Sunday, July 8, 2012

Maggie's Farm

There wasn't a happier or more pleasant friend to have around the house than "Maggie."

For the past 13 years she never barked in anger and always cuddled up to you, and all she required was the gentle pet of her black and white coat, maybe an additional scratch behind an ear for good measure, and to hear you say, "Maggie is a good girl." You'd live in her good graces forever if you slipped her a secret Milk Bone.

This natural lovingness showed itself early. We'd often stroll with Puppy Maggie on her pink leash along the harbor walk at Dana Point, and when a stranger approached, she'd drop like a penitent prostrated before the pope onto her stomach, her legs out sideways, and invite a little friend-making. Few could resist this fuzzy little Shih Tzu temptress, and there where always lots of "oohs and aahs" from the children and adults as they petted her or tickled her ears, her tongue wriggling about in a big thank-you smile.

Maggie had unusual eyes, one brown and the other blue. This likeness was captured perfectly in Maggie's portrait painted by Hollywood artist and filmmaker Eric Minh Swenson, who filmed our dogs and later painted their portraits as a Christmas gift. (I have included his portrait of Maggie.)

Maggie was our second family dog, following "Jake" the Yorkie, who thought he was a Doberman perhaps because he was similarly colored, and, who had won my eternal respect as a judge of character when he lifted his leg and peed all over the new and expsensive tennis shoes worn by a lawyer who visited our house. After Jake died and we had had Maggie for two years, we acquired another Shih Tzu, this one mostly white, so Maggie would have a friend while we were at work. From the beginning Maggie mothered Puppy "Chloe" by licking her eyes and ears clean, and by herding her around the yard, even keeping her away from the swimming pool. They grew to be great friends, and although Chloe turned into the "alpha" member of this two-dog pack, I always sensed that she appreciated the upbringing Maggie gave her -- perhaps not unlike a child who, as an adult, actually tells her friends how happy her childhood was. When I'd feed Chloe first, with the idea of feeding Maggie on the same plate afterwards, Chloe always ate only half of the food, leaving the rest on the plate for her motherly friend.

Maggie died Friday.

For several years she was being treated for hypothyroidism, which causes dementia symptoms. When we took her for a check up at the vet's a month ago, he as much as forewarned us that Maggie was at the upper age limit of her breed. In the end, Maggie succumbed to congestive heart failure. On her last night my wife put a little pillow under her front paws to elevate her, making it easier for her to breathe. She seemed to understand we were trying to help her. (Our attempt was to make her as comfortable as possible; certainly what we ourselves would hope for from our family.) She died a few hours later, painlessly it seemed because she never whimpered.

"Don't let Chloe near her," I told my wife, after Maggie passed.

I had done the same thing with my daughter when she was four. After her kitten had climbed into the engine compartment of my car -- unbeknowst to me -- and I had backed out of the driveway only to see in the rearview mirror the little critter writhing on the ground, I instructed a friend who was in the car with us not to let my daughter see the suffering kitten. Should I have let Chloe see her lifeless friend Maggie? That might be one for the "Dog Whisperer."

A call to county authorities confirmed that we could bury our pet on our property. We selected a spot near a peach tree that Maggie used to visit on her daily rounds of the back yard. As I put her in the deep grave, I felt a small knot in her tail, and remembered something. Years ago a coyote had gotten into our yard and was carting Maggie off by the tail when I heard her yelp and grabbed her from the clutches of the hungry coyote. She had a knot in her tail ever since.

Today in our garden area there is a patch of fresh earth where we planted Johnny-jump-ups, dainty flowers as gentle, kind and loving as Maggie herself. I'll just call it "Maggie's Farm," after the old Bob Dylan song.

We miss Maggie dearly.

And, we aren't alone.

At bedtime on the first night by herself, I saw Chloe walk to the spot near our bed where maggie slept. She looked for her friend, sniffing, and then backed slowly away from the empty space. I have since observed her searching rooms where Maggie used to lie. Maybe I should have allowed Chloe to say her good-byes that awful night. Maybe animals need "closure," too.

This morning after her walk -- unusual because her walkmate wasn't on a leash by her side -- I fed Chloe in the family room. I then sat down in the office to write this. A half hour later I returned to the family room, and it caught my eye right away. Chloe's dish. She left Maggie's share uneaten, waiting for her.

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