A farewell conversation with Maggie

The first time I met Maggie, she was so fearful that the vet at the rescue centre in Sydney had to carry her in to me. No-one knows why she was abandoned as a 1 year old border collie, and while she came to me bearing no physical scars from abuse, for the first 3 weeks she would flinch whenever anyone tried to pat her.

I rescued Maggie while I was working in international animal welfare. Spending my days observing animal cruelty and neglect, campaigning for humane treatment across cultures and continents. There were so many animals we couldn’t save, certainly none that I could personally save, Maggie was one I could.

Back at home after a long day of campaigning against bear bile farming in China, returning to Sydney after watching bears dancing in Pakistan, I would drift off to sleep at night to the sound of Maggie snoring softly, peacefully, at the foot of my bed. She brought me enormous comfort. But now, it is my turn to bring her comfort.

Although she is now an older girl of 10, and a little wobbly in her back arthritic legs, I had expected her to be with us for a few more years. But over the last three days she has become increasingly unwell to the point that yesterday, we had to carry her into the vet from the car. A series of tests reveals that she is in chronic kidney failure and there is nothing to be done. Michael, Maggie’s wonderful vet, has suggested that we wait until tomorrow and do another set of blood tests to confirm that she is terminally ill. I suspect that’s more about giving us time than anything else.

We’ve been through a lot over the last 9 years, Maggie and me.

When I lived in Sydney, I had to child proof the freezer. Wondering why she was getting fatter, it tuned out she’d figured out how to open the freezer door and had been helping herself to boxes of fish fingers and loaves of bread.

When we moved back to Wellington, after Dad died, she so often sat quietly with her head on my knees as I worked my way through the grieving process.

During the last years she has lived with Mum. Border collies are super smart and they require plenty of mental stimulation, so staying with Mum and the other canine and feline members of the family on a half acre section, proved to be much the best option for her. But each week, I’ve been out to visit her and we’ve sat on the floor and had a chat.

Maggie has a very unusual habit of talking, and she’s only every done it with me. A noise which sounds like something between a growl, a purr, and a cow mooing. I don’t know what she’s saying, but every time without fail, I’d sit on the ground, she’d lie beside me and we’d talk.

We have but one or two conversations left. I’m about to go down to the vet practice and sit with her on the floor of a consulting room, after they’ve closed for appointments. And even if she doesn’t have enough energy to growl, purr or moo, I know that Maggie and I are saying farewell.

Hector, Harriet, Maggie and the always dignified Elliot