Madison died today. She was 12. And she was my best friend.
I got her when she was just five weeks old, in the guise of a “foster puppy” from the North Pinellas Humane Society. What bullshit. I already knew I wanted a puppy and had convinced my new husband to get me one as part of a drunken evening in Jamaica on our honeymoon. The deal was this: he got a new computer and I could get a puppy.
As miserable as I feel tonight I can honestly say I got the better end of the deal.
Madison came to me as a hellion little Dalmatian, liver-spotted and neurotic. I suffered through two (TWO!) couches and a chair as well as the death of many familiar household objects as she matured through the rough puppyhood of Dalmatia. She was not an easy dog, but I loved her and she loved me. I understood her. She most certainly understood me.
Eventually I divorced. I remember the night I left my husband and how angry he was at me (and rightly so). He yelled at me and told me he wanted to hit me, and that was when my wonderful spotted companion jumped up on the couch and physically placed herself between me and my soon-to-be-ex. She turned bright pink, she shook like a poor little orphan, but by god she planted her little doggy self between me and my husband and made it clear: thou shalt not pass.
I left that night, but on one condition and one condition only: I was taking the dog. She was the only thing I insisted get put in the divorce papers. He got everything else; I got the Dalmatian. Again I say I got the better end of the deal.
That’s when her life got immeasurably better. My best friend and I went to Fort DeSoto almost every day, walking and playing and rough-housing in the surf. Men came and went, as did jobs and life, but we always had each other. I started freelancing, which meant that I had days to spend playing with this now-neurotic ball of fur (it’s amazing how a poor marriage can affect a dog’s temperament).
And I had the nights. Every night she would sleep with me or near me, and when I was sad she would curl up with me and lick my tears until I only cared that I had this warm, furry body next to me, who loved me no matter what, no matter who I was, no matter what I did. How wonderful.
More time passed. She got older, as did I. We now go for a walk to the beach by my new home, where we run for a mile and walk back home. When we stop she looks at me like I am crazy. She is 12; I am 34. How does she have this much energy?
As it turns out, she doesn’t. Arthritis cripples one leg. Her “dog nanny”, my friend Derek, comes by all the time to ensure that while I am at work or in class she is happy, fed, watered, and walked. I owe him almost as much as I do her.
Then, last week, she collapsed while climbing up my front stoop.
She never gets up again, spending her last few days letting me take her out and helping her go to the bathroom. I get a wagon to move her, as she cannot walk.
No medicine worked. She had aged and, as such, was old. She was dying. I could not stop this.
I cannot explain how guilty I felt. While I had gotten her to the beach and spent time with her- in both instances, she had more of a life than most dogs- I just felt I could have done more. But the time for doing more had past. She was at the end of the road.
So today I gave her jambalaya for breakfast. Tom and I took her to Fort DeSoto. She floated in a raft. I let her dry off in the sand.
Then we drove her to Dr. St. John.
He apologized. It was not his fault.
He let me hold her while he gave her the shot.
She died in my arms. I did not want to let her go. I could not say good-bye. I just told her good night.
I was lucky to have known her and to have lived with her.
She was the best dog.