We have a dog named Maggie, who is very old and very gross and who obstinately refuses to die.
At no point in my life can I remember a time when I ever expressed any particular interest in owning a dog. I don’t dislike dogs. They were always just a facet of life that I didn’t really get, like football, or Judaism.
But for whatever reason, when I was probably 11 or 12, Dad came home with a dog. My father had agreed to adopt the dog from a coworker for reasons known only to him, and so one day I was out picking raspberries from a bush up behind the house, and this big, dopey animal ran up to me and started sniffing around. I looked down at her, and she looked back up at me, and we stood that way for a moment, both of us unsure of what we were supposed to do next.
Dad came walking up the hill then, with his coworker behind him. The coworker called out to me, asking whether I was excited to have a dog. There was a pause while I tried to figure out an answer to that, and after the silence had exceeded some critical benchmark, my dad let out a laugh and said, Well, I guess not.
She was good natured as a general rule, but fiercely protective of her territory. We all used to truck out to the beach, my brothers in carseats and I crammed in with Maggie in the very back bench seat of the minivan, and when we arrived Maggie would prowl around the periphery of our encampment and snarl menacingly at idle passersby. She was sweet enough with us though, once the interlopers had retreated.
Maggie looks dumb as a post. She watches us eat with her knobbly little eyebrows all twisted up, and twin earrings of saliva dangling down from her snout. She’ll surprise you though; once, when he was very young, Brother Andrew somehow managed to toddle out onto the roof. Maggie somehow saw him up there, and started barking as loud and long as she could until somebody came to get him down.
Time passed, and now Maggie has withered from a big, healthy labrador into a grotesque specter of death. She’s a purebred, and suffers accordingly from a wide range of congenital health problems. Her back legs have ceased to function almost entirely, and she can’t make it up the stairs anymore. She sits at the bottom of them, and yips and whistles pitifully until one of us gets irritated enough to go down and give her a hand. Labradors are water dogs, and their fur is accordingly oily, water-repellent, and begins to smell more and more like the grave as they age. As a consequence petting her is a little like scratching your balls, in that you do it absently and don’t really realize it until twenty minutes later when you go to pick your nose and recoil in horror.
She’s roughly the same color as the floor, and part of the midnight ritual is waking up, going to take a piss, and tripping headlong over the giant dog sprawled in front of the doorway.
“Fuck you, Maggie,” I mutter to myself as I gingerly regain my footing.
“Fuck you, Maggie,” I say (sort of affectionately) whenever I scoop out a cup of the reeking generic dog chow we buy in 36 pound bags from WinCo.
“Fuck you, Maggie,” I murmur under my breath, when I get a whiff of dogshit in my cubicle at work, and lift up the bottom of my shoe to see that at some point I had stepped in a big, discolored pile of her leavings. I imagine that confuses my coworkers, because I don’t really talk to them and they have no idea who Maggie is, or why she seems to frustrate me so.
For all that, though, I think I’m going to miss Maggie when she inevitably dies. Despite her irritating, farty, smelly and disgusting qualities, she really is pretty sweet. When you enter the room, she startles out of a semi-catatonic slumber with a snort, and then looks up at you mournfully until you reach down to scratch her ears, at which point she starts panting and smiling with childish delight.
When she does, you just can’t help smiling right along with her.
I think I’ve actually grown to love the old dog, and it’s gonna be a sad day when I can walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night without tripping over her. We’ll probably end up burying her in the backyard, and I envision myself making a little cross to jamb in the ground, into which I will carve: Fuck you, Maggie.
But then there’ll be a little smiley face underneath, so she knows I meant it with love.