It was 19 years ago, that Tom and I went to the Love & Care Pet Breeders and adopted Maggie. I remember thinking, “We’re FINALLY getting a dog! A cute golden retriever puppy!” A dog that would be part of our family, our holidays, road trips…this dog would be an extension of us. We were a young couple, newly married, not quite ready for kids. So getting a dog was the perfect choice; a dog would help us transition into that next phase of our lives……..
Before I get ahead of myself, let me start at the beginning ~
Like most newly married couples, we were in our late 20’s with a new house that we enjoyed making a home. We had weekly gatherings with friends and family dinners that seemed to expand each year with another niece or nephew. Our careers were going in the right direction with opportunities to travel internationally, which was important to both of us. Life was good, but we both knew there was more to it.
Our first year of marriage, I begged, plotted and compromised relentlessly with Tom for a dog. He surprised me with a drive out to a local breeder one weekend for my birthday. I’ll never forget that first day and that first moment we saw Maggie. While looking at the golden retriever puppies, we noticed another litter – some golden, some white, some black. It was a litter of cross-breeds – dalmations/golden retrievers. This was before cross-breed “designer dogs” were in style….a “mistake”, he told us. But not to us.
They say never to choose the dog who is the most outgoing or the friendliest of the group. But we did. In fact, Maggie climbed over all her siblings to land in my lap as if she was claiming me. Just like that. She was mine. And while we didn’t join the “pure-bred” clique as we had planned, we instead gained the joys of a dog who would remind us there are more important things in life.
And, that she did. Maggie was definitely the right choice for hopeful future parents looking to understand the patience needed to handle an active, precocious little one. She had the energy level equal to a NASCAR at full speed (certainly her gas tank would run dry at some point, we thought). Add to that energy, a cunning, independent thinking mind, and our houseplants didn’t stand a chance (neither did our couch). But in the midst of taking up jogging 5 miles nightly, and finding just the right technique to get soil out of cream carpet, we began to find our patience.
A few years after adopting Maggie, and about 8 houseplants and a couch later, Tom and I moved from St. Louis to Minneapolis for Tom’s job – and new adventures. While my new job came with a lot of travel again, I enjoyed the opportunities to progress with my career. Maggie was adjusting well too. Tom was working from home, and we found a house just a few blocks from a lake, so swimming became a near-daily activity in the summers.
Life was good and going according to plan. So, as we settled into our new city, we decided we were ready for that next phase. A baby.
But it wasn’t going to be easy. If you or anyone you know has suffered infertility, you know how brutal the experience can become. For us it meant endless appointments with specialists, numerous medications, procedures, surgeries. The high hopes. The bitter disappointments. The process was emotionally exhausting for both of us. And for me, physically, as well.
In time, I went part-time to reduce stress and travel. I took up yoga, Pilates, herbal teas and did whatever the doctors recommended. In addition to Tom’s support, Maggie was my cheerleader, my therapist and my personal trainer. We spent days together walking around the nature preserves and lakes Minnesota is famous for; she was a great listener to all my ramblings. I took up photography and Maggie was the first to pose for me; I, the photographer. Maggie, my muse.
Between clicks of the camera, there were days, weeks, months of recovery from the latest procedure or surgery. And Maggie was always right there. With her big brown eyes, she looked at us and she knew just what we needed. She knew when we needed her head in our lap for comfort after another disappointment, or to curl up on the couch snug against me as I recovered from another surgery. She easily slid into the role of “Nurse Maggie”. Other days, she knew we needed some comic relief and never hesitated to make us laugh with her obsession to chase bird shadows in the yard (not the birds themselves, but rather their shadows).
Maggie felt everything we felt right along with us. I don’t know what we would have done without her.
After 10 years, reality set in. My condition was not going to allow for our dream. After a lot of reflection and soul searching…and acceptance, it was time to move on. And in our heartache, we soon realized the family we had been looking for was right in our house all along.
It was once we took a step back, that we realized everything Maggie had been through with us over the years. She loved us through our lack of patience with all her shenanigans. She tested us with her anxieties over storms, fireworks, the ironing board, the dishwasher, the vaccuum, and of course, the vet’s office. She loved us even when we were too busy and traveling too much; she didn’t seem to mind as long as at the end of the day, there was time for a snuggle. She loved us when we lost our temper over spilled soil (we eventually gave up on houseplants). She listened as we questioned so much, comforted us through our heartaches, and was always the first to brighten our day.
And now, after ten years, Maggie was showing signs of an aging dog with her own health issues. Our lack of a child at this time meant we could devote all of our attention to Maggie. A luxury she deserved.
So as she got older, it was our turn to be her nurse, to be her comfort. By now, I was working freelance and starting a side-career in jewelry, so my flexible schedule allowed me to be there for her as she had been for me. She had some really good days when her arthritis kept itself at bay and we managed some good walks. Then she had her down days, which became our down days, too. For years, Tom would help her up to our second floor bedroom each night, and then back downstairs in the morning. When she started to refuse to even try the steps with Tom, we had to make one of our first heartbreaking decisions and move her bed downstairs. I don’t think there was a night that Tom or I didn’t sneak out of our bed at 2:00am to lie next to her for a while.
Each day with Maggie seemed to be a gift, and we didn’t want to miss a minute of it.
Tom and I will be forever grateful for those moments we each had with her. And it was in those private moments with Maggie, that we each realized….through all the chaos Maggie injected into our lives, among life’s own ups and downs, we found ourselves better for it all.
Our 14 years with Maggie served as a reminder to be patient in all things –from life’s mini daily disasters to big disappointments. And while I may not have achieved exactly what I envisioned for myself 20 years ago, it’s perfectly ok. Because instead I am succeeding in the life I am really meant for. And it’s better than I could have ever imagined.