She was only about eight weeks old when she became part of our life. My wife, JoAnn, spotted an advertisement in a weekly area newspaper for puppies that were a mix of Golden Retriever and Lab being sold for $25. The low price meant that they were not purebreds or show dogs, but we were just looking for a dog. We had a cat, whose domain was the inside of our house, but we lived on a large lot with some big shade trees in a suburb of Houston, and there was room in both the yard and in our lives for a dog. So we located the address, and made a call.
She was part of a litter of about seven or eight very cute, but very dirty puppies, milling around the yard of a very dilapidated house on the east side. The hard part was picking just one but there was one that seemed to sense what we were there for, and tried to get our attention. We had in mind that we probably would be better off with a male dog, but this one kept playing and running and sniffing, and eventually got our attention enough for us to decide that we wanted her. After we drove off, she was in for a rough day. First, we took her to the pet shop in our neighborhood, to get her bathed. That put her in a more playful mood. She had ant bites on her tummy that made red marks, but she was clean, and she really looked a lot more like a golden retriever puppy. Next we went to the vet for the shots and exam. She fell fast asleep on the table while the doctor was looking at her. We named her Madeline, “Maddie” for short, after an elementary story book character that was one of my wife’s favorites.
Her first night at home, she howled. She missed the litter. We brought her kennel into the bedroom where she could hear us breath, and she calmed down. After that, she did just fine.
And it didn’t take her too long to adjust to life in our home. She was too small for the backyard at first, so while I prepared the fence by covering the low spots and making sure there were no openings for her to wiggle through or dig under, she stayed in a specific area of the house penned in by a flexible wooden gate. She wasn’t too bad about making a mess on the floor, even from the very start, but she did chew on the kitchen cabinets that she could reach.
For nearly eleven years, her domain was our large backyard. She would spend the day there, let out in the morning before we went to work, and brought in during the evening before we went to bed. She slept in her crate, per the instructions of our vet, who also helped us regulate her diet by the amount of food she ate.
There were two things about Maddie’s life in the yard that I will always remember about her. One, she did not care for the occasional visit of various kinds of critters that existed, because our back yard was next to a swampy, vacant, wooded lot and near a bayou. One night, she would not respond to my call or come in the house after dark, but kept running over to the fence, barking. Finally, I walked out into the yard to see that she had two Possums paralyzed on top of the fence, and she wasn’t leaving until they were gone. On another occasion, she was barking at the edge of the garage that ran along the ground. A large, hook-nosed rat snake was attempting to hide up in there from her. And on at least two occasions, she had encounters in the yard with raccoons.
The other thing was her fascination with water. She would not leave her water bowl alone, but every time we filled it, she would paw the water out and splash it on herself. In order to keep her from being thirsty, we bought a small wading pool and filled it with water. The first time we got it full, she plunged right in, up to her neck. After that, any time I came into the yard to fill the pool, I had to sling the water hose around so that she could chase the drops. She would run circles around the yard, planning how she would attack the falling water, and then absolutely loving the spraying down she would get, especially in the heat of a South Texas summer. We would spend hours in the yard, playing with the hose. She was so sure the water belonged to her that we couldn’t put a sprinkler down without her grabbing the hose in her teeth and moving it around.
JoAnn had the patience to work with Maddie to teach her tricks. She was a smart dog, and picked up pretty quickly on what we wanted her to do. She learned to sit, lay, roll, stay, turn around, wait until she heard the number “five” and eventually, to speak on command. She got to the point where she would perform her tricks in front of other people, shy at first, but eventually, without missing a beat.
When our cat died, Maddie got more inside time than she was used to having. She loved every minute of it, and added some new routines and habits. In addition, she picked up on learning to tell us when she needed to go outside without having to be trained. But when she was in the house, she had to be the center of attention. She wasn’t used to coming in and just “being a dog,” as we would say. But she was our friend, as loyal as she could be, and she brought us tremendous joy. There was no way we could be having a bad day after we got home to her, because she would make sure that whatever was bothering us would just go away. It seemed, to, that she could sense when something was wrong, and she would nudge us, or lick us, or paw at us to get our attention to say, “Everything is going to be alright, because I am here!” And she was always right about that.
We were afraid that our move from Texas to Pennsylvania would be difficult for her, but we wouldn’t even dare to think about not bringing her. The biggest fear was the three day car ride. With a little help from a sedative from the vet, the three days in the car went just fine, and Maddie became an inside dog, which she absolutely loved. The adjustment to staying inside the whole day, and having to wait for us to come home to walk her went just fine. She loved the walks, and the time inside the house. She determined that if we trusted her inside during the day, she didn’t need to be locked in her crate at night, and she refused to go downstairs one evening. She won that argument, and wound up sleeping on the foot of our bed most of the time.
For fourteen years, she was our best friend, as only a dog can be. We consider her a gift from God, because that is exactly what she was, and she filled places in our life that only she could fill. That is why there is such a great emptiness in our hearts today, and a great sadness in our lives. We have lost a close, trusted friend who can never be replaced, but who will, after the grief passes, always be fondly remembered. We had no idea this was coming so soon, but we have had so many opportunities to make sure that she knew we loved her, including one last time today.
Goodbye, my friend. Thank you for everything. The $25 we paid for you was the best investment we’ve ever made. I’ll meet you at the Rainbow Bridge.