Snowbound and sad today. I have learned many times in life that there are circumstances or events where you have to set aside your own agenda in order to be with someone who is suffering—in this case, my son and his dog. Last night the younger of our two dogs succumbed to cancer at nine years old. Maggie, or Little Mags as we called her, dramatically declined after behaving like a little champ throughout her illness. She died peacefully in my son’s arms (also our youngest) saving her last moments for him. He and I tended to her last weeks, days, then hours by simply sitting with her on the couch, her head in one or the other of our laps.
I have always claimed that getting the dogs, first Polly then Maggie, was the best parenting decision that my husband and I ever made. Neither Gerry nor I grew up with dogs and were not animal lovers in general. Giving our kids animals was not in the cards just as going to Disney World was not going to happen. Call me cruel. Then our oldest son was about to turn 14. I woke up one morning and said to my husband, “You are not going to like this, Hon, but Daniel needs a dog.” He thought I was kidding and brushed the idea off until, coincidentally (divine intervention?), he was approached that same day by a fellow professor who claimed that he had a rescue puppy that would be perfect for our family. The idea went from my lips to reality with no chance to change my mind.
Polly was, in fact, the perfect dog for our family especially for two dimwits such as Gerry and myself who didn’t really know the first thing about raising a dog. If there was ever a dog to convince non-dog-lovers to embrace dog ownership, it is Polly. And, thankfully, my siblings are all dog lovers and were able to give much needed advice. For instance, Polly was just a puppy on her first Christmas, a day that brought a significant snowfall. Her face was blowing up and we couldn’t figure out why. I called my younger sister who informed me that she likely needed to pee but was afraid to go out in the snow. Sure enough once we cleared a path through the snow for her to navigate, she went out peed and problem solved.
Then four years later, I woke up again one morning and said to my husband, “You are going to kill me, but Conor needs a dog.” Conor was almost 15 years old, our daughter already in NYC for college, and his brother soon off to college, leaving Conor with us. I promised Gerry that I would not broach the idea of a new dog to Conor but that I would leave the offer to Gerry if he was up for taking on another dog. Over dinner we asked Conor what he wanted for his birthday and he responded that he wasn’t at all excited about his birthday that year. As promised, I kept my mouth shut, but Gerry who is as big a sap as I am, didn’t and before we knew it we owned another rescue dog, one of a litter that had been abandoned on the side of the road. Our little Mags.
Our two “girls” as we’ve called them since have indeed fulfilled their promise of giving and receiving love to our sons and the rest of us. They have been the perfect teachers of unfailing love and acceptance. The dogs gave the boys a way to express a wide range of emotions that, especially as teens, they were otherwise unable to express. After a tough day Daniel or Conor could simply bury their faces in the fur of their beloved pet. I am proud to say that watching my boys with our “girls” I am confident that they will both be great fathers someday.
The tenderness with which Conor has ministered to Maggie during her illness has been remarkable. He has the ability to do all the “gross” things that the rest of us have been reluctant to do e.g. clean Polly’s ears, dress Maggie’s wound after her surgery, and investigate any weird growths etc. He has not been having a great year to begin with, but we feel blessed that he has been able to be with her during her last year. She loved him and waited to share her very last moments on earth to be alone with him.
Both Conor and I have spent much of the past six months wondering about our purpose and direction. My idea of Cooking Therapy has not moved with the momentum I had enthusiastically anticipated upon my return from Ballymaloe. Since I’ve been back other concerns have pressed upon me from unexpected corners like this one. Conor certainly did not anticipate the difficulty of finding work that could provide both meaning and money. But then I think, maybe just being with Little Mags’ during her last months has been purpose enough for us. Is a dog’s life worthy of such attention? Once upon a time I would have said, “she’s a dog!,” implying that one cannot compare animals to humans. I have experienced the deaths of a brother, niece, and both parents. I value human life and grieved the losses of my family members. But witnessing the way Maggie guided us through her cancer and death, I will no longer underestimate the wisdom of dogs. She was a champ throughout and let us know, quietly but in no uncertain terms, when her time was up. Purpose enough to be able to be with her and with Conor through this sad chapter.
Like all decisions I’ve made with my heart, I do not regret getting the dogs for my boys, and will not regret “wasting my time,” keeping vigil with a sick dog as she showed me how one dies with dignity.
The intersection of watching my son and his dog suffer makes me a very sad mom today.
Many thanks to our wonderful vet, Jenn Weaver, who made the experience of ushering Maggie from this world a sacred one.
I actually do have a nice pasta recipe that I made to stay busy as while I monitored Maggie’s decline. I made this pasta a week or so ago while she nudged her sister, Polly, away from the sunny spot in front of the door.
250 grams semolina (high quality better like Caputo)
125 grams “00” flour also Caputo
pinch of salt
one extra large egg
¾ C warm water
Sift flour into a large bowl add salt. Make a well in center and add egg and water mixing with hands into smooth ball. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface (using the semolina) for 15 minutes until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least two hours.
Taking off a plum-sized portion each time, and leave the rest wrapped in the fridge while you work each piece. On a floured surface roll into a log approximately ½ to ¾ inch log. Then cut the log into ¼ inch pieces. Take a butter knife and pull across each piece so the edge rolls around tip of knife, which makes an ear shape. Place “ears” on baking sheet dusted with semolina until ready to use.
Took cook, drop in boiling salted water for approximately 5 minutes. The pasta will rise to the surface. Taste one to see if done to your liking, drain, reserving some liquid, and top with favorite sauce.