She wasn't the dog I wanted.
The litter of lab mutts she came from had three distinct varieties: Black as night, yellow as the sun and a her — a mix of both with a visible splotch of mid-day hound dog for good measure.
The others had wriggled their way into my lap and were covering me like a blanket of unabashed love. She had sniffed me and walked away.
Oh, I had pick of the litter but I knew the pretty pups had people lined up to adopt them. ... No one wanted the one that looked like a mongrel.
So, home she came with me, this tiny little eight-week-old ball of not-as-attractive fur. I named her Madeline ... the prettiest name I could think of.
Wanted or not, it didn't take long before I knew she was the dog I needed. She was not in my house more than an hour when she moseyed on over to the door, sat down and scratched it.
So smart, she could later open the door herself.
So smart, that even when her dumb owner handed her an old shoe, it was the only one she ever chewed.
So smart that she learned to get around the other rules.
Like not eating the food off of plates balanced by humans momentarily looking the other way.
Or becoming so stealth in thieving that she could rise up on her hind legs without jingling her tags and drag a whole pie, pan and all, off a stove top without her nails even clicking. What's more, she could consume her ill-gotten gain, filling, crust and crumbs, with its baker standing within eyesight.
So cunning that NOT hearing her eventually sets off alarms.
A sweet, lovable and obnoxious dog. Wont to bark intermittently for no apparent reason. And knock over small children or step on their feet. A chaser of cats (until she cornered one and then realized they kinda scared the dog out of her). And my personal favorite, always being where I needed to be ... and refusing to move.
Lovingly, I added an initial to her formal name: Madeline J. Dog ... The J standing for Jerk.
I had considered, and then dismissed, adding an “I” for Infuriating.
Of course she was also the dog who would lay by your side, looking at you worriedly, should your back happen to spasm. She would always be there, even when she seemed utterly disinterested. Babies came home and her place in the pecking order changed. Though she seemed to want no part of these crying teacup humans, she couldn't take her eyes off them.
Even though she was standoffish ... she never stood off too far.
Until now. In perpetual sleep.
I gathered some photographs I'd taken of her over these past 16 years, and was surprised by how many pictures she'd been in just around the corners. Never too far from the main activity. I smiled at that thought of her feigning disinterest. How many walks had we taken? Probably not enough. How many sticks had we thrown? She never grew tired of bringing them back. How many times had we said "Bad DOG!" while trying not to laugh? Too many to count.
I know everyone says their dogs seem more human than canine. I'm not going to be different as I look back on her life. Maddy always seemed more playful, more intuitive, more comic and more in tune with us than I ever thought possible. She never stopped changing. Her quirks, likes, dislikes all seemed fluid as she aged. Only her sweet disposition -- and her penchant to jump up suddenly and race out of the room as if it was on fire — remained constant.
Near the end, as I was over-feeding her palliative French fries and marveling at her still keen ability to chase and pin her late-in-life cat friend, or abscond with an entire plate of food mid-meal, I couldn't help but think of all the joy and the life lessons I would have missed had she not been stuck with me.
I never thought I'd miss her infuriating traits: Her running roughshod over the kids, her chewing of all things important, or her petty thievery.
But that was the flip side of all the traits that made her sweet and endearing. too. Without one we wouldn't have appreciated the other.
Sweet dreams, my sweet Madeline. I couldn't have imagined a better friend.