The last few days, I have been thinking so much about the animals that we bring into our lives. There are seasons of time that we are privileged to share together. Puppyhood, if you get a puppy. That is a hard season.  My favorite season to find a friend is the “sweet spot”, a dog aged 3 to 6 years old.  The senior season is for dogs aged 7 and above. I also like this season and have adopted several dogs in this phase of their life. Then you have the season of letting go. I find this to be the hardest, the most emotional and quite frankly, it sucks.

Tonight I am grieving the loss of my “sweet noodle”, Mackie. I am also doing a lot of reflecting on our relationship of 11 years together as human and dog and as working partners.  First let me get out of the way what happened because it was fast and unexpected.

Mackie has been in kidney failure for about the last year. I learned that this is not a death sentence and life can be managed with a poorly functioning kidney. I gave Mack sub-q fluids once to three times a week, depending on his kidney values. He was on a specialized food and special supplements and was doing very well. His numbers looked good. He had lost his hearing and some of his eyesight, but hey, he was 14 after all.

Saturday afternoon, for whatever reason, I turned to look at him as I sat at my computer. What I saw was a dog that started a seizure right as I looked at him. I have seen and experienced a lot in the dog world, but I have not experienced seeing my dog having a seizure. It was very frightening. I rushed him to the emergency vet, they verified he had a grand mal seizure and he was struggling. So they sedated him to give him some relief and home we went. I had him in bed with me, with my hand on him and early Sunday morning, I felt him start another seizure. The ER had given me meds to help calm the seizure and it did. But somehow, Mackie could not seem to pull himself back together. By Monday morning, I knew it was time for him to leave me. He was agitated, he could not settle and really, he was not there in his mind. The seizures stole that from him. I am so thankful to have a vet that knows me and knows my dog and allows me to have her number in the event of an emergency. And this was an emergency. I could not be more grateful to have a person that could help me understand what was happening and to tell me they stood behind any decision I made.  Mackie went peacefully over the rainbow bridge as I held him close to my chest. I’d spent the last two days holding him to me, taking in the scent of him and his fur, alternating between trying to soothe an agitated dog or rocking a sedated dog. And alternating between the deepest grief and the most heartfelt gratefulness for no suffering and a quick release.

As I notify friends, locations that we may have visited and the many doctors he saw, I am streaming through 11 years of pictures and videos of so, so many adventures we have had over the years. I am floored at all that we had done. So many things I had forgotten.

Mackie was my first dachshund ever and a foster fail. I had been fostering for DFW Dachshund Rescue for several years and decided it was time I adopted one of these “big personality in a little body” dogs. As most folks know, when I look for a dog to bring into my household, I am always looking for one that will make a great therapy dog. Well, he was an exceptional therapy dog. He loved this job. He did such a great job with everyone we visited. His one quirk, he was agoraphobic, he was very frightened of large spaces. He would freeze if I tried to have him walk through a hospital lobby, or any other large enclosed space. Thankfully, because he was small, that was not an issue. I just carried him. I purchased a carrier for him that was similar to a pouch you’d carry a baby in. He LOVED IT. He did not have to walk in large spaces and he got to be close to me. None of the other dogs like riding but it was Mackie’s favorite spot. 

Mackie and I visited so many people and places to provide emotional and tactile relief over the years. We went to Medical City Children’s Hospital, Children’s Health Hospital, Parkland’s Psychiatric unit, Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, The Central Library to work with the Homeless, Temple Shalom’s Caregivers Day Out, Snowball Express, and oh so many others. We got to meet Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, we rode in the Children’s Health Thanksgiving day parade, we were in the news on channel 8 supporting DCAC and their dog therapy program. And there were times we were called on for special visits. Honestly, we have done so much, I can’t even remember them all. And then there are the visits that make the hair on your arms stand up because they were so meaningful. Here is a short article that I wrote for a publication in March of 2014. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Mackie’s Miracle

Have you ever had one of those special moments? I call them G-d moments. I have been a registered therapy dog/cat pet partner for 10 years and I am currently working with my 4th dog.  He is a long haired, mini dachshund and my first ever small dog.  We have been visiting together for about 6 months and I am amazed at every time we visit, how much stronger we are getting as a team.   I have had very touching moments with all of my animals and clients over the years and many memories that are forever etched into my brain. But I had never had one of those G-d moments until this one evening.

One of the locations we visit is a children’s hospital. We are there every other week and on this particular night, we were asked to visit a child that was non-responsive. We were told that they were hoping they could put this child’s hand on Mackie (my dachshund) and maybe she would give some kind of response.  They were looking for anything.

When we entered the room, it was dark and quiet. Mom was there in a corner and a child lay very still in her bed. We asked her if she wanted to visit with a dog and I put Mackie on a pillow next to her. She opened her eyes, and mom exclaimed, “That is the first time she has opened her eyes today”. Then the child’s hand came out from under the covers and she starting petting Mackie. Mom was in shock and I was thinking,”this child seems pretty responsive to me”.  Mom went and stood at the foot of the bed taking pictures and suddenly, the young girl sat up in bed all by herself, and continued to pet Mackie. I hear mom start to weep, one of the nurses comes running into the room saying she wants to see and then tells mom to send those pictures to dad.  I turn to look at the child life specialist and she had tears in her eyes. All I could think was that the child had done something extraordinary. We visited for about 15 minutes and mom could not thank us enough.  The child life specialist kept saying “Miracle Mackie”. I left the hospital thinking how proud I was of my little man.

I received a call a few days later asking if we could make a special trip back to see this little girl.  The doctor had actually prescribed a visit from Mackie for her. You see, it was then I was told she had a brain tumor and was not responding to radiation. And Mackie was the only thing that she had responded to in quite a while. 

So of course we went back for another visit. This time the young girl spoke to us, with great difficulty, and told me she wanted Mackie’s card. He has trading cards that we give to every child we visit as a “souvenir” of our visit. She remembered it from our last visit and I gave her another set willingly. I almost started crying when she told us, through her drug induced haze, that she did not want Mackie to leave.  We had a nice long visit until she could not keep her eyes open any longer. And through the whole visit, she never stopped petting Mackie.

I found out tonight, on our regularly scheduled visit to the hospital, that our young friend passed away a few days after our last visit with her.

I will forever be thankful that we had the opportunity to bring some comfort and joy to her and her family in her final days. 

And this is what I called my G-d moment. Along with the realization, miracles do come in small packages. And one of those miracles is named Mackie.

At some point Mackie told me he was done with therapy work. So I looked for a different activity for us to do. I have no idea how or where I landed on nosework, but off we went to try our hand at it. (Nosework, also known as scent work or scent detection, is a dog sport created to emulate tasks performed by professional detection dog.) We played in this game in a class and then sort of dropped out. I saw a nosework workshop that was being offered in Florida by a retired UK Police K-9 handler and decided to fly Mackie and I to Florida to take this workshop. I mean, I have done some wacky things over the years, and for me, this was pretty wacky. Seeing the drive Mackie had to play this game when we were in Florida, made me come home and find classes for us. That took a while as this was not a huge sport yet around these parts. I have no idea what caused me to enter us in a competition. I usually did not get into competitive dogs sports but for some reason, this one really hooked us both. It only took one qualifying run and getting a ribbon to be hooked. Once you earn enough qualifying scores in different elements you can gain a title. Mackie has many titles and that means he gets letters behind his name. Does it get us anything significant? Well, it depends on what you call significant. For me, it gained us a deepend bond and a lovely relationship. It is the unbreakable bond that drove me to keep at it with him. And he continued to play the game because he enjoyed the game, he enjoyed spending one on one time with me and because I asked him to.

This last year had some huge changes and challenges for us. Mackie was diagnosed as having kidney disease. Initially with the diagnosis, I was terrified that he was coming to his final days. What I found out though, is being in kidney failure is not a death sentence. We got his kidney values back to almost normal by doing sub-q fluids, kidney food and some nutraceuticals to keep his values in the right range. He also appeared to have lost his hearing, a normal thing for an older dog. He lost his peripheral vision as well, and I noticed, he was losing his sense of smell. It was harder and harder for him to find the oil source in a competition. And he no longer houdini’d out of a harness in the car to go steal whatever food I had in the car. No matter where it was, he could find food. In fact, he scared the poop out of one of my friends many years ago at christmas time. I landed myself in the hospital unexpectedly and I asked my friend to please take my dogs to the vet to be boarded. She has a very large golden and has not really been around super small dogs. First she said putting their harnesses on was like dressing a Barbie doll. And then Mackie got loose in her car and he found a chocolate orange under her seat that he promptly ate. She was crying as she told the vet staff she thought she killed my dog by him getting to the chocolate. Obviously, he did not die! 

Mackie was a constant source of joy and laughter and sometimes frustration. I can’t tell you how many bags of treats he ate or meals of mine he stole whether it was at home or in the car. It hurt me to my soul seeing him convulse and then making the choice to him go. I think he was one of the funniest dogs I have ever had the luxury of saying they belonged to me. He will be missed by many but mostly by me. I can still hear his little whines as he would suckle his bed. The other dogs and I are grieving him intently. I am taking it hour by hour and I know the pain will dissipate as time goes on. But for now, it is a whole soul ache. 

Sweet dream silly boy, stealer of chocolate, asparagus and chocolate oranges. I will see you in my dreams. Remi and Miranda are waiting for you on the other side of the rainbow bridge.

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