We first met Maggie on a post-Thanksgiving dinner walk around the lake. Painfully thin, the knobs of her spine and each rib showing, she was with a man who introduced her as “Miss Bones” when he noticed me eying her. The man was a vet, and the dog had been dropped off at his office by a kind soul who’d found her wandering around the east side of the state.
As I knelt to greet her, she wagged her tail and looked up at me. “I’m looking for a good home for her,” the man said. “Interested?” He scribbled his phone number on a scrap of paper and we continued our walk. As parents of four kids, juggling child-rearing with demanding jobs, our lives felt full already. We weren’t “dog people.” But I couldn’t get those liquid brown eyes or those velvety ears out of my mind. A few days later we called the number.
That’s how Maggie came to be ours.
She accompanied us on countless walks to the park. Slept on our youngest daughter’s bed every single night, even after she’d left for college. Barked at the mail carrier every single day. Ecstatically welcomed each family member home from school or work. Improved our moods.
Fast-forward 12 years. Christmas time. All our kids were coming home.
I couldn’t get those liquid brown eyes or those velvety ears out of my mind.
By this time Maggie’s muzzle was more gray than reddish-brown. Her slushy heart valves sometimes made it hard for her to catch her breath. A couple of times on walks, her legs gave way. She couldn’t always make it outside to do her business.
We called the kids. The youngest, who was in town, said, “You know it’s time.” The others, due home the day before Christmas Eve, said, “Wait until we come home.”
On Christmas Eve morning we went to the park one last time. A light dusting of snow covered the ground as we all stood around, hands jammed deep into our pockets, watching Maggie sniff the familiar territory.
Then we headed to the vet’s. All of us—our kids, their spouses, and the dog—piled into cars and trooped into the office for her last appointment.
The vet indicated a small room. “Who wants to come in?” she said kindly. We all did.
We crowded into the space. One son lifted Maggie onto the table. Our oldest daughter removed her collar. I hugged Maggie tightly as the vet administered the syringe. Tears flowed all around as we surrounded our good old dog with love, awaiting the final heartbeat, final breath.
Maggie was an unexpected gift to our family for 12 years. Even in death she showed us how to love each other—as grown-up kids stood shoulder to shoulder with their parents, unwilling to let them do this hard thing by themselves.
Afterward I couldn’t help but think that little room at the vet had been a sacred space. A place of grace, even in our sadness.
I still miss Maggie. But I’m grateful for her presence in our family for all those years. And who knows what other unexpected gifts may lie ahead? I, for one, am keeping my eyes peeled.
Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.