I met Maggie in June of 2001, when I was 19 years old, on summer break before my junior year of college. I was visiting volunteering at a local kill shelter in Ann Arbor, MI, and one day, we got a call to prepare 5-6 kennels for a cruelty case- the wife called in, said her husband beat her dog bloody, and they had "five or six" dogs. The alarm bells went off, but when the police and cruelty investigators went to seize the animals, they did not expect what they found.
There were 42 animals in the home. Every surface was covered in feces and urine, including the beds of his three children. Two of his dogs were locked inside one of the cars in the garage and living there. Still others were locked up in closets, and living there too. Every nook and cranny revealed more animals; dogs, cats, birds, and even two guinea pigs and a rabbit. Maggie was found in a tiny crate she couldn't even turn around in, covered in her own filth, on top of his television, with scars on her feet from trying to escape. She was ten pounds underweight (and therefore in better shape than virtually all of his other dogs, some of which were so starved they were drinking their own blood and urine).
Her report said she was incredibly fearful, and timid, and she was likely a fear biter (proven to be not true!). All dogs had to be held by the humane society for six months, because no one could track the defendant down, so technically, the animals were still his pending a judgment.
Maggie did not do well in the shelter. She pressed her head against the wall, in a corner, and wouldn't even respond if you clapped near her ear. She was so, so sad that I took her home to foster her, just for the summer because I was returning to NYC in the fall and would be living in the dorm. Before school began, bringing her back to the shelter was the saddest day of my life.
After the trial, the shelter won custody but they didn't adopt out pit bulls at the time--many shelters still don't. But luckily, a pit bull rescue got word that there were a number of sweethearts that survived extreme cruelty and neglect and took as many as they could from the case. Maggie was put up for adoption. But no one wanted her.
She had epilepsy. She was neurotic. She couldn't be crated, wouldn't go to the bathroom on a lead and couldn't be on a tie-out or she would scream. I was dealing with school and exams and life and I didn't know any of this, but I was desperate for a dog--I missed my childhood dog and started planning to move to an apartment for my senior year so that I could adopt a dog of my own.
I finished my junior year. I signed the lease on an apartment, a 400 sq. ft. studio on the 2nd floor of a walk-up on the Upper East Side across the street from one park and about three quarters of a mile from a dog park. I started browsing Petfinder and realized the dogs I was looking for were all smallish pit bulls. I remembered Maggie, and wondered how she was doing, and if by some miracle, she might still be available. So I called the rescue and asked, but she wasn't. She'd been adopted out just two weeks ago. I was happy for her but sad for me. I resumed my search, but halfheartedly.
And then I got the call. The call that said Maggie had been returned because her epilepsy was just too much for the family to handle, and was I still interested?
Hell yes I was.
She moved in with me in August 2002. Maggie and I had an amazing year. I didn't realize that she wouldn't go to the bathroom on a leash but thanks to the parks, we made it work. I also didn't realize that Maggie was petrified of NYC buses and wouldn't walk on the streets of NYC so I'd have to bribe cab drivers with $40 (for just 10 blocks) to get her to the vet as often as she needed to go. But we made it work. I also didn't realize before I adopted her that it would be $65 just to walk in to the vet, before they drew blood, prescribed meds, and did any diagnostic exams on her, so I found myself having to work two jobs (in addition to my full course load) just to pay her vet bills. But we made it work.
Since then, there have been more vet bills. In the last ten years, she developed food allergies, and went on a special diet. Her seizures weren't fully controlled on just one epilepsy medication, so I consulted neurologists and added another. She developed hypothyroidism and then added another medication to manage it. She tore one of her ACLs (a ligament in her knee), so she had surgery and physical therapy to fix it, then tore the other one in the next six months and had surgery and physical therapy to fix that one, too. She came down with pancreatitis, so she got two days of inpatient supportive care to heal. She developed a mass on her eyelid and I was terrified it was cancer, but she had surgery to remove it and it was benign. This August, she developed a mass on her hock and I was terrified that was cancer, too, but a week before I left on tour, she had surgery to remove it and it was benign, too. Five weeks ago, her bloodwork was great and overall, she was in awesome, amazing shape.
But two hours after my flight landed last week, after being away for about four weeks, I took one look at her and knew she wasn't right. The sitter said she hadn't wanted to eat all day, and she was having trouble staying on her feet. So at 2AM, I admitted her to the hospital with a distended abdomen, labored breathing, a severely enlarged liver, anemia, and a fever. I thought she had pancreatitis again. So when I got the call the following morning from the internal medicine specialist telling me that the oncologist was 100% certain she had lymphoma, that she was dying, and I needed to decide whether I wanted to proceed with chemotherapy or euthanize her, to say I was in shock doesn't even cover it.
Maggie has a different life than most dogs. She was never interested in toys or playing or walks but loves food. She would rather snuggle and sleep next to you than jump up on you. But those things? She loves those things. And when I saw her Tuesday night, I didn't think she was done yet. Sobbing, I told the oncologist "I want to do the chemo, but don't let me be cruel." She said that she wouldn't and that I wasn't, because for dogs, chemotherapy isn't administered in doses toxic enough to kill cancer--it's given to manage their cancer and extend their quality of life, so they have none of the miserable symptoms that humans experience with it. Maggie has stage 5B lymphoma; the worst possible kind, but the oncologist said that IF she responded to the chemotherapy, she'd have the same chances as a dog with a less severe stage would.
And so Maggie started treatment. First, her fever broke. Then, her liver values decreased by half, and her liver went back to it's normal size and stopped pushing on her diaphragm and her kidneys (which caused her to leak urine for 24 hours). She received a blood transfusion to help her recover even faster, and then things really progressed; her values decreased by half again and her red blood count skyrocketed, then held. She got her second dose of chemotherapy and her platelets went up, too. She was responding. And she went from this:
She is eating everything in sight, cruising around the yard, licking marrow bones and snuggling close to me on the couch and in bed. In a word, she is happy.
And because it looks like I am going to be able to get another good year with her, so am I.
Thank you so, so much for your good thoughts, your prayers, your support, and your understanding while I've been away. We aren't out of the woods by any means, and her medication schedule is, in a word, intense:
11AM: Breakfast, prednisone, cerenia
11AM: Breakfast, prednisone, cerenia
So things are going to be hectic and hard for me for a while as I take her to chemotherapy, cook her food, give her meds, and try to work, shower, and sleep every now and again. But every day I have with her is a blessing, and it means the world to me to know you all understand.