All I wanted was a dog that would fetch. Nothing fancy. Just a good old medium sized canine that had the instinct to collect and return whatever I chucked out there.
I guess that's not really the beginning of the story. It probably starts with Maggie.
Maggie was a German Shepard mix found at a private shelter in Newport, RI. I had been dating this guy, (engaged to him, actually) when he told me he wanted a dog of his own. I, honestly, felt myself to be more of a cat person and indeed, had a cat. We lived in a one bedroom apartment on the second floor...there was no yard and no place all that close to run, but we still knew we didn't want a little yip-yip dog. Boy didn't really have a job, so most of this was my responsibility. And by "most of this," I mean, "everything." I spoke to the landlord about wanting a dog and I had lived in this apartment long enough for him to know me, so he agreed. Actually, I had lived in this apartment for a year, then moved out, then back in almost a year later. This man, unlike most landlords, knew I was a tenant who left the place in better condition than I'd found it. In the ghetto of Pawtucket, RI., I was a rare bird and it wasn't much of a risk, this dog ownership.
Cory and I (that was the boy's name) trolled several shelters, all of them depressing. We saw hundreds of homeless dogs, but none of them felt like the right dog. We met a Boxer through the bars of his kennel and as we knelt down for a better look the brindled dog eye balled us as if we were criminals and gave us a low, motionless growl. Moving right along...
Someone at some juncture in our search finally recommend we check out the Potter League for Animals in Newport. I was in massage school and we weren't in any huge rush, so a few weeks later, we made the thirty minute drive and hit homeless-doggie-shangri-la. This place had, what seemed to be, acres of green grass...clean kennels...obedience classes and a waterfall for Christ's sake. Not just nice, this place was amazing. We took a stroll around, and while impressed with the facility, we didn't quite find the dog. We spent some time wtih a Golden Retriever mix with light blonde hair and blue eyes, but she was hyper and seemed not a good fit for apartment living. We hung out with a purebred Dalmation, but was told she peed on furniture and wasn't good with kids. (The beauty of a private shelter is you actually get this added info.) We were about to leave, feeling defeated, when we spotted a bunch of dogs in the Saturday obedience class with volunteers. There was one in particular,a black mutt, who seemed like she could be easily overlooked, but had the biggest ears of any dog I'd ever seen. We asked to see HER.
We were brought back to the same large, open spaced room with the speckled linoleum floor and sat in the same seats we had sat in with hyper dog and furniture wetter. This dog, named Kelly, just stood by us patiently. She backed her rear end up to us and gently looked over her shoulder, making eye contact with both of us and wondering which of us would scratch her hind quarters. We both did and this seemed the greatest thing she'd ever received. When satisfied, she slowly sat down between us and checked out the room, licked our legs and hands. We'd found our dog. We signed papers and they took her away to bathe her before her trip home with us. We were told she came from the Warwick shelter where she was on death row. The volunteers thought she was a good, adoptable dog and requested she be transferred to Potter League.
Even though we had discussed at length what we would name a dog if we got one, we never could come to a decision. But getting into my Nissan Sentra, Kelly wearing a new red bandana around her neck and smelling like shampoo and skunk, I looked at Cory and said, "we should name her Maggie. She's the baby." He was a huge Simpsons fan and didn't hesitate. Agreed. And off we went back to Pawtucket with Maggie hanging out quietly in the back seat.
Now, don't get me wrong, I thought Maggie was great. But, she was HIS dog. Regardless of the fact that I paid for her. I really just wanted him to be happy and he wanted his own dog. And although we called her "ours," I really knew who she belonged to...
Until we broke up.
And that's where things get fuzzy.
It ended pretty abruptly and not all that pretty. But, as the rejected bachelor Ben said on the finale of the Bachelorette, (yep, I'm about to quote something from the Bachelorette!) "nothing good ends well." That may be a misquote.
There was a lot of anger, mostly on his part. He didn't get it. He didn't understand how things could change so suddenly. But they did. When I realized I'd be carrying us along financially. Forever.
He wanted Maggie. He said he couldn't take losing me AND her. I told him fine. He could have her. But only when he had a place to live that allowed her. Rumor had it he'd been couch surfing, but mostly sleeping in the car I'd bought him.
Months went by...there was much arguing and crying and clearly, we weren't getting back together. I'd rebounded to my old boyfriend and gone online to dating websites; pretty much anything to not have to feel what I felt. Maggie hung out with me and I walked her across the street to "shit park." Nicknamed because it was the only place to bring a dog to poop, and everyone did. And then didn't pick it up. There was a bench with a statue of Ray Croc, founder of McDonald's on it. We were across the street from a McDonald's. And regardless of my being alone with Maggie, I still didn't feel like she was my dog...for about 2 years.
I decide I was moving to Tahoe. I called Cory and asked him if he wanted Maggie before I left. He told me he was working on getting an apartment and then he'd take her. By the time I left in September, he still didn't have a place. I wasn't surprised. I took Maggie on a plane and off to Tahoe we went.
I was there for a year when I decided I was probably moving to Los Angeles. I went online and looked for places to live, looked for roomates. No one wanted me to have a big dog. She weighed 75 pounds and people had a 15 pound limit. So I called Cory again. "I'm probably moving to LA and it's going to be hard for me to take Maggie. Do you want her?" And he said no. He said he never wanted to own a dog alone...and he still didn't have a solid place to live. And that's when I decided she was totally mine and now I wouldn't give her to anyone even if they asked. I couldn't believe he'd say no. I suppose I got the part about not having a home...but....shocked.
Maggie and I went on many hikes in Tahoe. She played with my new boyfriend's dog, Bagheera. They travelled the neighborhood together. Up there, it's like living in the 1950's where dogs just run around free. They once walked all the way down the mountain and went into a grocery store together. We got a call to go pick them up. Mags loved hiking, hated swimming, and never chased a thing I threw. Or, well, she'd chase it, maybe pick it up, toss it, then run in the other direction. Not a fetcher. I just wanted a dog that played fetch.
But Maggie was the greatest dog that ever lived. She snapped at me the very first night we had her when she was sleeping on our bed and I tried to move her. It never happened again. She never had an accident in the house. Never barked. Was sweet to everyone she met. Kids, cats, men, mail persons...didn't matter. She loved everyone equally.
So eight years later, when I was living in LA with my husband and her arthritis was so bad she could hardly walk, I felt like someone had run me over when we made the decision to put her down. It was February 5th and raining....it was late, about 9:00...and she was laying on her spot on the couch and whining. I knelt down beside her and looked her square in her dark brown doe eyes. I asked her to lick my face if she was ready to go. Just one lick if she wanted out of this body. And she looked back at me and licked my cheek. I couldn't ignore her misery or her sign language and so told Sweeney we needed to take her tonight. It was time.
Putting her down was the most gut wrenching thing I've ever done to date. I cry just thinking about it. I'm crying right now writing about it. She had my heart, this big eared dog...she grew on me and over me and she just had me. I held her head as the doctor inserted the needle, first giving her a sedative, then the lethal injection. I watched as she put her head down and listened as she exhaled one last time. And I couldn't believe she was gone...this dog who chased a bear in the woods...the dog who let me put my glasses on her and take pictures...the one who snuggled with my 17 year old cat, Elvis. What. The fuck. Was I going to do.
I cried. And cried and cried. Came home in the car numb and not crying and then sobbed hard on Sweeney's chest, crying out and writhing like someone who just came out of a war. It felt like I was dying.
I came home from work every day the next week and looked on Craigslist. Read about dogs. Wrote about Maggie, looked at her pictures....and then I saw a dog who looked like her listed at the North Central shelter in downtown LA. I wanted to go see him. Not to take him home...just to visit. And so I made the treck. It took about 45 minutes in traffic, but I got there. And he didn't look as much like her in real life. I visited him briefly, this dog named Pat, and then moved on to the other cages, all of them full. North Central has one of the highest kill rates in Los Angeles. It's over-crowded and downtown, where people are poor, uneducated; don't fix their pets. I spotted this scared red dog in the back corner of her kennel and made eye contact. She didn't lift her head off her paws, her body curled into a tight ball, but her tail wagged. And I knew, in all her silent cuteness, that this was a dog I needed to save. I called her over to me and she wouldn't come. Didn't lift her head still. Just wagged. I called Sweeney and he told me he trusted me, that if I wanted the dog, to get her. I had never wanted a puppy and this dog was listed as being five months, but she just called to me. I left and then thought about it for a day, and then went back the next and adopted her. It was Valentine's Day weekend and they were having a special. Her adoption fee was lowered and that was my incentive. Maggie had been gone a week. I just couldn't take the sad and all the empty.
After being fixed, I went to the vet to pick her up. She wouldn't walk on a leash, and so I wrapped my arms around her and carried her out. She was a Lab mix of some kind and her ears flopped at their tops. Her forehead wrinkled and surrounded her eyes in a way that made you feel sorry for her. She came into the house and snapped at Elsa and then slept for a few days. Once acclimated to the house, she got along with the Beagle...and most of all....I threw a ball....and she got it. Brought it back. I had found my dog that played fetch. And I felt like Maggie was happy I had saved this little life....