The look in his eyes said it all.
I knew something was wrong when my husband, Craig, came back into the house this morning after cattle chores.
As our 5-year-old Nolan was eating his Pop-Tarts® and our 8-year-old Waylon brushed his teeth, Craig whispered to me, “Maggie died.”
Maggie. One of our two beloved farm dogs.
We gathered the boys around the kitchen table and Craig gently broke the news. He had found Maggie lying in the grass with EmmyLou – our second dog – keeping vigil by her side.
She was a good dog.
Last summer, while we attended our first Junior National Hereford Expo in Kansas City, our chocolate lab, Lady, passed away. Oh, that was a sad day, too.
After a few weeks, the boys decided they were ready to welcome a new dog to the family again. While I was off photographing an out-of-town wedding, Craig loaded up the kids and headed to a nearby shelter to check out the options.
Waylon spotted a small, black “crossbred” named Maggie – most would call a mutt – and fell in love.
The catch? Maggie had spent her lifetime living with another dog, EmmyLou, in the home of an elderly woman. She was no longer able to care for the dogs, and the shelter took them in.
Because they had never lived apart, the shelter hated to separate Maggie and EmmyLou.
Craig texted me: “How would you feel about two dogs?”
I thought he was kidding.
He was not.
All it took was a little pleading from the boys, and Craig’s heart softened. And Maggie and EmmyLou officially became part of the Lee family.
At first, we wondered what in the world we had done.
We initially kept these girls in a pen in the barn, and would lead them around the perimeter of the property each night, in order to teach them the boundaries of “home.”
It had worked for our other dogs. But Maggie and EmmyLou were a bit more adventurous.
The moment we removed the leashes? They were off to the races.
The first time, they made it to our neighbors’ home – three miles away – before we found them.
That process repeated more times than we’d care to admit. And the neighbors were always on alert for those “Lee dogs.”
We installed an invisible fence. They slipped the collars into the mile-high snow banks during our never-ending winter. We still haven’t found them.
But eventually, they came to terms with this being their new home.
And, oh, how the boys have loved them. And, oh, the patience Lee dogs must develop.
Nolan makes it his mission to “train” them by leash. He leads them around the yard and barn often. He ties their leashes to fences, trees and the swingset. Their reward? A few too many doggie treats and a pat on the belly from the boys.
Without a doubt, Maggie and EmmyLou have exhibited the patience of Job.
Tails wagging, tongues flapping. Seemingly happy to be in their “forever home” on our little acreage.
It warms my heart to help the older dogs in the shelter – the ones who may be passed by for the cute little fur-ball puppies.
But the tough part? Knowing the time is shorter before doggie heaven calls them home.
Craig and I had noticed Maggie’s dark hair becoming increasingly gray in the past few months. Her steps were slowing. She didn’t join EmmyLou and I on our daily runs.
And this morning, the inevitable happened.
It’s all part of life.
And our children, growing up with livestock and pets, learn from an early age that death is part of life. We care for our animals while they’re entrusted to us on earth. And at some point, we must say goodbye.
Waylon couldn’t eat breakfast this morning. And as he sat quietly looking out the window, waiting on the bus, he said, “I don’t think I want another dog.”
I understand those feelings, son. I really do.
But I’m fairly certain in a short time, that sadness will fade.
You’ll realize the companionship and joy a family dog can bring. Chances are, we’ll load up the family for another trip to the shelter, to find EmmyLou a new friend – another dog for Nolan to break into the role of farm life.
And we will begin the cycle again.