Today she enjoyed her Sunday ice cream cone (even though is was only Tuesday), and after receiving a good scratch behind her ears, we said goodbye. At age 15, she was ancient for a lab.
Goodbyes suck. Especially these kind.
I wish I believed that all dogs go to heaven. But I don't. I believe animals have hearts, but I don't believe they have souls. I do, however, believe they touch souls.
That's what Maddie did.
I'm thinking about that more now that she's gone.
Twenty years ago, as city transplants, we'd soon learn that however wonderful life in the country was for animals it also could drastically limit their lifespan. In our first few years as country folk we lost three dogs…a German Shepherd, a Lab, and a Schnauzer.
But Maddie came anyway, despite our track record. She was a Black Lab mix--with her love for water our place on the river must have seemed like the best possible place on earth.
In all those years on the river, there was never a time when we were in the river without her. She was the guardian of all who entered the water. Even when we would pile into tubes and float down-river a bit to find the deeper swimming hole, she swam beside us. This never stopped, even when she got older--even when we feared she didn't have the energy to follow…she did.
Maddie was always an outside dog. A few times when we were gone, she managed to push open the front door that hadn't been closed properly. She'd head straight for the trash and make the biggest mess. But other than that, she was an outside dog. When the sun was hot, she dug down to cool dirt in every flower bed we ever planted. When bad storms came up or when a blast of cold came our way, she wouldn't come inside no matter how hard we tried. In the winter, she slept outside our bedroom door on the porch under a heat lamp on a pile of blankets.
I think maybe she felt like she was guarding the place.
She came to us right in the middle of a busy life. Three kids. Lots of sporting events every week. Early mornings. Late nights. There were many days when all she got from us were a few bowls of food and a quick "Hey Maddie-Girl" as we came in late at night.
But she didn't seem to mind. We were her people. She didn't beg for more attention during those days. She seemed perfectly content with the occasional scratch behind the ears, the table food she sometimes scored during weekend cookouts and the freedom to go for a swim anytime the mood struck her.
Our yard was fenced with pickets that were three feet high. She easily cleared those pickets to go roaming. Sometimes she'd bring back deer carcasses from her adventures. Sometimes she'd come back with a face full of porcupine quills. She continued the fence-jumping until she was 14 years old. Fourteen. As she got older, she preferred to squeeze past us and run out the gate. But when she came home from roaming, she would rock back and forth until she gained enough mental and physical momentum to propel her back over the fence into the yard.
But years change things. Kids grow up. They leave home. 'Ole Maddie-Girl had hung on to see it all. In a way, she helped raise the kids.
She was a constant in their lives, and ours. A fixture. The most loyal friend. She didn't beg to be noticed, but if she hadn't been there we would've noticed right away.
There was the day we sold our house and moved into town. Due to construction, it would be a few months before we had a yard for her. So we helped her settle into a big yard at a place called Agape Haus--the place where I teach piano.
She didn't have the river, but she did have a bunch of new chicken friends and a gardener named Maurice. And a bunch of adoring music students who fed her treats and petted her. She was almost completely deaf, so they'd have to step over her to come inside as she slept in her favorite spot--right in front of the front door.
And the strangest thing. All of the sudden, at this new place, she decided coming inside was kind of nice. She would sometimes lay on the rug in my room as the students had their lessons. Sometimes she preferred the room where my friend Keenan taught violin.
Always on Sunday nights my husband and I would get ice cream--two cones for us and one for Maddie. We'd sit on the porch at Agape Haus, hang out with the old girl and just be happy that she loved her ice cream.
Today the years finally caught up with her. It's only Tuesday, but it called for one last ice-cream cone. She licked every last drop of it.
And then she went to sleep.
And here's what I think.
Sometimes the best examples of loyalty and love and devotion and consistency don't come from humans at all.