Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The End of an Era

When I met David, he was a bachelor with a crazy little white dog.

She had bulging eyes and crooked hips and she growled at me when I petted her.

Eventually, I won her allegiance and she dumped David to side with me.

But in spite of her wee size, she was never a snuggler, never a lap dog. She needed a wide circumference of personal space and only wanted attention or affection if she initiated it.

Little Mac lived with us in our first apartment in University City, where we had to take her out to pee on a leash and this became a power struggle as she only wanted to go out on her schedule, which typically did not align with our schedule. But if we would so much as approach her with a leash in hand when she didn't feel like going outside, she would growl and snap at us.

I thought that David would get rid of Little Mac if she were ever to bite me.

She bit me.


But by that time, I was invested.

And that was the thing with Little Mac. You sort of liked her in spite of yourself. And in spite of herself. She was just the weirdest, quirkiest little thing.

We had a party once and a guy in my grad school department tried to engage with Little Mac by playfully taking her peanutbutter-filled kong toy that she was chewing on.

He bled through three bandaids, but said it was his fault since she obviously didn't want him touching her toy.

And just when you thought you couldn't stand to be around such a nasty, hateful little dog, she'd suddenly bound in the room like a puppy with a toy in her mouth, or push her head into your shin like a cat asking for attention, and your heart would melt.

Her treat of choice was popcorn. She loved it so much that she would come running when she heard it popping and then sit in front of the microwave and WAIL at the top of her lungs, so overwhelming was her excitement and anticipation.

She and Cooper had a tenuous but mostly collegial relationship. Basically, Cooper respected her crazy and she let him be. Getting him was actually really good for her--it relaxed her personal boundaries and exposed her to some normal canine social skills, which improved her attitude overall.

In her later years, when we'd moved to our little house, she was almost always up for a walk or a car ride. She didn't always want a leash, but she was usually up for adventure. She loved riding in the car.

One night, David was out for his cousin's bachelor party. In the middle of the night, he called me from a club on the East Side, begging me to come pick him up because he was sick and the guys weren't ready to leave.

At first I thought he had been drinking too much and made himself sick, but he insisted he hadn't been drinking at all, but his throat hurt and he was pretty sure he had a fever. As best man, he was trying to be a good sport and not complain, but the group showed no signs of being ready to go and he was desperate to get out of there.

Driving over to East St. Louis by myself in the wee hours of the morning was not high on my list of desirable activities, but Little Mac was more than willing to ride along with me. So the two of us loaded up in my little red Mustang and picked up a miserable and shivering David (who ended up missing a full week of work due to a wicked case of strep throat).

She loved going to David's grandparents' house on the lake, although she didn't ever want to get in the lake and she wasn't much for riding in the boat. A warm, sunny spot on the patio was her happy place, and she'd sleep in the sunshine all day long.

She and Cooper were my buddies when I was writing the dissertation. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but they enforced the advice that health experts give about taking frequent breaks when you sit at a desk all day--not only did I walk them every single day, they also were constantly interrupting me so they could go in and out the back door. Little Mac in particular would not be ignored--her wailing to get in or out of the house was so extreme that when we first moved in, our next door neighbors came running out of their house when they heard her, and later told us they thought someone was getting raped in the alley. Nope. That's just our dog.

My brother would always ask why Little Mac was constantly staring at him--with those buggy brown eyes. And I would laugh and say, "That's just her way."

As she got older and crankier, she would want up on my lap if we were in a new place (at one of David's ballgames, or visiting his dad's house where there were other dogs). She would get nasty and snarly once she was up there--and God forbid I shift my weight and irritate her with my movements--but I still sort of loved that she came to me.

She wasn't smart around cats, and would charge my mom's cats. One day during a visit to my parents, David and I were getting ready to go somewhere so he was in the car and I ran back inside to get something. I heard a cat yowl and then heard a God-awful wailing noise, so I raced upstairs. Little Mac was sitting at the top of the stairs, and her face was all bloody. At first glance, I thought the cat had clawed Mac's bulging little eye out, and I started screaming and crying and ran outside, nearly collapsing on the front porch as I screamed at David to come inside.

Upon closer inspection, her eye was intact, but she did have a scratch going down her nose. You'd think she'd learn her lesson, but she would still charge those cats every now and then.

Little Mac didn't like kids ever. And she especially didn't like them as she got older and her eyesight got spotty and her hearing failed. She was easily startled and her response to fear was always fight, not flight. She made us really nervous around David's little cousins, and she wasn't shy about snapping and growling at them.

I would lie and tell strangers she was a rescue dog because it seemed the easiest way to explain her unpredictability and aggression. I was especially mortified when she tried to bite my friend's dog-loving and extremely elderly grandmother, and a friend of mine who dog-sat for us one weekend said she felt terrible when she had to tell a little girl with special needs that she couldn't pet the cute little white dog.

We'd been concerned about her intolerance for small children when I was pregnant with Eliza. Little Mac was already ten years old by that point, and we just told ourselves that we would see how things went once the baby was here.

But we didn't get to bring our baby home. And while it was Cooper who was my loyal companion on the sofa, day after day, providing comfort with his solid warmth and quiet companionship, it was Little Mac--who never wanted on my lap, who always slept in her own bed on the floor, who growled if we walked by her to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night--who got up on the bed with me the day after we got home from the hospital, and who curled up and lay down next to me. She just knew that I was hurting like never before. I will never forget her offering that comfort to me--even if she did eventually growl quietly at me before jumping down off the bed and resuming her usual place in her doggie bed. That was just her way.

When Zuzu came into the picture, things got tricky. Mac didn't mess with the baby, but she did start having accidents (or "on purposes"?) always in the baby's room.

Once Zuzu became mobile, and increasingly interested in the dogs, it became apparent that our household could not accommodate a curious baby and a crotchety old dog. Especially because Little Mac was getting increasingly aggressive when she felt threatened or bothered (even by David and me), and continuing to have more and more accidents.

So the pee and poop situation was getting worse, and Mac was making me more and more nervous around the baby. In desperation, when Zuzu was about 9 months old, I took Little Mac to the vet and asked them to check and see if she was in physical pain or if there was something causing her to have accidents that we could fix. She was 13 years old, deaf, and mostly blind. I tried to explain to the vet that it was going to be impossible for us to keep her because she'd been known to bite and she was peeing and pooping in the house even when I was there to let her out. As impossibly difficult as it was, I needed to get some information about having her put to sleep.

Instead, the vet guilt-tripped me into paying a couple hundred bucks for a comprehensive blood test (which came back PERFECTLY HEALTHY, because of course it did) and suggested I look into senior dog rescue. She made me feel horrible for even SUGGESTING that I might need to choose my baby over an aggressive 13-year-old dog who had, at various times over the years, bitten and drawn blood from me, my husband, his grandmother, his five-year-old cousin, and a friend of mine from graduate school. And really, do you think it would be easy to re-home a dog with that kind of track record?

I called my mom crying after I left the vet because the vet had made me feel so terrible when I was ALREADY feeling terrible, but David and I knew that Little Mac and Zuzu living together was just no longer possible.

My mom loves her granddaughter AND loves dogs, and bless her heart she called us later and offered to take Little Mac home with her.

So Little Mac moved to her retirement home in Nevada. She lived with my parents for over a year, and celebrated her 14th birthday with them (I used the word "celebrated" loosely). She learned to get along with their cats (who remained aloof and skeptical, but would at least tolerate being in the same room as Little Mac). My parents were home often enough to give her the frequent bathroom breaks she needed, but as time went on she began having more and more frequent accidents at their house as well. Frequently, she would wet her bed. Then there were a few incidents where her back legs--those crooked hips--gave out on her.

My mom gave her a daily dose of aspirin and then some medicine to help her kidneys. But the accidents were happening more and more often. Then on Sunday she had a seizure and they knew that it was time.

This was not unexpected news because my mom had let us know that Mac wasn't doing well and that they were taking things day by day. But when we got the e-mail from my mom yesterday, telling us that Mac had made her final trip to the vet and her last meal was her favorite popcorn, we both took it kind of hard. I felt bad for not being there, even though Little Mac had transferred her allegiance to my mom just the way she once dumped David for me.

And even though Mac wasn't living with us anymore, even though she was difficult and aggressive and peed and pooped everywhere and barked at old people and growled at people in wheelchairs and snarled at little kids and snapped at us... it wasn't easy to know that she was gone.

She was David's first dog--a gift from his mom when he graduated from college--and she was our first pet. She saw us through dating and engagement and marriage and pregnancy and loss and a baby. She was there from the beginning--for the good and the bad and the ugly and the beautiful.

She wasn't always easy, but she was ours, and there will never be another dog quite like her.

We love you, Little Mac, and all your crazy.


  1. It just sucks.

    My 15 year old cat, who'd been with me since my senior year of college, since before I met my husband, who had traveled across the ocean and then to another country with me, failed suddenly while were on holiday in August. A friend was house-sitting and took her to the vet and was there when she was put to sleep.

    I still can't think about it without crying. You have all my sympathy.

  2. I'm so sorry, Brooke. She was obviously a real character and I am going to miss her crazy stories. Love and hugs. XOXO

  3. Aw I'm sorry...even cranky dogs are family...RIP Little Mac!

  4. When I saw the header, read the first line & saw Little Mac's picture, I knew what this was going to be about. :( I'm sorry, Brooke. :( I will always remember that image of her curling up with you on the bed after you came home without Eliza. (((hugs)))

  5. Oh Brooke. I am so saddened for your loss. Little Mac was such a personality and soul.

  6. I lost it when it was mentioned that her final meal was popcorn. RIP Little Mac.

  7. I'm sorry to hear this. I agree with melissa's comment that even cranky dogs are family. She was a cute ball of sass.

  8. Replies
    1. I'm so sorry Brooke. I remember that awful vet day well. I feel sort of bad that I laughed, but you tell such a good story, and that was one of them. I know it was a tough decision to make - and your parents were so kind to take her (and not nearly as shameful as senior rescue). I love that Little Mac loved popcorn, and stood by you through your studies and your grief and David's poor life choices involving the east side.
      I hope this week is gentle on you.

  9. I am so sorry. I know this pain and I am so sorry. These first furry babies of ours are such important members of our families. Little Mac is in good company. Big hugs!

  10. I don't even especially like dogs, but I started crying hard at the end of your post. I've read your blog for years and always loved your Mac stories. Goodbye Little Mac!

  11. Oh what sad news! It is so hard to lose pets. This was a lovely tribute!

  12. Sniffles...RIP Little Mac. I agree with above, this was such a lovely tribute.

  13. So sorry to hear this! It's always so sad when we lose a pet. 😥

  14. I'm so sorry to hear about Little Mac. It's like the end of an era to lose a pet who saw you through so much life.

  15. oh honey, so sorry to hear about Little Mac. i hope she's pooping and peeing all over those pearly gates, the little ruffigan. love to you & david. xo

  16. I'm so sorry. I've always been amused by stories about Little Mac's big personality and touched by her care for you after Eliza died. What an unforgettable dog

  17. poor little Mac. thinking of you guys <3

  18. I have so much catching up to do, but I wanted to comment first on this post about little Mac. Xox.

    She has a special place in my heart for when she comforted you after Eliza died. Thinking of you and your family as you say goodbye to Little Mac <3

  19. Blogger just ate my comment as I tried to leave one with my iPad. Sorry if this shows as a duplicate.

    I'll miss little Mac. As crazy and irrational as she was (and at times, dangerous), she'll have a special place in my heart for when she snuggled up with you after Eliza died. You cant train that type of love. She had some of the good stuff, despite her temperament

    Thinking of you and your family as you say goodbye to Little Mac xo