by Donna J. Wade
Answering the phone on the third ring, I wondered who had the unmitigated gall to call at 6:15 on a Monday morning. They couldn't have known I'd been out until the wee hours looking for my dog, Maggie. In the five years she'd been my companion, I'd learned I should have named her Houdini for the many creative ways the Malamute/German Shepherd mix found to escape my front yard.
"This better be good," I mumbled into the wrong end of the receiver.
"This is John, the desk clerk at the Marina Beach Hotel. Sorry to bother you so early, but do you own a German Shepherd dog named Maggie?
I bolted upright in bed, groping frantically for my glasses hiding somewhere on the nightstand.
"Yes," I responded, excited beyond words. "She's been missing for two days."
"Well," John chuckled, "she's over here swimming laps in the pool with our hotel guests. The manager gets here in about half an hour, and if you come get her before he gets here, I won't have to bill you for the couch cleaning."
It seems that when Maggie tired of playing Esther Williams, she decided to have a nap on the pastel pink couch in the lobby.
"Mags" picked me out of the crowd looking to adopt a pet at our local animal shelter. She'd completely ignored the others, but when she saw me, she poked her paws through the cage bars, grabbing my leg as I passed.
Maggie was about 18 months old, and a bit larger than I was looking for, but I in her eyes I saw an old, gentle soul. She also had eyebrows that put Joan Crawford's to shame.
Maggie's two-week detention wouldn't be up for three days, and there was a list of people who wanted her. I was disappointed, but better to wait than take her home and have to return her because her current owners came to claim her.
Three days later, I arrived at the shelter before anyone else. Fortunately, the attendant working in the kennel recognized me, and let me claim my new animal companion early.
I called her Maggie, after a beloved high school English teacher. But as more and more people commented on her Joan Crawford eyebrows, she became Maggie Dearest.
Maggie was the gentlest canine spirit I'd ever known. When we strolled (she strutted) on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, children flocked to her because she looked a like a little wooly bear. Her naturally soft, fluffy coat was a joy to touch, and Mags sat patiently as the children gave her kisses.
Maggie went everywhere with me. I owned a small printing company, and clients would come by sometimes just to play with her. Her soothing effect on people made Mags better therapy than any they could get from a high-dollar shrink. Besides, she didn't talk back, and could never reveal secrets.
When Maggie was nine, I discovered a lump in her right armpit. The following morning, the vet was less than encouraging. A biopsy revealed that Mags had bone cancer. Treatment options were few, expensive, and painful. They first performed an unsuccessful surgery to remove the growth. Next, the vet suggested we amputate her leg and shoulder blade. The procedure would add only six months to her life, and four of those would be spent in recovery, learning to function without a limb. I decided that, were the roles reversed, I wouldn't want that for myself, so I couldn't put my best friend through it.
For another four months, I treated her with herbs, but Mags grew increasingly weaker. One evening as I sat on the porch watching the sun set, Mags put her head in my lap, looking up at me with a pleading in her eyes. My breaking heart knew it was time for my best pal to be released from her pain.
I called some friends, and we had a bon voyage party for Mags the following evening. We slipped so much steak to her under the table, she probably thought she'd already gone to doggie heaven. The next day, Maggie Dearest crossed over the rainbow bridge.
We used to weekend at a friend's place in the Mojave desert, where Maggie loved chasing the mustangs and a pet gander, named Rush Limbaugh because he never shut up, around the corral. We buried Maggie's ashes there, and planted a rose garden around her. Every year since, the rose bush over her grave blooms earlier than the others, reminding me of the gentle, sometimes precocious spirit that so profoundly impacted my life.
Copyright 2007 Donna J. Wade / All Rights Reserved