A Lesson in Humility from Maggie the Dog
by Jennifer Mally
We've got a sick dog. They call it congestive heart failure. "Failure" is not a good word in any situation, but most especially when it's so closely associated to the word "heart" -- and even more especially when the two are put together regarding a dog you've loved for more than a decade. Apparently, this was Maggie's destiny, but I didn't come to that understanding until changing from a seemingly profit-hungry veterinarian to one of a more compassionate nature.
I knew Maggie wasn't feeling well, but I blindly, wishfully, attributed it to a natural slowing down with age. I wasn't prepared for what her x-ray showed. Her heart had enlarged so much that it filled her entire chest cavity. Maggie's an 18-pound Cocker Spaniel. Quite literally, she was a little dog with a very big heart. She also had fluid in her lungs and abdomen. She had to have been so uncomfortable. I don't know why she didn't tell me.
So, for the last few months, we've started and ended each day shoving 3 pills down Maggie's throat. She's also on a strict no-salt diet of prescription dog food -- and for a garbage-lovin' dog, that's just plain no fun. She has good days and bad. Sometimes she seems sad. Sometimes she seems content. Most times it's hard to tell the difference. It's when she sits and looks at me with determined intensity that I become most troubled. It's as if she's telepathying (is that a word) me something and I'm too dense to understand.
There still, though, is a bright spot in her day -- six days a week, when the mail carrier makes her rounds. Maggie, very passionately, has protected us from the mail carrier (and everyone in uniform and/or a hat) since she was a puppy. Over the years, this has been most annoying, to not just our family, but also various mail carriers and even a customs agent at the Canadian border (a story for another time). Now, I find it endearing -- still annoying, but endearing too.
After all, Maggie was my first baby. I cringe while I write that. I know she's a dog. And it seems so trite or cliché to say that she's like a child to me. But for many years, when having our own child just wouldn't happen, Maggie was there to warm my lap or was ready with a hug (yes, she hugs) or a very wet kiss.
My husband, who thought himself incapable of loving a dog, loves her dearly. Of course, dogs know how to love us so unconditionally -- in a way we humans always seem to fall short. I do believe, Mike would be quite pleased if I greeted him at the door when he arrived home each evening, half hysterical with glee and wagging my tail. He'd be somewhat concerned, though, if I were so excited I whizzed on the kitchen floor (but that would be a story for another time too).
And Greta adores Maggie. We're still not sure exactly how Maggie feels about her. She's relinquished her place on my lap to this little girl, who not all that long ago, Maggie would have eagerly played with and chased around the room. But she doesn't chase anything anymore.
It's difficult to accept that her days are numbered. I'm not ready to lose her, nor to make the decision to let her go. Sometimes she has such vitality and others she's so tired. She'll see the vet again in May. Maggie likes him, so I'll trust his advice. And I think she'll let me know. Let's hope I'm not too dense to understand.
When I was working at the computer the other day, Maggie rushed up and suddenly jumped into my lap. This is not something that she does. Plus, she's had trouble jumping up on anything, so I was quite surprised and very concerned. Her little black hairy body was shaking like there's no tomorrow. She looked at me, and I swear, it was real fear in her eyes. I was no longer just very concerned, I was afraid. I thought, "This is it. Maggie has come to me to die."
I took a deep breath to prepare myself so that I might help her with whatever it was she needed for her "passing". She had come to me. Wow. I was sad and scared -- but for a moment there, honestly, I was also pretty full of myself. I had just been validated. Luckily, I snapped out of the revelry of my wondrousness long enough to realize that I could possibly do something for her. After all, I've resuscitated goldfish and performed CPR on a gerbil, so I've got some experience with this kind of thing.
Then it dawned on me that it was close to Maggie's medication time. Maybe there was hope. So I flew downstairs with my pup in my arms, set her on the floor and reached for her pill bottles. In that miniscule-half-a-millisecond while Maggie was standing on the kitchen floor and I was in the process of reaching, she let loose with an explosion of very runny poops all over, yes ALL over, the floor. And then she felt fine.
Maggie went off to take her favorite perch at the front window, and I got down on my knees. Okay, so I wasn't her gateway to heaven -- but she's still with us, and someone's gotta clean up the crap. It might as well be me. Perhaps that's my destiny.
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