Last summer, a friend of mine in the publishing bidness asked me to work on a photographic children's book with him. I would provide the photographs and he would write the text.
It would be all about my dogs — Madeline and Maggie.
His idea was simple:
"Take about 48 photographs of them playing together, spread them out on a table and we'll come up with a story about "Best Friends."
I stopped cold, realizing that with all the photographs I've taken over the years there are very few of the "Wonder Twins" together. Ok, they're not twins and we are actually a step-family. My husband came to the relationship with Maggie and I showed up with Madeline. And it was a rough start.
Maggie, two years older than Madeline (who, incidentally, we refer to as Jerk Monkey Hose Dog for her pranks and antics), would have nothing to do with the little pest for quite a while. She'd snap and growl and slink away to anywhere that would be puppy free. Maggie always seemed mature beyond her years ... for a Lab.
My friend's request also made me realize that even if I could get the girls to play together — my first babies, the furry loves of my life — are not as photogenic as they once were. They have bumps and skinny haunches, puffy bellies and graying fur. Though they are still beautiful to us, the industry might not agree. And too soon these creatures will be only a memory.
"That's even better," he said jovially. "We'll do a children's book about coping with the loss of a pet."
As I looked over at Ittybit as she splashed in the pool, it dawned on me that the past two years have really brought about an amazing transformation of our entire family, fuzzy members especially. They have gone from being standoffish and frightened of the pink little bundle that made all kinds of strange noises to being watchful and proud.
"Oooh, this is even better," says my friend. "I see morning show bookings in our future."
But we never got started. We never laid out those pictures on a table before we had to lay our dear Maggie to rest. A few weeks after the idea was hatched, a trip to the veterinarian revealed the old girl had a tumor filling one lung. He gave her eight weeks.
She lasted nearly eight months longer. For eight months she followed our girl around, slept in her room and seemed to perk up every time she heard her little voice call her name: Maggie dog ... Maggie.
I'd almost forgotten how sick she was; how little time was left. She still lumbered up and down the stairs, eating voraciously, and draging hers and all bowls of dinner-time giveaways away from her adopted sibling, who, incidentally, seemed to be gaining the weight poor Maggie was losing.
And just like that, Maggie just stopped eating. She stopped sleeping at Ittybit's bedside and spent more time outdoors, eerily staring in the direction of the place my husband had decided to lay her to rest.
Our regular vet doesn’t make house calls, so I pestered my husband to ask an imposition of a friend (and veterinarian) to make a long trip out of his way (and on his day off) to make sure her last sight on Earth was a view of home.
Ittybit and I went out for cake and bacon (kid cravings?) during Maggie's final treatment.
I worried how Ittybit would take the news. We'd been explaining what was happening all along, but I knew none of us would ever be prepared for the hole that such a large dog creates when they leave their families.
We talked about how Maggie would be gone when we got home.
It was a shock to see how much more prepared she was than I.
"Mama, don't cry. I'm not sad. Maggie's OK now."