Thursday, December 3, 2009


My baby is hurt. Not any of my human babies, but one of the canine variety. Maddie.

She is a pure bred beagle, and she's been with us for almost 10 years. After struggling with the loss of our first baby, there was a void in my life. I so desperately needed something, someone, to take care of. I needed someone to need me. Since our further attempts at getting pregnant again weren't working, I started to sink further and further into a sense of hopelessness.

We got two kittens right after we got married. But, as all cats are, they didn't seem to need much. They were terribly affectionate cats, but they were cats nonetheless. I needed something a little bit more needy. And even though it was a terrible idea at the time, we decided to get a puppy. We lived in the condo at the time, with no yard. We had only a small patio. It wasn't a dog-friendly place to live. But we didn't think too much about that at the time.

We actually did a little bit of research on breeds before we started looking. For some reason, we settled on a beagle. They were small, they were good family dogs and they were darn cute. We found a breeder not too far from us that had a litter almost set for adoption. And there were a couple puppies left.

We went to look at them, nervous but excited. It took some time to stomach the idea of paying $400 for a dog. But when we saw her, we just knew. The breeder almost tried to talk us out of getting her. She was the runt. By far the smallest of the litter. Her markings weren't distinct - she would never be considered show quality or qualify for prime breeding. We didn't care about any of those things. We just wanted a dog. When she looked up at us with those big giant brown eyes, we knew. She was the one.

At six weeks old, she was teeny tiny. She fit into the palms of our hands. We brought her home and set out her bed and toys, many of which were bigger than she was. I'll never forget that first night. She cried and cried and cried. She missed her mama. And she wasn't sleeping. So Tom did what any good new father would do, and picked her up and put her in bed with us. Little did we know that was the start of something.

Maddie slept under the covers in bed with us. She'd tunnel down to the foot of the bed and sleep between our feet. You would have thought she was hot down there, but she loved it. And there she stayed for a long time. She was our baby. She went everywhere with us. We took her on trips. We took her camping. One camping trip we brought home a solid brown dog - she had learned how fun it was to dig up the ant hills and was completely covered in dirt. Our friends marveled at this strange little dog, the one who would climb trees. She always was a bit different.

We thought we lucked out when she was a little puppy. She was well behaved and quiet. We had heard stories about the problems with beagles. We took her to a puppy training class and quickly began to see what they meant. She was fine with people, but she didn't much like other dogs. She never became socially friendly around other dogs, no matter what we tried. And then it happened. She found her voice. Not until she was about six months old, but find it she did. She learned to howl. She howled at anything and everything. And we learned to deal with a dog that howled. One without an off switch once she started.

Eventually, the day came when she wasn't the only baby anymore. And this hyper little dog, the one that howled at everything and was fanatical about playing with tennis balls, walked over to her previously unused dog bed and laid down. The day Aidan came home from the hospital, it's almost like she knew that her role in our lives was different now. She went from being the spoiled only child to being just the dog. Surprisingly, she was amazing about the transition. Never once did she show jealousy towards him, even when she got kicked out of bed.

We moved to a house a while later, and with that came a backyard. And with the backyard came another dog. It wasn't entirely intentional, mind you. I went to the pet store to get some dog food one day and they had an enclosure set up with a dog in it for adoption. I came home with more than just dog food. And Maddie was okay with it, she didn't mind sharing her new backyard with another dog. She had someone to keep her busy.

Over the following years, we added more children to our family. We moved to Colorado. And she always handled those transitions well. She has a bigger backyard here, more wild animals to howl at, more room to run. Until now.

While we were gone last week, something happened. I can't be sure what exactly and we will probably never know. But she is hurt. Her knee is injured, most likely damaged permanently. She may be able to heal somewhat, but will never return to her old self. The vet has mentioned possible surgery, but she's an old lady now, one that carries quite a few more pounds on her frame than she should. That part of being a beagle caught up to her too. It's probably not really a feasible choice.

So here we are, all these years later with a puppy that suddenly needs us more than before. She can't get through the dog doors. She isn't supposed to go up or down stairs. She needs to be carried. Tom built her a ramp for the stairs outside, though she stubbornly tries to use the stairs still. This puppy, now my old girl, is hurt.

It's a tough road ahead for her, a tough one for all of us. We are forced to accept that she will never again be the same. No more climbing trees. No more digging in ant hills. No more chasing balls. Of course, she can still howl. Somethings never change. My baby is hurt, but as long as she is comfortable and not in too much pain, we will help her. We don't have a choice. She needs us. And though I was the one that needed her in the beginning, we all need her now.

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