On Sunday August 28, 2022, we said a final goodbye to our oldest dog, Madeline. She was a 14 pound dachshund that I adopted as a puppy from San Diego Humane in 2004. From the first day we brought her home, she turned out to be the worst dog ever. Reflecting on the past 18 years dealing with her unique brand of misbehavior, I am struck with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the chaotic madness she brought to my life.
I vividly remember the day I adopted her. We were passing through the shelter and the only thing we knew at the time was that we wanted to give a good home to a dog in need. We had no size, race or age requirements. I was completely open to any type of dog that “felt right” for us.
When I ran into Maddie’s kennel, I almost passed her. She was curled up in the back of the kennel in the shadows, trembling with fear. At the front of the kennel, attempting to murder me, was his mother – an openly aggressive and angry miniature dachshund for no reason (which, in hindsight, should have been a red flag). I looked over at Maddie and said, “That’s her. She is perfect.”
She wasn’t perfect.
Shortly after adopting her, we had to leave town for a work trip. I asked my father to keep the house and take care of her while we were gone. I left him a key and he let himself in shortly after we left for the airport. When he arrived, Maddie greeted him with a piercing bark and absolutely refused to let him even come close to her. She barked at him non-stop for the next four days until we got back, biting him twice and sending him to emergency care. That’s when we learned Maddie wasn’t against the patriarchy.
Soon after, we found out that it wasn’t just older white men she didn’t like. In fact, she didn’t care about anyone but me. She loved me and was content to be by my side at all times. It would have been cute, except that she really considered herself my bodyguard and would bark, growl, and harass anyone who tried to come near me. You can imagine how complicated it was to organize a dinner party.
Once I started working in animal welfare, I brought her with me to work every day. The first day I brought her to work, she bit my boss. To be fair to Maddie, my boss totally deserved it. Then a few years later she bit my new boss too. That’s when I realized Maddie had a problem with authority figures.
About a year ago she decided that sleeping through the night was boring – she chose to wake us up several times a night just for fun. We haven’t slept since.
You’re probably wondering at this point why I’m painting such a negative picture of my time with my baby girl. For me though, I can’t properly celebrate the great life she had unless I’m completely honest about the reality of it. The reality of Miss Madeline is that she was an opinionated, aggressive, fearful nightmare dog in many ways. But there was another side to her that made up for it all.
The truth is that I got to see a lot of beautiful sides of Madeline. When I signed up to be his caretaker and companion, I made that commitment wholeheartedly despite his many unconscious attempts to make me regret it. However, I have never regretted it. Not for a second.
Why? Because she taught me important life lessons that a well-behaved dog could never have. Here are a few:
Patience. With every boundary she pushed, I was pushed to be more tolerant, compassionate, and fair.
Forgiveness. Every time she barked at a stranger or bit my employer’s ankle, I forgave her. I forgave her something every day, and at some point it occurred to me that if I could so easily forgive Maddie for whatever goofy thing she did that day, then I could forgive people for the things they do or say that hurt me so, with the same ease and compassion.
Resilience. I joke a lot about how “awful” she was, but the truth is that she was a deeply shy and fearful dog by nature. So many things frightened him on a daily basis. But she never let her fear stop her from reveling in happy times, playing with her favorite toy or poring over zooms in the garden. When she felt safe, she was the happiest dog in the world and her enthusiasm was contagious.
Now, in his death, I learned another lesson about life. It’s short. It’s frightening. But it can be beautifully rich when you’re open to the unconditional love of an animal companion…especially ones that refuse to behave.
Rest in power, my precious little demon.
Jack Hagerman is the CEO of Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society.