writer, warrior, whack-a-doodle

Remembering Maggie

Remembering Maggie

December 9, 2007
Posted in: Totally Random | Reading Time: 11 minutes

Founder, CEO, Legacy

Founder and Legacy of Wild DingoAnyone who knew Maggie knew her to be bossy and loud. But those were her outward appearances. To really know Maggie, you had to look past her barking to truly appreciate her brilliant, colorful character. Above all, Maggie was dignified, discerning, proud, intelligent, loyal, funny, agile, resilient and full of vitality.

Maggie valued anyone who brought her joy.  The morning after I moved in with Scott was the first time I was left alone with both Maggie and Moosh. When he left for work, I sat down on a bench to put on my sneakers. Both dogs studied me closely wondering what I was going to do. I knew the magic words and as I finished tying my shoes, I got up and said them. “Do you want to go for a walk?”  The look on both their faces was priceless, like a child on Christmas morning. Their eyes grew large and their ears perked up in disbelief.  When I said it again, they shot up, yapped happily and ran around in circles, flabbergasted. I imagine they were yelling, “Yeee Haw! Jackpot!” Right then, they both realized that my living there guaranteed long walks in the reservoir every day, something that Scott could only afford to do on the weekends. And I kept my daily promise, exploring all that the reservoir offered and playing ball with them until they were exhausted enough to let me work for most of the day at my computer.

Maggie never wandered away from me purposely off leash, and in fact, always kept me in close sight. I think she was afraid of never finding home. In her youth (before I or Moosh arrived), she had run away from home during a rainy season and couldn’t find her way back. Three days later, she showed up on the lawn, bloody-pawed and looking sorrowful and defeated. Soon after, Scott acquired Moosh and although Maggie merely “tolerated” him, she never ran away from home again. We think she really liked him.

Lap DogAlthough Moosh was the friendlier, likable dog, Maggie quickly honed in on coveting me. When lounging around the living room, she made sure to get the spot closest to me, even if it meant sitting on my lap. And that was a stretch for Maggie, because she was so independent. She was too dignified to be a lap dog and certainly too distinguished to “shake” hands or chase a ball. But Maggie’s insecurity led her to play the game. She reluctantly chased balls and sat on laps. And she did those things better than Moosh. For more than anything, Maggie was afraid of being sent back to “jail,” and in her mind, being better than Moosh guaranteed her staying.

Dressed Up and Ready to RuleOver the years, Scott and I joked about dingoes having a lifetime warranty, but in truth, there wasn’t anything in the world to make us part with her. She was our friend.  She had a great sense of humor and loved to be the center of attention. Maggie loved dressing up and often entertained us or our guests by wearing tiaras, glasses or costumes. We’d gush over how pretty she was and that would be enough for her to enjoy playing dress up. She often sat with a tiara on her head and never tried to remove it (as most dogs would) because she knew we thought she was pretty. She was a loveable ego maniac who delighted in being “made over.”

Maggie was a creature of habit and each night after dinner, she found a soft spot, either on her bed, the sofa or our bed, where she would rub her face, from side to side as if she were using it as a napkin. Then she would gleefully wiggle around, celebrating her tasty meal. For in the last 4 years of her life, she was regularly served chicken, beef, steak or occasionally, fish for dinner, combined with brown rice and vegetables. She knew she had it good and performed her special “thank you” schmeg every night.Post Dinner Schmeg

Maggie was a regular Houdini, proud of her agility and too dignified to be confined. In the early days, Maggie would regularly jump her six-foot fence, from a standing position, to roam the ‘hood or climb on our neighbor’s roof to visit her dog friend. Since a six foot fence did little to contain her, Scott tried a jump harness. Within 15 minutes, he felt guilty and returned home only to find Maggie had chewed through the leather harness and was free, sitting in the yard, looking at him, proudly, as if to say, “Is that all you got?”  Scott had also tried an electric collar to keep her inside the fence. It didn’t take long for Maggie to outsmart the collar, consistently getting it wet to keep it from zapping her.  When we drove to L.A. with Maggie, I buckled her into a doggie seat belt. Ten minutes into the drive I turned around to find Maggie peacefully sitting beside her doggie seatbelt. I should have known better. Maggie realized our trip would be long and that she needed to be still and I respected her need to be free so I never tried to confine her again.

Resevoir DogsEarly on in our daily walks with the two of them, I didn’t have much control over Maggie. She did what she wanted and didn’t pay me any attention. In the reservoir, I let them off leash since there was never anyone there except wild life. And did they love to chase the wildlife: ducks, birds, geese, squirrels or anything that moved. One day, at about 2 miles into the middle of the dried reservoir which was now a running river, Maggie actually caught a duck. Mortified, I demanded her to stop, but she kept walking toward me with the duck in her mouth, proud. As she got closer she realized I was angry and dropped it, cowering because she knew she’d been naughty. I chased them away from the duck and hurried home with them. I went back to the reservoir to see if the duck needed medical attention, only to find it had played dead and flew away.  That night I signed Maggie up for obedience school. She was 8 years old and never trained. I had my work cut out for me. Her dog sitter, who was also the trainer at school, knew Maggie was “difficult” and questioned if she would be trainable.  Scott was convinced there was no hope for Maggie’s independent, anti-social behavior and warned me to be very careful with her in public.

Once again, Maggie surprised us all, excelling at school, completing all her requirements and passing with a straight A. She made the smartest dogs look like dunces. I couldn’t believe this, but Maggie actually loved school and the one-on-one attention. I had just begun to appreciate Maggie’s true needs and her genuine personality. She needed the challenge of daily learning and to be able to communicate with me. Her face lit up when she understood things I asked of her.

Polite DingoSoon, Maggie proved to be the exact opposite of Scott’s notion of her anti-social behavior. She reveled in the social interaction at school and I discovered her public persona to be polite. After she graduated, I’d take her running regularly in parks where people and young children alike approached and pet her. She’d sit quietly while they fawned over her. Scott admitted he’d never seen this side of her. He’d only ever seen the aggressive, uncontrollable dog that existed at our home. At the downtown square, Maggie was the one dog who attracted everyone’s attention, even over the dozens of retrievers and gentler dogs who roamed with their owners. I never understood why young children preferred to pet a dingo over a big soft fluffy golden. But they did and Scott and I enjoyed many jokes over the irony.

Although her public behavior was polite and contained, her home behavior remained territorial. No matter how hard I tried, she always treated most visitors aggressively, warning them that they didn’t belong. When I learned about Maggie’s illness, I had stopped trying to correct her and just let her be.

Maggie honed in on the few who really understood her.  She loved our neighbor Anouk and her basset hound ShyGuy. The first time meeting them, Maggie pulled her usual stunt, greeting them with aggressive barking and circling them as if they didn’t belong. Anouk smiled and greeted her calmly and ShyGuy wagged his tail and I knew it was love at first sight for him. He seemed to like loud, bossy broads. In 2005, we enjoyed the Summer of Love, going on daily walks, adventures and hikes with the dynamic duo, Maggie and ShyGuy. Soon, the entire neighborhood coined us as the dog-walking club, and yearned to join us, even if they didn’t have a dog. It was evident that Maggie and ShyGuy knew how to have fun and everybody wanted to be a part of the show.

Maggie lived by her own moral codes. Unlike most dogs that wagged their tails with delight when you returned home, she would greet us happily for a minute or so before she realized she was mad at us. She’d then promptly walk away looking back and barking at us over her shoulder, scolding us for leaving her for too long. Whether we were gone for 1 day or 1 week, she’d scold us equally, for she had in her mind an appropriate time period that was allowed for us to be away from the den and if we exceeded it, she’d let us know.

For as many people Maggie truly liked (a handful), there were a few who she truly disliked. For everyone else, she held no opinion. Scott recalls a friend who taunted Maggie, offering her a treat, only to pull it away at the last minute. No matter how hard he tried after that, Maggie would never accept his friendship. She was unforgiving and never forgot those who disrespected her.

Dogtor Hilary, Maggie’s veterinarian/acupuncturist was one of the few who truly understood her and Maggie accepted. In general, Maggie disliked vets, mainly because she associated them with “being behind bars.” (Scott had boarded her and Moosh for business trips prior to us marrying.) Like Anouk, Dogtor Hilary greeted Maggie calmly and accepted her wacky barking behavior. She called Maggie the “Rough-Tough-Cream-Puff” and I knew she “got” Maggie.  Maggie soon came to realize that it was Dogtor Hilary who gave her back her dignity--her ability to walk for the last six months of her life. For above all, Maggie was proud of her agility, and her cancer had kept her from being able to walk this summer. So Maggie tolerated her regular acupuncture treatments and she walked very well, even on her last day.

No Cross NitwitI could go on endlessly over Maggie’s intelligence. She used strategy instead of brute force to obtain toys in Moosh’s possession. Like a chess player, she thought three or four moves ahead, fawning over us, making Moosh jealous enough for him to drop his toy and come to us, only to have Maggie cut and run for his abandoned toy. When we first took her to Nitwit Bridge, a 90-foot long suspension bridge on our new property, she refused to cross it, sensing its danger, until we fortified it with netting.


Nitwit CrossingBut Maggie’s most impressive attributes were her resilience and will. Diagnosed in 2004 with aggressive liver cancer and only 6 months to live, doctors warned me to keep Maggie quiet and calm in her last few months. As if that were possible. Maggie rested several days after being diagnosed, but sure enough she started demanding her rituals back. On the advice of a holistic vet, we gave her organic food, real meat and veggies and supplemented with milk thistle and worm wood. And Maggie resumed life as if nothing were wrong. For three and a half years, she went for hour-long walks, adventures in town, enjoyed the good life and scoffed at the notion that she was sick. She showed everyone that love and will was all it took.

I feel honored to have come into Maggie’s life at the just the right time to help reveal her genuinely good qualities which were so easily overshadowed by her more challenging behaviors. I used to say, “Maggie’s not evil, she’s just misunderstood.” Scott would agree, “She gets a lot of bad press.” But the truth is, Maggie’s character held so many life lessons: respect yourself, be distrusting of others who don’t respect you, value those who love you, learn something new each day and get out and enjoy the great outdoors, every day. These were her secrets to happiness. These were her gift to us.


 Maggie Starling
August 18, 1993-November 23, 2007


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7 comments on “Remembering Maggie”

  1. What a lovely tribute to lovely Maggie. I know you will miss her as much as we have missed Olympia this last year. It does get easier...

  2. I keep meaning to write here- I still miss my little cream puff Maggie, and she will always be in my memory as one of my most opinionated but cherished patients. We miss you Miss Mags!

  3. Wow-what a beautiful girl and wonderful tribute. I fell in love with her immediately. She and Moosh sure did hit the jackpot when you moved in! I'm sad that they are no longer with you but am so happy to know you rescued two other furry souls to adore. What lucky pups! I'm so happy to have found your blog-it has brought a much needed smile to my day.
    Woofs and whinnies,
    sue and the crew

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