On Sunday, my wonderful and beautiful Margaret Rose the Wonder Dog died. She was well right up through Tuesday. Wednesday, she didn’t seem quite herself. Thursday, she didn’t eat breakfast (which happened occasionally, so I didn’t think much of it). Around noon, she went out to pee, and I could see from the house that something was wrong. I walked out and looked at the pee in the snow: it was bright red. I rushed her to the vet, and oddly, on the way there, I had a premonition that she was gravely ill, and it crossed my mind that I might never see her again. The vet said maybe she had gotten some of the mouse poisoning, and in any case she was dehydrated, so she would keep her over night. We said goodbye. At this point, she seemed very tired and low. The following morning the vet called to say she didn’t have mouse poisoning. She’d done a blood test and an x ray and she had a very serious disease called immune mediated hemolytic anemia, which basically is a condition in which the body attacks itself and kills off all its own red blood cells. The protocol was massive doses of steroids, heparin because it also causes clots, more hydration and an antibiotic in case there was some possibility that there was a secondary infection. They don’t know what causes this thing to happen most of the time. She was in “intensive care” at the vet’s from Thursday to Sunday. I looked on the internet: it suggested that most dogs who have this die in the first four days, but some turn around on that fourth day: we were hopeful. We had caught it very quickly. Her hemocrit was 17 for two days, and then Sunday morning we got the call that overnight it had dropped to 10. (It should be 37-45. She had told me at 15, they transfused. At 13, it is difficult for the animal to support life.) She was dying. We went down to bring her home. She was so weak, she had to be carried to the car. If we just let her die on her own, she would have less and less oxygen available to her brain, and her death might be difficult and drawn out. So, we asked the vet to come to our home to euthanize her. I held her in the car all the way home, and cried and cried and talked to her and tried to sing some of her “Margaret songs” to her, haltingly. John carried her into the house and we put her on her bed with plastic under it. (She had lost bladder control at this point.) I called our neighbors and good friends, Sonny and Dottie, who were her second parents, keeping her whenever we went away. They came down. There was much petting and crying all around. I lay on the floor next to her, keeping her surrounded with my arms, her head leaning on my forearm. She gave me “huggies” (nose under chin) as often as she could lift her head. When Dr. Jones showed up, she heard her voice, lifted her head and greeted her. (Obviously they had bonded in her three days there.) We all said goodbye, and she administered the drug through the port to her IV, which she had left in, so she didn’t even feel the injection. She was unconscious almost instantly, and stopped breathing 20 seconds later. Within a minute she was on her way to whatever comes next. I have been witness to many deaths, but never have I seen one so peaceful and beautiful. It was truly in keeping with her life.
Yesterday morning was the first day she was not here and alive for chores. John had gone to work. When it came chore time, there was no Margaret to come in and tell me to get off the computer and feed her sheep. I had a bit of a crying jag, and grabbed her collar to put in my pocket. Somehow, silly though it was, it helped me not to feel so alone. All through the day, every step I took, just about, I was reminded that she was no longer walking this earth: I spilled flour (no Margaret to lick it up)…I took a catnap (no Margaret to lie down next to me on the floor by the couch and when I woke, to nuzzle me with her nose to say good afternoon, sleepyhead.) etc…lots of little crying jags. Lots of reaching in that pocket to touch the collar. Lots of grabbing the one skein of Margaret wool a friend had made for me years ago, and put it under my chin for “huggies.” (I think it is destined to become a scarf for me.)
She is being cremated and we will bury her remains in the spring.
Margaret was a wonderful dog. She was smart. She was well behaved. From the day I brought her home, she lived to please, and only had to be told once when she strayed from the rules, which was seldom. She wouldn’t come for her dinner unless she was told, “You’re invited.” We could leave food on the coffee table and go out and she wouldn’t touch it. Once when I went to N.J. when she was just under a year old, she refused to poop for three days because there was no “woods” (despite my telling her that my son’s back yard was the woods.) I had to take her out of Trenton into some woods, for her to go. She would avert her eyes if she happened in on me in the bathroom (door open, when no one is there…) and I was “pooping.” When she was out in the woods pooping, she looked up first to make sure I was averting MY eyes. She had learned to recognize several words when I spelled them. Only the week before, we had been at Sue’s store and Sue had asked me if she could have a COOKIE (spelled it), thinking Margaret wouldn’t understand, and Margaret had made little talking noises to her (meaning, Yes, I want a COOKIE). She was devoted to me, and totally dutiful toward the sheep and the chickens, and all other “chores” which were hers. (Getting the mail, taking water to the sheep, getting eggs, etc.) She went with me wherever I went, preferring the truck to the car, for she could sit next to me in the truck, and while driving, frequently requested (with her paw) that we do “arm dancing” (I took her arm and tapped it in time with the music on the seat. I loved her.
My son, Peter, who died 24 years ago, desperately wanted a dog. We even tried once to keep a stray he had brought home. But I didn’t like dogs. (Margaret converted me.) Now, he has a dog, for I am sure he is with her. As for that stupid poppycock of old theology that says dogs don’t have souls, I say, “Well, if dogs don’t have souls, then neither do people and the whole thing is one big ruse.” And my friend Suzanna (also a priest) says, “Heaven wouldn’t be heaven if there were no dogs there. My friend Donna (an Abenaki woman) tells that in Abenaki thought, when you die, you take a path to the new place, and you have to cross a bridge to get there, and at that bridge are all the dogs you’ve ever owned. If you treated them poorly, they won’t let you pass. My son, Peter, when six or so, and starting to spell seriously, announced in a rather loud voice in the middle of church one morning, “Mom, God backwards is dog.” Perhaps that says it all.
I will miss her. I don’t know if I could ever bring myself to have another dog. It wouldn’t be fair to a dog to follow Margaret. She was so sweet, so perfect, so loving. She had friends of her own, tons of them, who would greet her, talk to her and then say, “Oh, hi, Betty,” for they really came to see her. I know there won’t be another dog for quite a while, however: I need time to grieve.
I was so stressed when she was in the hospital that she would die alone in a cage in the middle of the night. I was so relieved that she came home. I did see her again, but only briefly, and she was so ill. Still, she was the same loving, sweet darling she always had been. Now I picture her with Peter, in whatever there is after this life, running through a field, herding sheep, often followed by Seemore, the recently deceased cat of a friend, just like Henrietta Pussycat here followed her on her rounds. It helps.
Here is Margaret a few weeks ago at Hodge Podge, her Auntie Sue’s store.