That was my introduction to the shepherd mix puppy who I would eventually come to know and love. Doug was a troubled teen who lived with a family on my street, and he had gotten a puppy. He was no more ready to take care of an animal than he was to become a brain surgeon. He was irresponsible and callous from a dysfunctional upbringing, but he was trying to turn his life around.
As I stood in the driveway of the house where he lived — playing with this lovable bundle of energy — Doug kept talking. He told me that he was going to get the puppy’s ears pierced soon and start taking her to someplace where there were “fighting dogs,” so he could make her tough and vicious. I knew from talking to my vet that any dog can become mean if you treat it in mean ways. I was very troubled, but there was nothing I could do.
For awhile, my only contact with this puppy was when she would (frequently) get herself wound up in the rope that tied her up in the guy’s back yard. I would hear her whimper sometimes as I walked past and I’d find her completely tied up in knots, unable to move. When I’d tell Doug, he would seem unconcerned.
I can’t remember how long this went on. Doug seemed to lose interest in her. She never got the piercings, because he couldn’t afford them. He seemed disappointed in her, though, because his plan wasn’t working.
“I’m trying to make her a fightin’ dog, but she won’t be mean,” Doug said. “She don’t scare no one.”
More and more, I visited her in the back yard where she stayed tied up. She wasn’t getting much attention and she was getting no training. So I started trying to teach her to walk on a leash and learn basic commands. I didn’t ask Doug. I just did it. I’m not sure he even noticed.
She turned out to be the smartest dog I’ve ever been around. I know that puppies learn more easily, but she seemed to pick things up with amazing speed. I guess she was about 9 months old when I started working with her just a bit. At about the same time, she and I both had something great happen — but it was something terrible for Doug.
I didn’t realize it, but Doug was dealing drugs. I knew he’d had brushes with the law and I knew he had had drug problems himself, but I had no idea he was dealing. When I found out he was in jail — and couldn’t afford to make bail — I worried about what was going to happen to this puppy (who he called Sheba, by the way).
I started taking care of her more and more while he languished in jail. I told the guy who was still in contact with him — the one whose house she still lived behind — that I’d be happy to take her if he needed someone to care for her. The first couple of times, the word came back that he wanted to keep her.
About the third time I asked the message to be passed to Doug that I’d like to take her, I was losing hope that he was going to give her up. But the next time I was in the restaurant where my older neighbor worked, I heard him call out to me from the other side of the room, “Hey, David. Doug said he’s not getting out of jail anytime soon. You can take that dog if you still want it.”
I went straight to the house where she was and cut the rope tying her in the back yard. I left it lying in the grass, because she wasn’t going to need it anymore. Maggie had a new home with me. She was free.
Of all the dogs I’ve had and worked with, she was the most amazing. She learned with lightning speed. She was rough with her play and protective with others who came near me. She seemed like a really tough girl, so I named for for another tough girl — Maggie Thatcher.
She was about as close to a perfect dog as I’ve ever been around. She would let my young nieces roll around with her and get rough with her without ever growling or barking at them. (The picture at the top is Maggie with my older niece, Katherine, nine years ago.) But if I played with her with a shoe, she was vicious and ready to destroy it with a single pounce. Her biggest enemy was the vacuum cleaner. Anytime it was in operation and she was nearby, she pounced on it — literally — trying to bite it as though it was a dangerous enemy.
Until three years ago, she lived a charmed life. She was definitely the “leader of the pack” among the three dogs I had at the time (and had been the leader in the past when there were five of them). She loved rides in the car — and loved to hang her head out of the small slit in the window that I’d open for her, even though she was leashed. (The picture on the right just above was about four years ago.) She enjoyed life more than any dog I’ve been around. Everyone loved her. But one night, everything changed.
When it was time for her to get up and go to where she slept every night, she wouldn’t get up. The look in her eye told me something was wrong. I helped her get on her legs, but she collapsed. She couldn’t stand.
I picked her up in my arms and carried her to the car. It was late at night, so we headed to the emergency animal clinic. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I was convinced she was going to be OK. Up until the day before, she had still been acting like a puppy, despite being 13 years old.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. The clinic’s x-rays showed that her abdomen was full of liquid, presumably blood. Their best guess was that she had internal bleeding of some sort. If it simply came from some kind of injury, she might be fine. If it was from cancer or something similar, she had no chance. I stayed with her all night in the clinic, sitting much of the time in the floor next to the kennel where she had an IV that was pumping fluids into her to make her strong enough for surgery. (The picture you see below was shortly after 5 a.m. that morning. It turned out to be the last photo I ever took of her.)
As soon as it was possible, I called my regular vet and made arrangements for him to meet us at his clinic to do the surgery. I wanted her in the hands of someone I knew and trusted.
As the surgery progressed, I waited and hoped. I honestly believed she was going to be OK, but she never woke up from surgery. My beautiful brown girl had cancerous tumors in several organs that were bleeding. It broke my heart to lose her.
A faithful companion isn’t coming home.
There was once a sweet and beautiful puppy who lived with a young man who wanted to make her into a “mean dog” and teach her to fight. Fate intervened and she came to a better life instead. For 12 years, she was a faithful companion and amazing friend — for all of the people and dogs and cats in her life. She was funny and smart and sweet and brave. Without warning, she fell gravely ill on Feb. 28. She had internal bleeding caused by cancer in several organs. Maggie died a few hours later during surgery. Her absence creates a terrible hole in a family. She is missed and she is loved.
Three years later, she’s still missed and she’s still loved.