--by Mike Murray
Becky and Keith put it plainly and simply on the memorial: Maddie was “a good dog and a good friend.” For dog lovers the world over, that says it all.
I remember well the first time I encountered Maddie and “her people.” Pam and I were out walking Maggie, and the thee of us ran into the three of them. Pam had, I believe, already made Maddie’s acquaintance.
My “better half” probably already knew Becky and Keith by name as well. But to me, humans are usually known by the canine company they keep. I imagine it’s the same in reverse: To others, I’m simply one of “Janna’s people.” I’m the guy who walks J-Bear when Pam doesn’t.
What stood out about Maddie was her friendliness. She was sweetly disposed. She liked dogs. She liked people. She liked everybody. The day I met Maddie I knelt down to her and she slathered my face with sticky, sloppy kisses. Kisses that I welcomed.
It concerned Becky that Maddie enthusiastically licked me that way. She was just being considerate; she knew that some people don’t care for that behavior. But I had presented my mug to Maddie for just that purpose. To me, allowing a dog to slurp your face is equivalent to accepting a handshake from a human.
I don’t know of a single soul that Maddie didn’t take to. Or of one that didn’t take to her. As did Maggie before her, Janna doted on her. Our little roughneck deferred to the gentle Maddie in a way she seldom did with other dogs. Maddie mothered her, and Jannie ate it up.
It was plain to see: Maddie had a kind, nurturing spirit.
And she was a trooper. As so many dogs seem to these days, she experienced health difficulties in mid-life. One episode was critical. She developed a potentially fatal condition, one that required steroid treatment. She gained weight. Her joints became stiff and sore.
She slowly recovered. Though she did not completely regain her old life, she came close. Keith and Becky had her out often, on walks through the neighborhood and the park.
But Maddie’s battles with physical discomfort were not over. The day came when I learned that she had gone blind. Had no one told me, it would not have been immediately apparent. I was surprised to see Becky and Maddie strolling down their street, happy as always.
Maddie’s tail bobbed from side to side, its rate increasing when Becky announced: “Here comes Janna.” Unbeknownst to me, Keith and Becky had already worked out a series of communication signals that enabled Maddie to resume much of her daily routine. Vocalizing Janna’s name alerted Maddie that a critter was approaching, and that it was one she knew.
I am continually humbled by animals. They tolerate difficulty so much better than I. There is one local mutt, for example, who is missing a leg. A foreleg, I think. It’s hard to remember exactly, since the loss of the limb has slowed the scamp down not at all.
When the sometimes-feisty Janna and I pass the three-legged pooch and its person on the other side of the street, each dog gives the other “what for” from a safe distance. For Jannie, it’s good, clean fun. It pleases her when she succeeds in agitating a fellow canine.
What pleases me is that the “handicapped” mutt takes no guff from Janna. If that critter is disadvantaged, it doesn’t know it. It warms my heart to see that kind of spunk.
Maddie’s spunk found expression in gentler – but no less inspiring – ways. I imagine that she experienced bad moments, times when she was profoundly discouraged. But I never witnessed them. Every time I ran into her, she was upbeat.
Seeing her always made my day. I wish I had visited with her more these past few months. Because Pam walks Janna during social hours – at times when others are likely to be out and about – she ran into Maddie, Keith, and Becky far more often than did I.
Janna and I are out earlier in the morning and later at night than most of our neighborhood counterparts. I enjoy the quiet, the serenity that the peaceful hours offer. But after Maddie lost her sight, I began to especially miss her company. I had a sense of foreboding, a feeling that there might not be too many more opportunities.
It was a rare treat when my schedule intersected with Maddie’s. On one such occasion, Pam, Janna, and I were out together during the early evening and we found Maddie out on her front porch. For me, it was a very special day. A very precious visit.
I wish I had made it a point to experience more of them. I only saw Maddie one more time. Becky was out in the front yard, Maddie in the back – on the other side of the chain-link barrier. After letting Maddie know that Janna was there, Becky used a term (“fence,” I think) to indicate that approaching it would permit a nose-to-nose visit.
It was a touching moment. Maddie and her people were all coping, all doing the best they could. They were making do with the hand they were dealt. They were living life as normally as possible.
Maddie was such a good dog. And really, is there anything so good as a good dog?
Losing one is nearly unbearable. Maddie entered Keith’s and Becky’s life in August of 1995. She left it a couple of weeks ago, on July 10th. If you’ve been where they are now, you know just how difficult these days are.
Loss is inevitable. We all know that. Everyone eventually experiences it. But that doesn’t make it any easier to endure.
It gives me comfort to recall a scene from the movie Out of Africa. In it, the main character is forced by financial hardship to leave the continent and, with it, the servant with whom she is close. During their years together, they have become much more than employer and employee. They have become friends.
She says that he cannot accompany her back to her native country just yet. She asks him to recall the days on safari, when he would forge ahead and find a safe place to make camp. Once settled, he would build a signal fire to lead the way.
She tells her friend that their roles are now reversed. Realizing that they are confronting a distance far greater than ever before, he replies that she will need to “make this fire very big, so that I can find you.”
I think it is like that. The ones we care dearly about, the ones who leave before us, go on ahead to scout that final encampment. They are out there, waiting.
Please make the fire very big, Maddie, so that Becky and Keith can find you.
Copyright © 2007 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.