Joyce McDonald Hoskins
I never intended to adopt Maggie. The pain of losing a pet seems to intensify with age. Once the nest is otherwise empty, the absence of a furry friend is even harder to bear. But then I heard about a toy poodle, only five months old, whose owners didn’t have time. All dogs love to be with people, but poodles are especially bred as companion pets. I couldn’t resist having a peek at the little dog, so I went to see her.
She immediately velcroed herself to me. We were instant buddies, so I had to take her home. She walked to my car as if she knew exactly where she was going, jumped in, and laid her head on my knee. That evening, my husband commented that she acted as if she had always lived with us. Indeed, she did. After we took our first walk, I told her, “Maggie, let’s go home now,” and she turned toward home and led me there. Our house has been her home from day one. I spend long hours writing, and Maggie turned out to be a wonderful addition to my computer room. This suits Maggie just fine. An occasional tickle with the tip of my toes, an imploring question about plot, a toss of a toy, or a bite of my lunch is all the attention she needs.
Not that she isn’t an attention junky. She is. But she knows when the time is right. Convinced that all visitors come to see her, she has quite a few friends. She is a very loving dog. So, I decided she would be a good therapy dog and had her trained. Of course, she excelled. I remember taking her to the nursing home one afternoon, and an elderly lady became convinced that Maggie was her poodle, Precious. She would cry, “Oh Precious, oh Precious,” and hug Maggie’s neck. The staff at the home went along with the idea and Maggie did, too. At least once a week, Maggie visited Mrs. Kelly and masqueraded as Precious. Sometimes, as Precious, Maggie did something Precious had never done. If she jumped through a hoop, it was the first time Precious had done that. If she rolled over, it was the first time. On one occasion, a nurse commented that it was the first time Precious had danced, and Mrs. Kelly responded, “Oh, mercy no, Precious has danced like that for years.”
Mrs. Kelly was gone when Maggie formally retired as a therapy dog, but the truth is, Maggie hasn’t actually retired. She still visits neighbors. Her favorite neighbors are Lily, the cat, and Lily’s owner, Mary Ann. Maggie marches up to the porch to touch noses with Lily. Lily is a tiny, grumpy, orange cat. Her brow always knits together, and she walks in a manner that assures you she hasn’t had a good day yet. She tolerates Maggie. Maggie loves her and puts up with an occasional bite. Maggie might love Lily, but it is Mary Ann she adores. And I don’t think it is just because Mary Ann gives her doggie treats.
Mary Ann had hip replacement surgery a year ago. Maggie, always faithful, visited regularly. Finally, the day came when Mary Ann could get up. But she did so painfully, and Maggie felt every pain and encouraged her with soft whimpers. As she watched Mary Ann’s face, she caught a look of severe pain and let out a heartfelt “ooh.” Everything about Maggie, from the squint of her black eyes, to the tilt of her head, showed that Maggie felt empathy. Mary Ann has upgraded Maggie’s treats to homemade gourmet cookies and takes her tattered stuffed toys home to mend.
But even a happy, fun loving dog draws the line someplace. Maggie’s line is water. She does not like it, not one bit. The fact that she descended from water retrievers does not impress her. Even on the hottest of south Florida days, she cannot be enticed into the pool. Slight ripples made by the jets is turbulence in Maggie’s eyes. She is not about to set one paw in the water—unless, there is a treat. Food motivated, Maggie can be coached onto a float and ferried across the pool to the other side. She likes a steady hand to guide her raft. Slight movement causes anxiety.
The higher the quality of the treat, the greater the courage. Milk bone for a ferry ride. Fake bacon for a trip to the second step. Real bacon for a fast swim out to the middle. A piece of hotdog produces a lap across the width. A piece of steak entices her to swim the length of the pool.
Manipulation is not beneath her. Give her an audience, especially an audience of children, and she performs well. A small hand with a treat is buttered up with love and adoring looks. The child is convinced Maggie performs only for her
I’ve always had poodles and yes, they are smart dogs, but Maggie is a good bit above average. A fast learner, she can do many tricks. I’m sure she could do more if I was inclined to teach her, but that would be work, and Maggie and I are senior citizens nowadays. The tongue-in-cheek cliche about owners and pets looking alike might be true , as we are both silver-haired, retired gals. As such, we prefer taking life a bit easy and letting the young pups learn the tricks.
Maggie is now ten years old, and from all appearances, you’d think she is still a pup. She knows when to be my muse, when to be my companion, when to be my friend, and when to be my counselor. Yes, Maggie will always be a therapy dog.