spent in Rottweiler Rescue or the first year of her life, when no one loved her at all.
As I look at each photo, caressing them as if I can feel her fur, I can see myself reflected in her eyes. I wonder what I ever did to deserve such love and devotion.



As I drive her home for the first time, I turn to look at her in the backseat of the Celica. She looks frightened but she is smiling, happy to be going somewhere… anywhere. I let her in the back gate to snoop around the yard and then unlock the back door. She bounds in the laundry and makes a beeline for my four-poster. She looks around with satisfaction as if to say, “This’ll do quite nicely.”

“No girl, THAT is NOT your bed!” I tug her down and show her the crate I expect her to sleep in. That night, she struggles against getting in it. As I lock the door, I comment about how much training she has in store for her. Little did I realize it was me who would be trained in matter of months.

The limp gets worse as the days tick by. I take her to a vet near the house and we are given something for inflammation. We take our evening stroll. Maggie is excited to see the peacocks preening in the sun. She stops to rest. She did that the other day running with her friends. I have the sinking feeling that something is wrong.

I give her the medication before bedtime. The last time I gave her this pill, when she was three and suffering from displaysia, she slept so much. The pill will not have the same effect tonight. Every ten minutes, she groans and changes positions. Even when she gets in bed with me and I rub her tummy, she cannot get comfortable. She lumbers through the house barely placing weight on the front right paw and landing with a thud on her left. The raised foundation of the house vibrates with every step she takes. I get up at four and begin a cleaning frenzy. My mother and sister are coming for Mother’s Day.

Maggie needs OUT! I feel her tugging at my arm and my covers. She’s whining. I can’t wake up. She jumps on the bed and off again. I’m only vaguely aware of her. She’s whining and poking me with her nose. She goes to the sliding glass door and runs her head back and forth across the blinds causing the light from my neighbor’s backyard to stab violently into the room. She’s at my side, poking again. I…just can’t… wake up. In the few months we’ve been together, Maggie just touches the blinds with her nose and I am up. But not tonight. Again, she swings her head back and forth across the blinds and I finally realize she is sick. As I stand up, I can’t quite figure out where I am and I suddenly need to throw up. Head spinning, I bolt from the bed as she pukes on the carpet. I throw the blinds open and shove Maggie through the laundry room and into the cold January night. I’m running to the toilet when I smell it…the rotten eggshell odor of gas. I pull a phone outside and call the gas company.
After I give the gas lady my address, she instructs me, “Don’t turn anything on. Don’t turn anything off. Any spark could cause an explosion. You may be outside for a couple of hours so get your coat and get out of the house.”
“Yes Ma’m. Thank you.”
“You’re very lucky…You realize your dog saved your life don’t you?”
I hug Maggie close and promise her, “You have a home as long as I have a shopping cart, baby!”

Maggie is still struggling to find a comfortable position. I lie on the floor beside her and beg God to let me find the splinter in her foot. The paw is ice cold. I know I have to get Maggie to her regular vet.
I open the front closet to get her leash and she half stumbles, half runs to the front door, ever eager for a walk. “No honey, we’re going in the car.” She turns and limps out the back door. As I watch her, I realize Maggie is no longer holding up the paw. Her toenails are dragging along the concrete. Still, she jumps into the Jeep. Getting her down to go into the vet’s office is another matter. Maggie will not let me pick her up and ease her to the ground. Beverly, the Rottie Rescue lady, arrives and comes over to say hi.
She looks at Maggie’s dangling paw. “Oh, this is not good. I just put a three and a half year old down last week with bone cancer and it looked just like this.” I hate her for her abrupt honesty.
Beverly helps me get Maggie down and we go inside. The vet is in surgery and another Rottweiler has had a stroke, so we wait. I begin to bawl. Maggie May is my reason for living; she’s kept me going when nothing else would. She’s seen me through a bad love affair, career changes, a stressful move, not to mention a fire and a flood. Maggie has been my rock through so much that I truly believe she is an angel in a dog suit. I never knew I could love this much. Losing her is too painful to contemplate.
The vet finally sees us. He barely touches her shoulder and my normally docile, sweet baby tries to bite him. He sedates her and tells me to check in later. The news is not good. It is cancer in her shoulder bone.
“If it hasn’t spread, your only choice is to amputate. And then, in my experience, it comes back within 6 months in about 65% of the cases,” he says dryly. “You really need to see an oncologist before you make a decision.”
I drive her home in a fog of silent tears. I get her to step down backwards on a stool and she hobbles just inside the back gate and drops. She is dragging the top of the foot now. I line her six beds up from outside to inside so that Maggie can sort of fall from one to the next. I pull a mattress on the floor to be by her. The house is a blur of activity with the arrival of my mother and sister. Maggie stirs out of the anesthetic haze the second she hears her Granny’s voice. Neighbors and friends stop by to hold her and give her cookies.
Somewhere in all the chaos, I make a decision about the day ahead. I start to think back on the last few months and all the signs that something was wrong: The limp that was noticed by several friends yet remained oblivious to me; Maggie was so tired after walking and her breathing was… different; She rarely jumped on my bed anymore. I thought of how painful it would be for her to get in and out of the car and how much pain she is in now. And I knew I owed her more. She was my hero and heroines deserve to leave the world with dignity. And lots of love. And a little steak.
“MAGGIE MAY,” I yell. “Why in hell do you always have to lay here?” I am pointing at the flower bed underneath my bedroom window. She has dug a hole and buried a favorite miniature rosebush for what feels like the 87th time. I continue my tirade as the poor dog scrunches herself up into a ball. “A year and a half and that rose has never bloomed and it never will if you don’t quit burying it in dirt! I’ll never understand why you have to lay here when you have a perfectly fine four bedroom house with six beds of your own, not to mention two queen size beds and ceiling fans galore to keep you cool!” She looks up at me with sad, sorry eyes and I feel like the fool that I know I look like.
The sedative wears off around 11. Even though we had fed her catfish and chicken broth, Maggie is quite upset at having been put to bed without her dinner. I fix her kibble, she eats and wants to do one of her favorite things: star gaze. She always loved to stare at the heavens. On this night, I sit near her and wish that love could somehow cure cancer.
We spend the night crying in pain. Hers is physical, mine is a heartache. I try my best to not let her see me cry so I smother my face in my pillow, keeping my hand on her behind. Around 5:30, I try to adjust the sock on her paw and she nips at my hand. I know she is not herself. The paw has managed to grow even colder.
Mother sits outside with Maggie, while I cook her a ribeye in garlic and butter. She wolfs it down. Then, a squirrel heads for the mulberry tree and its all you can eat Springtime buffet. Maggie forgets her pain and dashes to the trunk of the tree, remembers and drops onto her tummy, ever watchful of the squirrel.
Mother and I head into the house to eat breakfast, thinking Maggie would be busy with the squirrel. Maggie has other plans. Not one to miss a meal, she comes hobbling in the living room and lies down near the dining table. I give her a popover with berries and whipped cream and she is thrilled.
We take pictures of her and get her into the car. I can see in the rear-view mirror that she is smiling and my heart breaks all over again. The nurse asks me to muzzle her and the doctor takes her into the surgery room. He shaves her arm as I tell her what a good friend she is. He gets out the needle and I sing her the “Maggie May Song” - just a stupid ditty that I sing on our walks.
“She’s a beauty booty bee and a
Beauty booty bye.”
The needle enters and she jerks back. I take her head in my hands.

“And I love her all the day
and I love her all the time.”

I see a gray cloud forming over her eyes. I move in closer and continue singing.
“She’s a good old girl and her name is Maggie May
And I love her so much every day.”
Her breath is short. I say, “Thank you so much for all your love. I love you. You’re the best good girl. I love you.” I move even closer, “I love you!”
She lets out a deep, long breath. The vet removes the muzzle and I move to the other side as they lay her completely down. Her tongue is hanging down and I lift her head for one last kiss. I hold her for a moment and then smell her feet one last time, inhaling their earthy odor deep into my lungs.
I am sleepless and surfing. I find a canine cancer site. I am wondering if there is anything I should have done for Maggie. A woman writes of her dog not eating. It drags its body into the darkness of the garage during the day and then comes into the house during the black of night. I’m glad that I was not that selfish with my Mags.
I walk the mountain trail at Crescenta Valley Park alone and am awestruck by all the side trails I never noticed when I was there with Maggie. I know it is a sign of the proverbial window opening when a door gets slammed in your face.
Insomnia again. The house is so quiet – except for my tears. When I’m not crying, I pray for a sign. Just a sign. Any sign will do.
I gather up pictures and take them to an artist friend. She is going to paint Maggie’s portrait on a little valise that I will use as an urn.

The ashes arrive and I sob when I find her metal hip joint loose in the box. At least I know the contents of this box belong to my baby. Having her ashes makes my pain, my loss, even more real.
I can’t sleep. I pace the floors looking for her. I listen for her breathing, for the tinkle of her collar, the thunder of her feet on the deck when she was chasing a squirrel. I wonder where she is when I put on my tennis shoes. I roll over and close my eyes once more.
A baby girl with dark hair is holding my fingers as she tries to walk. She takes each step cautiously. Suddenly a squirrel runs across the yard and she lets go of my right hand to point at the squirrel and squeals in her little girl voice, “Skirrel!!” The squirrel startles and makes a run for the mulberry tree. “Skirel!!! SKIREL!!!!” Her delightful squeals jerk me awake.
I stumble out on the porch, tears falling on my nightgown, and sit on the step. I bury my face in my hands and wonder about my dream. Was that Mags? Was that my sign? If she’s a baby, who’s taking care of her and loving her?
I wrap my arms around my legs and rock my body back and forth. There, under the bedroom window, is a fully open yellow and pink miniature rose. A feeling of peace settles over me as I realize that God has shared one of His babies with me for six years. And now, she is His baby again. He is loving her.
Maggie May, June 25, 1994 - May 8, 2002

9 comments:

ordinaryjanet said...

oh, this is heartrending. I had a moment of panic when I thought it was Mabel then realized I'd skipped over the 2002 part.

I'm gonna hug Spot, you hug Mabel for me, okay?

CreekHiker said...

Janet, I guess the anniversary was just looming large in my mind. I wrote this story right after she died.

Thanks for the hugs!

ordinaryjanet said...

It never really leaves you, does it? My first dog was put down over 25 years ago and I remember it like it was last week.

CreekHiker said...

Janet, No it doesn't. I will forever wonder if I did right by her even though I "know" I did... She was so special.

Life at Star's Rest said...

Holly, there was absolutely nothing you could have done. We are unfortunately very, very familiar with osteosarcoma and it is a cruel and horrible form of cancer. The majority of dogs who are put through chemo and amputation just have months of agony from those insults before they are finally let go when the cancer spreads. You did the kindest thing you could to let your girl go before she was in agony. We have had to make the same choice in the past. Carmon

Velvet Sacks said...

Holly, it took three tries, spread over two days, for me to finish reading this beautiful tribute to Maggie. I'd read a little bit, break into sobs, and have to leave to pull myself together. There were things I needed to do that I couldn't get done when my head and heart were in that dark place with you.

Thank you for writing this. I will remember someday, when my own heart is breaking, that the love goes on.

CreekHiker said...

Carmon, Thanks for the kind words. I love Mabel but Maggie... She really was my hero.

Velvet, Thank you so much for struggling through. I know how much you love your babies. It's a shame our fur kids are only with us for such a short time. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

Becky said...

Holly: We met Maggie I think at least once and I remember her passing. She's the first to turn my opinion around on Rotties and now Miss Mabel has stolen our hearts. My sister had a rottie a long time ago and it was a guard dog so I assumed they all were like that. Naive of me. I think about our Daisy every day and it'll will be a year next month.

Patty said...

Holly,

I've just been reading your blog and came upon this beautiful, tragic story that so closely resembles one I told about our dog Rio a year and a half ago. He developed Osteosarcoma as well, and we went through the same painful process. It's what got me going with my blog, and writing about it helped me to cope with my feelings:
http://pattylakinsmith.blogspot.com/2007/02/my-first-entry-with-sad-news.html#links

We finally got the courage to take the plunge again a couple of months ago, and are now very happy to have a handsome adopted chocolate lab (lab rescue - someone who lost their home left him behind) filling that empty spot in our hearts. He's got his own blog at www.ourdogbodie.blogspot.com.

Thanks for sharing this. You write beautifully.

Patty