A few weeks ago I shared with you our struggle. Maddie, our very old dog, is seventeen and in seriously declining health. The entire family has wrestled with whether or not to put her to sleep. You can read about that here if you'd like.
Several readers left insightful comments about the matter, but still it was a difficult decision for us. Somehow this week we turned a corner, and after lots of conversations and some tears, we made the appointment.
As I write this, Maddie is still asleep on her bed. I bathed her today, a nice, long bath with bubbles even. She enjoyed that. It seems impossible that I am writing this. She has been our trusted friend, our loyal companion, and here and there a troublemaker, too, if I'm being honest.
As a young girl she was an expert at escaping our yard, and she had quite a few episodes we referred to as "benders." We have an especially vivid memory of her climbing a tree (not kidding!) and falling out of said tree. If you've ever owned Jack Russell terriers, this won't surprise you.
Years ago we had a raccoon in our backyard, and my husband thought it was acting strangely. Not having ever known any raccoons firsthand, I could not verify this. In any case we called someone from the DNR because my husband feared the creature might be rabid.
As it turned out, the raccoon was a baby and not yet sophisticated enough to deal with suburban husbands. After the raccoon situation was resolved (Have-a-Heart trap and the reassurance of greener rural pastures elsewhere), DNR guy said, "I've seen a lot of gross things in my life, but nothing so gross as that." My raccoon-fearing husband turned to look and (please don't read on if you are squeamish or having lunch) saw a worm, a real live squirming worm, emerging—how can I put this?—from Maddie's hinterlands. I don't think my husband has ever quite recovered from the sight.
When I picked Maddie up from the breeder more than seventeen years ago, I recall the children in this nice family referring to her as Puddles. The mother quickly shushed them, and I sort of laughed dumbly and went on. We soon learned the reason for Maddie's nickname.
My husband's parents dog sat for Maddie years ago, and it's a miracle they lived to tell about it. Not taking us seriously when we said, "You must keep her on the leash when you walk her" and "No, really, you can't let her run loose in the yard," they let her go. I am still amazed there were no strokes, heart attacks, or fractured hips during their wild chase through the neighborhood.
Only a year ago, we headed to the Outer Banks for spring break, leaving Maddie and Iris with our trusted friend to dog sit. I was on the treadmill at the gym when Kathy called. "Maddie's gone missing," she said. "I can't find her anywhere!" Maddie was sixteen, so we feared the worst. She had been losing weight, as ancient dogs do, and we thought maybe she'd gone off to die alone. Kathy searched and searched to no avail. My husband rose in the wee hours of the morning, drove seven long hours home. He walked our property and found Maddie drinking from a stream. Our little dog off on her Jack London-like adventure. He put both dogs in the car, drove seven hours back to North Carolina, and we resumed our vacation, critters and all.
This good dog of ours has led an amazing life. She's had humans to love her, a couple of sturdy dog friends for companionship, and she's traveled to the beach and Tennessee. She's sailed across the Chesapeake Bay, too. In warm seasons, she's stretched out in the grass and breathed good country air. In winters she's panted in front of fires and slept on a heated dog bed. She's eaten table scraps and regular old dog food. She's had nary a health complaint other than the aches and pains of aging. She's heard the words "You're a good dog" more times than I can count. She will hear them a few times more this afternoon.
I guess this is a nice life for anybody, dog or human. For sure this is the end of a special era, but like all good dogs, I know where Maddie is heading. She's off to chase the wild blue yonder.
Godspeed, my friend.