It’s been a hard year for dogs in our family. Diamondqueen had to have her beloved Frank put to sleep in early May. My eldest younger brother’s Shelby was aged and sick, and he worried about her throughout the first part of the year. Finally one morning he came home from work (third shift as a security guard at a local hospital) and found that Shelby had passed away during the night.
Now we’ve gone through another traumatic loss with my youngest brother’s dog, Maggie. We’d been waiting two years to see my brother, Jabberwock, my sister-in-law, and my two grown nieces; their 2013 visit from St. Louis was postponed because Mom was having so many problems, but also Maggie had developed seizures and was having a difficult time of it. All this past summer we kept hoping for consolidation of plans for their trip. There always seemed to be something to take into consideration (for awhile it looked like I was going to be the one to derail things because of my hysterectomy and treatment). Once we reached September I gave up, but Jabberwock announced the family would try to make it sometime in October.
The family has always traveled with their dog. Maggie has visited several times over the years, and before that Brandy made the trip from St. Louis as well. Mom and I had been concerned all along about Maggie’s ability to travel (besides the seizures and having a tumor removed last winter, she was 12 years old), but my brother seemed confident she could make it.
Then, the week they’d planned to set out, Maggie backslid. It didn’t sound good. Mom and I continued to clean and prepare just in case they’d make it. That Wednesday evening my brother reported Maggie’s tests had come back okay and the vet had cleared her for travel. They’d arrive next day as planned.
I confess when I saw them trying to help Maggie out of the van, I was stunned. I didn’t expect her to look well, but she was a shell of her former self: A spirited border collie who had loved to try to herd everyone and had yapped orders whenever she felt someone was exceeding their boundaries of noise, rambunctiousness, or simply enthusiastic conversation. The Maggie who appeared before me now could barely stand because of problems in her back legs. Her head sagged, her eyes were dim. She wasn’t up to telling anyone what to do.
Throughout the evening she lay quietly but panting heavily. Still, she didn’t seem to be in any pain. I was surprised, though, after everyone went to bed and I crept upstairs from my basement sleeping arrangements to use the bathroom, Maggie didn’t make a peep. Usually she woke up everyone barking shrilly at the disturbance I was making tiptoeing in my bare feet across the kitchen and through the hall. This time, I didn’t even know where she was until I switched the light on over the stove and saw she was right there on the kitchen floor where she been lying all night. She regarded me coolly, without remark, and I petted her head two different times before I slunk back downstairs to go to sleep.
As it turned out, that was the last time I would ever see her. Very early Friday morning, Jabberwock and my sister-in-law were so concerned about Maggie they took her to the local doggie ER. Mom woke me up and said she’d have muffins for breakfast as soon as they returned from the emergency facility. I didn’t realize they were preparing for their second trip; they’d wanted to pick up some of Maggies things. My brother seemed cheerful, even relieved because Maggie would probably spend the weekend at the facility where someone could take care of her, alleviating some of the family’s concerns. Mom baked the muffins and put them in the warming oven. Then we waited. And waited.
A long time later we heard them in the driveway, but they didn’t come to the door. I thought maybe Maggie was back and they were trying to move her from the van, so I went outside to see if I could help. Both my brother and sister-in-law looked ravaged; obviously they’d been weeping. My brother said in an agonized voice, “It doesn’t look good.”
There was a question of either a fungal infection in Maggie’s lungs or cancer, with different prospects for treatment and ultimate results. The next two days revolved around visits to the emergency vet, calls to the vet there and at home, and the sheer misery of fearing the worst. Naturally many of the things we’d planned to do during the visit were off, but I had to admire how the family roused themselves from a nightmare situation to manage a few outings (like dinner out with all Mom’s kids present and a Saturday evening visit to King’s Island for Halloween Haunt for Jabberwock, the girls, J.Hooligan, and me).
Before we left for that Halloween outing, the family had decided it would be best to end Maggie’s suffering the next day. She’d looked bad when they’d visited her Saturday afternoon, and further conversations with the vet confirmed that they were probably prolonging the inevitable. When pressed, my nieces admitted it might be better to go to KI than sit around Mom’s and dwell on what was going to happen to Maggie (although I’m certain it wasn’t far from their thoughts; it wasn’t from mine).
It was late Sunday afternoon before they all returned a final time to the emergency clinic. My sister-in-law borrowed a small pair of my embroidery scissors so she could clip some of Maggie’s hair. When my brother phoned to say it was “all over,” his voice was flat and steeped in misery. Mom and I took Addie in the car and rode around awhile so we could let them come back in peace without them having to talk right away or put on a brave face.
All along, even last summer, I worried about the worst case scenario: That something would happen to Maggie while she was visiting. That Friday, I kept praying that at the very least they could get her back home before she passed, but it just seemed that this was how it was all meant to happen. My brother didn’t regret making the trip. We did have some enjoyable moments, and he got to see Mom and the rest of the family.
There’s a new dog on the horizon, a rescue from the shelter where my niece works. First, they need some time to grieve and adjust. They took some walks in Maggie’s favorite spots and left bits of her hair there as a remembrance; and they decided after all to have her ashes shipped to St. Louis. So in that respect, at least, Maggie is making it back home.
The video below is of the song “Maggie.” It really has no connection to Maggie the border collie, except her name–and that it’s a melancholy song and I feel very melancholy when I think of Maggie and the family’s loss. I had been thinking of Rusty as it was, especially when I was in bed in the basement; he used to come down nights and sleep on that bed while I worked, and I haven’t spent the night in that bed since he passed. And then there were the dogs my other two siblings have mourned this year. I hope whatever angels watch over our pets keep our animals, old and new, safe.