Commentary

In memory of a well-traveled dog

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BOSTON — Our dog was truly an internationalist, a canine diplomat of sorts who had lived all over the world.

Before she passed away, Maggie had an extraordinary life of nearly 14 years that took her to many corners of the globe.

She was born on Cape Cod and came of age in Boston. But she lived in Jerusalem and walked the ancient, cobbled streets of the Old City where she begged on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She swam in the Sea of Galilee and climbed the Mount of Olives and crossed the Allenby Bridge at the Jordan River. She lived for a while on the rugged coast of Brittany in France and eventually crossed over by ferry, past the White Cliffs of Dover to arrive in London where she spent many long afternoons in a great, old pub.

But her travels ended back in the place she loved best of all.

That was Martha’s Vineyard and that was where we scattered her ashes last month in Edgartown Great Pond where she loved to swim and chase sticks.
 
Maggie came into our lives as a present to my wife Julie for our first wedding anniversary and she was weaned in the shadows of the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. 

When Maggie was two and our oldest son, Will, was three months old, we had to pack up the whole family and move to Jerusalem, as I was assigned there to be the Middle East bureau chief for The Boston Globe.

Right away, Maggie began her work in the Holy Land.  She begged along the Israeli-Palestinian divide and was well known in the narrow warrens of Jerusalem where she’d pick up scraps from the Palestinian shwarma shops and then make her way across the street to the Israeli falafel vendors.

In a culture where dogs are feared and often loathed, Maggie had made good friends on both sides of the conflict.

And all along the way, she ate everything she could find and did whatever she could for two sides that despite her best efforts could not find peace. By the end of our stay, she would shiver in fear at the sound of bombings and tank fire when the second intifada erupted in the fall of 2000.

When I was reassigned to London in September 2001, Maggie passed some time on the coast of Brittany in France because we wanted to avoid the officiousness of the British laws for quarantining pets. She stayed with a retired French general, an in-law, who offered to take her for 90 days so she could get her European Union citizenship and skip the 60 days in a British government pound. There, she quaffed buttery French croissants and learned to love the frigid waters off Brittany and walking along the beaches where there are still remnants of the German bunkers and trenches from World War II.

Like any good Irish-American dog, when she arrived in England she did so on her own terms. After obtaining her EU citizenship, Julie picked her up and brought her over on the boat from Brittany to the port at Dover, England. When she arrived at our home in London, it didn’t take long for her to beat a path to a cafe nestled in the Hampstead Heath where she dined on left over bangers and mash and thick rolls of brown bread. She would walk with me to work and wait for scraps of shepherd’s pie from The Holly Bush, one of the great old pubs of Hampstead which was right next to my office and where she became a fixture curled up next to the fireplace on cold, rainy days.

Over the years, she traveled in and out of many ports of call and across international borders with her own small blue, pet passport in which were recorded her many journeys and the attendant inoculations and paper work required for her passage.

At every turn, she was at our side as we had four boys born: first Will in Boston, then Riley in Jerusalem, Gabriel in Bethlehem and Jack in London. The boys loved her and never knew life without her tail thumping the floor in the early morning and her steady breathing putting us all to sleep at night. As we lived and traveled all over the world for almost a decade and then returned to Boston, those sounds were how we measured life. My wife showered her with affection and treated her as if she was our only girl, which of course she was.

The constant plane travel and the plastic air crates in cargo class grew more and more difficult for Maggie as she got older. After so many years of parachuting in and out for stories all over the Middle East, I knew how she felt. We’d both begun to lose our traveling legs a bit.

In the last few years, she was happy to have retired with us to a small New England town 40 miles northwest of Boston, where she had a pond to swim in and lots of grass to roll around in.

But sometimes she’d sit on our porch and look out on the horizon and I’d wonder if she, like me, didn’t long to get back to traveling.

In the end, Maggie had one last lesson for us.

We thought for sure she was gone when we took her to the vet at the end of the summer.  She was struggling all of July and into August with her breathing due to laryngeal paralysis, a degenerative condition that restricts the air passage and is quite common in Labs. That’s what gave her her signature heavy breathing. Her condition worsened dramatically while we were on a lakeside vacation in Maine.

A local vet said there wasn’t much we could do to prevent her from dying, but as a last resort he gave her steroids that reduced some of the swelling of her larynx and she rallied for a few more good days.

For a few more precious days, Maggie was swimming and doing what our boys called “the happy dance,” which was rolling on her back in the grass with her paws in the air and a wide smile.

We fed her lamb and hugged her and told her we loved her. We cherished every minute with her and quietly wondered why we didn’t treat every day with her like that, and every day with each other like that. For sure, that was what she was telling us in her own quiet way. And sometimes it takes an old dog to remind you of the simplest truths.

Then after a few days, her breathing got very heavy again. She was lethargic and clearly unable to get air. Her tongue was turning blue. She was rushed to the emergency room at an animal hospital and the vet quietly told us what we already knew, that Maggie was not going to live. But like everyone who has been through the extraordinary ordeal of euthanizing a pet, we denied the obvious until we couldn’t any longer.

When the vet finally put her down on that August morning, Maggie heaved her last breath and set out on the final journey.

Her ashes came just a few weeks ago in a white canister with little paw prints on it. And we brought the can to Martha’s Vineyard and we each took a hand full of the white ash and scattered it in the autumn breeze over Edgartown Great Pond and shared our favorite memories of a great dog with a big heart who made us all very happy for a very long time.