Sunday, April 6, 2008

Maggie The Pie-Dog -- how many second chances?

I'm a big fan of second chances. I came by some of the best things due to second chances... some of my best friends, my passion for biking, heck, my whole life is based on one giant second chance, but that's another story -- this story is about the second chance that was my Maggie-pie.

Maggie, my late golden retriever mix, a.k.a. "The Sweetest Dog in the Land" maintained a good reputation as mischief-maker during her 12 years with me, not to mention her first year of life before our paths crossed.

The family who had placed the ad in the paper looking for a new home for Maggie had struggled with their decision. Happy-go-lucky, typically golden, Maggie had a hard time spending her days in the tiny bathroom of their rented duplex where they moved from a farm following the parents' divorce. Unfortunately, when mom, the kids and Maggie moved to the duplex, Maggie could not be trusted home alone. I don't blame her... she was only a year old and had lots of energy and joy to share and she was having to spend a lot of it indoors in the only room in the house she couldn't destroy. Her first family asked for a better life for her and I had promised to give Maggie a second life with me at camp, where she could spend her energy outdoors running around with me. Responding to the classified ad one rainy summer night I went to meet Maggie. She greeted me as if we were already best friends. I wasn't sure I wanted a dog of my own until that moment. Her welcoming greeting sealed the deal. I became her second chance.

Her first five minutes in my house, a basement apartment at Camp Courageous during my tenure as Respite Care and Volunteer Coordinator, involved her hurriedly inspecting the entire place. A venture taking all of 10 seconds as the place consisted of four rooms including the bathroom. Following her inspection of the place, she picked up the bowl of water I had filled for her and she flung it across the room, bathing most of two rooms with the contents. She followed that up by running down the hall and taking a gigantic dump.

Every day for the first week she would manage to run away from me, chew some furniture or books or shoes. Basically frustrating me to the edge of my breaking point. During so many years at Camp Courageous (a year round camp for physically and mentally disabled children and adults) as Counselor, Activity Specialist and then Respite Care and Volunteer Coordinator I learned many behavior management techniques, which have more to do with your own patience, creativity and ability to dig deeper into both wells as they get tested to breaking points sometimes on a weekly basis, sometimes hourly and even other times on a minute-to-minute basis. Now, I'm not saying this to compare campers to dogs. No way. It's just to say that my frustration threshold is (or maybe "was") pretty high due to the regular pushing of limits by circumstances, behaviors and regular lack of sleep. So, the idea of a good natured happy dog like Maggie pushing me to the edges of it, now seems amusing.

At the time though, surrounded by chewed furniture, books, shoes, and Pepsi bottles, with a sore throat from yelling for Maggie each time she ran off I neared tears from my internal struggle between desire to be a responsible adult and desire for a peaceful home life with whole furniture and shoes. But I couldn't go back on my promise. Besides, what kind of lessons do you learn from having hole-less shoes, books free of bite marks? The struggles enrich life, right? So, I figured what the heck -- I can definitely become a slightly better person at the very least. And then what about that initial greeting... how could I forget that in my decision-making? I went with the responsible adult choice and kept my promise to the Magpie's first family.

A week or so after deciding to give it another go, Maggie and I had started to understand each other better. Don't get me wrong, she still frustrated the hell out of me for a while and never really lost that naughty streak -- as many upcoming stories will reveal. We found things that were OK for her to chew on. I found things at the pet store, the usuals, you know, bones, rawhide chews, cow hooves, etc; she found them in the woods. Are there "usuals" in this category? Maggie's self-selected chew toys included some wild pumpkins she found growing in the woods, sticks, logs... yes, firewood sized hunks of wood. For a long time she had a flat football that she took with her wherever we went. Something like Linus and his blanket. The "running off" issue took a little more training on both our parts but eventually Maggie and I could go places together without a leash.

For some reason, Maggie christened every house that she and I moved into in the same manner of that first dump in the hallway. I never figured that one out. She always seemed embarrassed afterward. Maybe she couldn't contain her nervous excitement. I don't know. It's easy to remember the incidents, accidents and misdeeds with specific stories and details. But the conglomerated memories of the daily unadulterated delight upon my return home, and the rituals of feeding, play and grooming, and just the un-conflicted companionship balance the rest and turn them into funny stories.

Either way, Maggie reinforced one of my favorite life lessons. Now and forever -- big fan of second chances.

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