Maggie wasn’t even my dog.
At the end of summer in 2011, I moved into my sister’s basement for what I thought would be about a year while they were on sabbatical – ostensibly to help with my two nieces, who were 18 and 20 at the time, and their dog Maggie. I have always been a dog person and I loved Maggie. I had been their designated dog sitter for years, and thankfully, my sister and brother-in-law traveled a lot. Every post-Christmas ski trip. Every summer holiday. A weekend here and there.
Maggie and I, in the woods.
She was a champion walker and my best dog pal. My snack buddy. My frequent bed partner. My mood lifter. On Tuesday, she passed away. Fourteen and a half years old. An old dog, yes, and very arthritic, but up until her last week, happy to frolic in the park behind the house; eager to eat rabbit shit and smell every pee hole in the snow. To the very end, a dedicated blanket messer-upper and family room ‘tapper’ (she liked to go around the room and tap the surface of things with her paw). The best part of my day was when I was walked up the street after work and my sister would open the door and Maggie would come running down the driveway. Always joyful. She was a joyful dog.
She had been in decline for a couple of years. Early in her life, she was full of energy, or as Sharon described it, full of the hybrid vigour that comes with being a mutt. I remember once, when she was still quite young, I was dog sitting during a couple of weeks of incredibly hot and humid weather. I got up at 5:00 to walk her for an hour in the cool of the ravine, and then left her in the house all day while I went to work, and then walked her again for another hour or more later in the evening. She needed it. I’m not sure I did (especially at 5:00 in the morning). We both loved to go for walks. We could walk for hours.
About three years ago, she began to hesitate, slowly at first. Sometimes she refused to go up a hill. Some days she would walk more slowly than usual. Sometimes she’d just stop. Our walks gradually became shorter, more destination oriented. We would drive her to Terwillegar off-leash because she loved the river, or the creek, or any pool or bog or puddle. She had a habit of sitting down in the water, no matter how dirty or shallow or icy. It always made us laugh, and I think she knew that.
I had been a solo walker for many years. I was used to walking at a fast pace, with few or no stops. Walking with Maggie over the years, but especially these last five years, I learned to walk more slowly. To stop and listen and drink in the landscape while she nosed about in the bush. I even wrote a post once about her snout. Such an admirable snout.
One of my favourite memories of Maggie did not involve walking but sitting on the stairs of the deck. She would sit beside me and I’d put my arm around her. She’d lean in a bit, her hot fur weight against me. I could smell her doggy scent, hear her light panting. Occasionally she’d look around and give me a quick lick on the face. I was truly present in those moments. Just sitting there, with her. We did that a lot. Not my dog but yet so deeply bonded. To be in the company of a dog, especially a dog like her, is really something.
In the last couple of years of her life, she was prescribed many medications: for her fading eyesight and her aging heart and her arthritis, creeping inexorably down her back and legs. Cubes of glucosamine, or as the kids called it, her medicinal jujubes. I was in charge (or at least, I took charge) of administering these concoctions. “Shooting” her and “pilling” her, multiple times a day. Making sure she ate something with her pills. Making sure her water bowl was full. Even now, five days since she’s been gone, I can’t stop looking over where her dish should be, anxious that she doesn’t have any water.
Last week Maggie was having more trouble than usual getting up. She was wobbly and sometimes she fell, and once she fell off my bed. She seemed to be listing to one side, her right side, and she just didn’t seem herself. She stopped eating her kibble, and few of her snacks. Milk bones were left untouched on the floor. She was also drooling, which was unlike her. Maggie was a barker and a licker, not a drooler. But also the most gentle dog that I’ve ever known.
She did not have a mean bone in her body.
The day she passed, Kate called me at work. Maggie had fallen and could not get up. When I arrived home half an hour later, Maggie was on the floor in the hallway wrapped in a blanket, wagging her tail and lifting her head. She tried really hard to get up. I told her it was OK. We put her bed into the back of the car and drove her to the vet. My other sister Joanne joined us there. (Sharon, her beloved mum, was in Scottsdale and her dad in Australia.) I ran my fingers through her fur and kissed her and told her I loved her. On the table she leaned very hard into me. All three of us were crying. The vet and the assistants were all very kind. They knew Maggie and loved her too. The vet even kissed her, which I will always remember. He said, this is the day. She had suffered a stroke, probably several, and had another one in the doctor’s office after they had taken her away to give her a sedative. He brought us into the room with her and she was calm. Her eyes were closed. We were there when he administered the final drug and she passed away. It was hard and peaceful.
I am thankful that so many of our walks have been recorded in this blog. All the photographs and wonderful memories. Maggie had a long and happy life for a dog, somewhere in the vicinity of 80-90 human years. I knew her days were coming to an end, we all did, but that didn’t prepare any of us for what feels like a sudden absence. This week hasn’t been easy. I see her everywhere. All of my routines have been disrupted. I miss her snoring. I miss her happy barks when one of her pack members arrived home. I miss her helicopter tail. I miss the tap of her paws on tile. I feel badly for Sharon and Vic, who just happened to be away on the day. I am glad, however, that it wasn’t in the middle of the night. We were there with her, and for her, and her suffering was short.
A weird thing happened. When our family dog Happy died in 1983, Cyndi Lauper’s song Time After Time, a hit on radio at the time, became inextricably tied to the memory of her death. To this day, the song, and in particular the lyrics, always makes me think of Happy, lagging behind on walks, peaceful and slow in old age. I was not as close to Happy as I was to Maggie, but I did love her. When we got home on Tuesday from the vet, steeped in grief, I went downstairs to my bathroom and turned on the radio. It was playing Time After Time.
Sometimes you picture me
I’m walking too far ahead
You’re calling to me, I can’t hear
What you’ve said
Then you say, go slow
I fall behind
The second hand unwinds
If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting
Time after time
I could not get through this post with dry eyes. Good Maggie. Loving Maggie. It seems strange to approach the house without the sound of Maggie’s cheerful barking, scrambling down the steps to greet me. I have always been a cat guy, who never owned or significantly interacted with a dog, but Maggie had me at ‘Hello.”
Beautiful tribute to a very special and beloved friend, Donna. I’m so sorry you have experienced such a profound loss — I never met Maggie but I now feel like I did…hugs to you..
This made me cry, Donna. Perhaps especially since I had to be there to put down my sister’s 32-year-old horse this morning, while she is away. Animals really are the best teachers, and the best friends. I loved following the stories of your walks with Maggie. She was such a good girl. xo
Thanks everyone. And Kristine, I’m sorry for your loss. My memories of Maggie are all happy. This week was inevitable, but I know in the days and weeks ahead, the ache will soften, and Maggie’s joy will shine through. This is an experience many of us have had, or will have. And yet, we just can’t help ourselves! The company is just too, too good.
So eloquently written, Donna. My eyes were “leaking”.
Hi. I’m so sorry for your loss. I know it’s very painful to say goodbye to our buddies. I don’t know you nor how I even came across this blog, but I don’t believe in coincidences. You made me laugh and cry as I read your loving tribute to your beloved Maggie, obviously a wonderful friend and companion. She was beautiful, and all the pics are wonderful. I especially love the one of her frolicking in the snow so joyfully.
I’ve had dogs all my life, rescues, and I loved each with all my heart. But I’ve had a couple who were like Maggie was to you. And one of them looked almost identical to her. Her name was Bear. I, too, had to take her in on that last day. After being up with her all night, I took her to McDonald’s for a special treat of chicken strips and then to the park to sit together by the lake one last time and watch the ducks that she loved. She would often lean into me the way you describe. She brought me so much peace and joy just with her presence.
When we got to the vet’s, I ended up waiting two hours before giving the OK. She just suddenly seemed better, but he too was very patient and kind. I finally asked for a sign, and I got one. She started bleeding from her nose again. I knew it was time to say goodbye – for her sake, definitely not mine. The cancer had won.
I then held her tight as the vet got her ready, and right before that last shot, she turned to me and licked my face. I still cry when I remember, and it’s been 18 years. She was only 6 1/2, a rescue that I fell in love with when I volunteered at a shelter. I took her to the vet for them because she had a cough, but they didn’t find anything at the time. Shortly afterwards, they diagnosed her with lung cancer. In total, I only had her for a year and half. And yet, we were deeply connected from Day 1, as if we had always known each other.
I will never forget her and the special friendship we had, as I know that you will never forget your precious Maggie. It will get a bit easier as time goes on. But if you’re lucky, you will see her again in future furry pals. I did in another dog I rescued eight years later, and I swear she came back. 😉 She was just as beautiful but looked completely different. Yet, she had the same adorable quirks, and the circumstances were so similar, uncanny really, even till the end, when she too succumbed to cancer. But fortunately, we had more time together – 6 years.
So keep your eyes peeled and your heart open. Maggie is free now – free from pain, free from physical limitations, and free to return to you in whatever form she chooses. Love goes on, even if it’s between us and our furry pals. And when our work here is done, our beautiful and loyal companions will be there waiting to greet us. I believe that with all my heart. I hope you do too. God bless you and Maggie, and may he comfort you in your loss.
By the way, I sincerely apologize for the length of my post. I will not take it personally if you need to delete it to save space! I almost changed my mind about submitting it, but I figured I should just follow my heart instead. 😉
P.S. My name is Maggie too.
Maggie, that was very beautiful! I don’t know how you found my blog either, but yes, some things just find us, like good books and good dogs and good people whose experiences just seem to resonate. I shed some tears anew for your losses, but I am thankful that you shared them. It’s so wonderful that these dogs you rescued were rescued by you. I know this grief will lighten, and I am not the only one in my family (and among my friends) who are feeling sad. She was loved by many. Thank you!
Crying along with everyone Here. Lately the whole world feels like the sadness of missing nails tapping across a journey’s hard surface. This was such a real tribute and so well written.
Donna, you couldn’t have written a better or more loving tribute to Maggie. I’m still weepy as I write this and am treasuring having our Monty here by my side. I am so sorry for your loss. We, too, have lost two beloved dogs and a cat and it is so painful to say goodbye, even when you know that you are doing a good thing. Vic (who used to house/dog sit for us) and Sharon probably remember our dogs (especially Jake, who used to entertain everyone by “singing” on command at parties) and our Siamese cat, Charlie. Vic and Sharon must be so grateful that the three of you were there for Maggie at the end.
Sadie (our border collie/spaniel cross) signaled that she wanted out one cold Boxing Day evening; she went down the stairs to the sidewalk and around the corner and just laid down and died. As in her life, I think she didn’t want to trouble anyone as the vet told us this was very unusual. Bill and David wrapped Sadie in a blanket and brought her in the house and we kept vigil for several hours. We also had Jake (our Springer Spaniel cross) at the time and I think he grieved almost as much as we did that night.
A few years before we lost Sadie, Jake came into our lives briefly, left again briefly and then came back to his “forever home”. One cold, rainy spring night, my kids came home with this bedraggled white and black puppy with light brown eyebrows and black “freckles” on his face. He looked to be about six months old (the vet later said that he was more like three months old and I thought “uh oh, he’s going to be big” … and he did grow up to be over sixty pounds. Beth and David said that someone was seen dropping him off in Windsor Park. Bill and I both said we absolutely could not keep him as we already had a dog and a cat but I did agree to take him in for the night until we could either find his owner (not likely) or take him to the SPCA. Beth says to this day that it was very fortuitous (and guilt-inducing) that I over-heated some milk and took pity when it burned his tongue and he jumped and gave a touching little squeal. In any event, a day or two later Bill found someone in his office whose parents’ dog had recently died and she felt they would appreciate another dog. By this time I was getting a little attached to “Nibbles” (my daughter’s name for him) and so made sure that the people who were taking him would agree to give him back to us if it didn’t work out.
So, midst tears from the kids, off the dog went. About three or four days later, we all missed him and Bill checked to see how “Nibbles” was doing and it was not a pretty story. Apparently he had gotten up on the table and eaten a whole pot of baked beans. In addition, when put in the yard he would endlessly run up and down and bark at the rabbits in the neighbour’s hutch right next to the fence. He was so difficult that they had just arranged to give him to someone else! Noooooo, Beth, David and I said! So I made a phone call and we persuaded them to return the pup to us. Our whole family had a naming contest and that’s how Nibbles became Jake and became a wonderful part of our family.
As with your family and Maggie, we cared for him in sickness and in health. Like Maggie, Jake was a truly joyful dog and I have fond memories of him running through the fields at our farm barking at the birds as you would see his head and then his tail rising up and down as he ran through the wheat or barley fields. I also have less fond memories of Bill pulling porcupine quills from his nose and face and of giving him tomato juice baths after run-ins with skunks. He and Sadie were wonderful companions and we treasured Jake even more after she was gone.
Jake’s last year or two was difficult. Even though he was only about nine years old, he needed insulin injections twice a day for his diabetes, he was going blind, and his feet needed to be carefully cleaned each day. He also had some liver problems which, much to the amazement of our vet, I nursed him through and he had nearly another year with us. Maybe it was selfish to care for him as long as we did, but his tail never stopped wagging and he never stopped being happy in our presence right up to the end. Like you, we had a wonderful vet and his team often kept Jake at their office all day for a week or so at a time to monitor his sugar. They told us that each time they drew blood (numerous times throughout the day) he would hold up his paw for them! They grew so attached to Jake, that they would keep him at the front desk and he would greet everyone coming in. Tears from the staff mixed with ours on his final day.
For years we had Sadie and Jake’s ashes in urns intending to scatter them at our farm north east of Edmonton but we never seemed to get around to it. Finally we did. We opened the urns and put their ashes and their collars in the ground in a place that both of them loved for so many years. I had come across a Langston Hughes poem which I read and, even after all those years, shed some more tears.
I loved my friend
He went away from me
There’s nothing more to say
Soft as it began …..
I loved my friend.
I wish all of you the peace and healing that can only come with time. Hugs to all.
Thank you Donna. That is a beautiful tribute to our Maggie May. And thank you so much for being there for Maggie and Kate and me. Love you lots.
What a beautiful tribute to a good, good girl.
It is always so hard when we must help them leave us behind……………
Sending much sympathy to all who loved her.