I’ve had this post saved as a draft for a while, working on it here and there because it’s never quite right. My family met Maggie in 2001, six months after our previous cocker spaniel had died. Even though I wasn’t home all that much, we were still very best friends in the way that only an affectionate dog and a lonely animal lover can be. When I left to go back to college or back to Albany, she would frantically search the house for me, thinking that maybe I had gone out the side door, then somehow re-entered the house silently and hidden behind a piece of furniture. (I never said that she was smart.)
Her simple, boundless doggy love got me through some very difficult periods in my life, even when she was thousands of miles away. I knew she would always be there: tail wagging, never mad at or disappointed in me.
Maggie had pretty severe flaky and itchy skin that we called “doggie psoriasis,” even if the cause and symptoms weren’t exactly the same. She had anti-itch shampoos and creams, special baths, steroids, antihistamines, just about everything. We would comb dead skin flakes off her. She wasn’t thrilled. She itched the hair under her eyes out, leaving bald spots that later grew in gray. They made her look older than she was, but she was still awfully cute, with soft black hair (kept short) and classic cocker features.
After she was well into middle age, her skin troubles were traced to a grain allergy. My parents switched her food, didn’t give her scraps of human foods containing wheat, and sought out grain-free treats. This improved her condition quite a lot, which is when the fur under her eyes grew back in.
When I was ready to adopt a dog of my own in 2010, I visited quite a few adoption clinics. I happened to meet a sweet, unusually small five-year-old cocker spaniel who just happened to look a lot like Maggie. I thought she seemed nice, but had my heart set on another dog. That dog was adopted, and based on my history with cocker spaniels, the rescue group matched me with Zoe.
I brought her to meet my parents and Maggie a few months later, and…it didn’t go well. Maggie never liked other dogs, and I’m not sure she ever understood that she was a dog. It’s our fault that we had never socialized her with other dogs when she was younger, so she never learned dog manners or how to communicate with other dogs. But she tolerated having Zoe around, and didn’t act jealous. We would take them out on walks together, and they got along fine. Neighbors thought that they were related. (They aren’t, that we know of.)
Here they are when they first met, and Zoe didn’t understand why her aunt wouldn’t play with her. “Why is this dog bothering me?” Maggie seemed to be saying.
Around that time, Maggie started to get sick. She was showing signs of kidney failure. I wasn’t around so I don’t remember the progression or a lot of the details, but she took medications and supplements, and prescription food. It didn’t really help; she grew sicker and weaker. She spent the week before Christmas hospitalized, receiving IV medicine and nutrition. I came home for the holidays the day after she was released from the hospital, and she seemed healthy and like herself again.
It didn’t last. She grew weaker over that week, and eventually wasn’t all that interested in food or water. After Maggie and I left, she had a seizure in the middle of the night. My parents had decided not to let her suffer, and rushed her to the local emergency vet to euthanize her and take her suffering away.