My Madeline left this earth January 12th, 2015. She left it in the manner in which she lived- dignified and serene. She was called aloof by some..but that was only because she took her time fully opening to others. Once she knew you could be trusted- you felt so so very special that she asked for love. She would come over and sit right in front of you and just stare. The most soulful human like eyes- they seemed to hold the answers to the universe. Looking into her eyes, I felt the immensity of God’s embrace. She was rarely pushy, She was Zen like in her temperament. I believe she spent most of the day meditating- connecting with God was so natural for her.
I met Madeline abut 8 years ago. I heard about her from the Berkeley shelter volunteers. She had been dumped in the “night box” one evening with a note. The note said ” Name- Madison, 6 years old, good with kids and BadRap would love her”. How could someone dump a dog after 6 years? She was terrified and stressed at the shelter. She would not let anyone approach her. She would back up to the rear of her small kennel and growl when anyone approached. She looked formidable and the shelter staff soon started saying she would need to be euthanized. I came in to see her and approached her very slowly. She was growling at me but I was not afraid. I just calmly told her she was coming for a walk with me and leashed her up. Once outside, at the Albany bulb- I had her meet a pack of dogs I was to walk. I had full faith almost immediately that she was going to be just fine with all the dogs, and she was. She walked with me for an hour that day, and I could see a very different dog than the one in the shelter scared and growling. She was already that Zen dog to me , in a matter of an hour. I took her back to the shelter and felt so bad putting her back in to her cold small kennel. The next day, I went back and it seemed like she was waiting for me- she was right at the front of the kennel, which was quite unusual as she had hunkered down in the back since she had arrived. I took her out again and took her back to the shelter. I left her a big blanket but knew that would not do much to ease her worried heart. I came back one more time to walk her and never brought her back. I told the staff I would foster her. I saw something so deep and meaningful in this girl and knew she deserved to be heard , loved and understood.
Bringing her home to my small apartment with Benjamin and Lucille seemed right…but I knew getting Lucille to accept another female into the home could be a challenge. Lucille was a dominant insecure dog and she needed her space from other dogs. She loved and adored Benjamin because he was so strong and clear in his presence. Madeline did the very right thing- she came in unobtrusively, quietly and with full understanding of Lucille’s definite boundaries. I remember walking them in my Oakland neighborhood and feeling immensely proud of having these formidable dogs by my side. Madeline was so peaceful to walk, within days, I allowed her to be off leash . She naturally followed , albeit at a pace that worked for her. She assumed a regal yet non threatening stance to walker bys.
Within a month of fostering her, a lump appeared on her ear. The vet concluded that it was Mast cell cancer. This was the very same cancer that my beloved first dog, Coda, had died from some years ago. I was worried but the vet assured me if we took Madeline’s entire ear off , that she would get all the cancer. Madeline had her ear removed and she became my one ear beautiful Pit bull. For the rest of her life, I had to hear hundreds of times from strangers – that she must have been a fighting dog. Oh how easy it is for people to make assumptions on this most amazing breed! No,she had cancer I told them and they quietly walked away. I hope some of them were able to examine their own biases.
My Landlord soon found out I had a 3rd dog and insisted she had to go. I met with a few families that wanted to adopt her- good people with love to share, but I could not let her go. It just became so apparent to me that she was meant to be in our family. I officially adopted her, changed her name to Madeline and moved out of that apartment into my first owned home in Richmond. Lucille and Madeline were still working out their relationship and it was not without a few good fights. Lucille always was the instigator and I could tell Madeline really did not want to go there but she had that might about her- she would protect herself it push came to shove. These girls were large dogs and their fights were intense….but within a year- something changed in Lucille- we had been working so hard on her transformation. I put all my training knowledge and skills that I had learned with Benjamin to her as well. It was a longer road with many peaks and dips but finally- my beloved Lucille came to be the sound good dog I could take anywhere , just like my boy. And with this growth, she came not only fully to accept Madeline, but to deeply bond and connect with her for the many years to come.
Madelin’s medical woes spanned the course of our 8 years together. She had subsequent skin mast cell tumors removed. About every 2-3 years, a small lump would come up, causing me instant worry and when it came back cancer- we would have it removed through surgery. The years of 2011-2015- we faced serious life threatening emergencies together. In 2012, Madeline was laying down within several feet of my truck while I tended to my 3 other dogs, and a car literally ran right over her. I still can picture it today. Her leg was stuck in the engine and she was screaming in agony. Beyond the hellish stress, I also remember many people come running to our aid and in seconds. Someone got a jack to lift the car she was stuck under and lifted it up to free her. I did not know if she would live or die. I ran through every red light and took the HOV lane on the highway to make it to my vet 10 miles away. Madeline had a broken leg and immediately went into surgery. 12 weeks after surgery, it was determined that the surgery was unsuccessful and her bone was not healing. Amputation was mentioned. I vowed to fight to save her leg. I found a surgeon specialist and Madeline underwent another complex limb surgery . It was very touch and go for 3 more months but it was finally determined after loads of rest, rehab and alternative modalities to promote bone growth – her bone was saved and healed!!
Then in 2013- without a known cause, Madeline stopped eating for 13 days. Thousands of dollars in tests later, the specialist determined that she had Inflammatory Bowel Disease. This is a complex disease that requires a radical change in diet and long term medicines including steroids. For the next 2 years, I home cooked Madeline a variety of novel meats like rabbit, bison and duck. As a staunch vegetarian, it certainly took resolve to have a whole rabbit cooking in a pot many evenings a month. Madeline responded very well to the new diet and medicine almost immediately but we would still be faced with many bouts of IBD illness over the next 2 years. My days were often determined as “good” if she was eating well and ” very bad” if she was not. It took a toll on both of us.
Shortly after her IBD diagnosis, a lump appeared on her hind end. I knew the cancer could return at any time but still devastated when the tests came back a “high grade 2 mast cell tumor”. This was NOT good news. This meant the cancer was not only in the lump sight but also in the lymph node right next to it. My regular vet said it was time to see a cancer specialist, a vet oncologist. After an in depth consultation with the oncologist, Madeline started on a chemotherapy regime. Some dog cancers are treated with chemotherapy for the life of the dog. If Madeline tolerated this medicine, it would mean, she could be on it for the rest of her life and indeed that came to pass. For 11 months, Madeline went into almost full remission. She had a tiny spot on her eyelid that was a tiny cancerous tumor but her lymph node returned to its normal size. I was over joyed at her great response! But there was always the vet’s voice in the back of my head- ” eventually this chemo drug will stop working” and at the 11 month mark- a lymph node in her belly got ugly ,enlarged , and bruised. The cancer had become more aggressive. My amazing vet gave me a few options and I decided to go with a more aggressive chemo protocol. For the next 4 months, we drove 45 minutes away to her clinic to get Madeline’s chemotherapy. This was much different than the Palladia she had been on for 11 months- those were pills given at home. This chemo worked to shrink her lymph node but it also made her sick off and on. We had some hard days and this hurt my heart. Madeline was my stoic angel but I knew when she did not feel good. She would ask to go outside and she would dig a hole in the cold dirt and lay there. She suffered from nausea, low appetite and diarrhea. But she also had many good days in between, or I would not have continued this medicine. We still took 2 long walks every day. She still fence fought the dogs she loved to ambush in our neighborhood. Now normally, I would never allow this behavior but there is something really cool about seeing an old lady dog have such gumption and nerve to act all tough and ferocious , especially because she was not a fighter.
Madeline was a truly unique dog. As my friend Silvia said “She was a bad ass dog that listened to no one”. She was supremely confident and stoic girl who had simple pleasures. She had to chase deer, she had to bark at dogs behind fences. She had to lay in every body of water we came across. Not just lay, mind you, but meditate fully. Anyone that would come across our path when she was doing this would be overcome with curiosity. She literally laid in the water and did not move. She looked like she was deep in meditation. She would do this for as long as I would let her.
This stronger chemo worked for 4 months and then I awoke one morning to see her lymph node swollen. My heart leapt into my throat. Truth be told, this cancer worry had taken over my life. Madeline’s good days were my good days. Her bad days were mine hundred fold. My life had become all about her well being. That’s what mothers do. Anyone who loves their dogs as their children will understand what I feel. I couldn’t bear to see her sick and I would do anything possible to make her better.
Madeline got upwards of 30 pills a day her last 2 years. The pill taking became a really hard time for us. There was nothing I could hide them in anymore. If she got even a whiff of a pill, she would spit the whole food mouthful out and not ever want to eat that food again. So for over a year, I had to put 30 pills a day down her throat. I hate that there were times I would get frustrated with her- when she would try to throw them back up. She would froth at the mouth and look at me pained. I only hope she understood, on some level, that these pills were saving her life.
Madeline also developed “food aversion”. This is when a dog doesn’t feel good and then associates the food they most recently ate with not feeling good , so they do not want to eat it anymore, even though they are very hungry. This became a complicated situation to say the least. Because Madeline had IBD, she could only eat certain proteins- like bison, rabbit or duck. So when she stopped trusting one food, I had to buy another one, until she stopped trusting that one and so on. My friends found it incredulous that I, as a staunch vegetarian, would cook a whole rabbit on my stove. But alas, when Madeline was eating well-those were my good days.
Madeline’s good days way outnumbered the bad ones. We did a 3 hour hike New year’s day. People on the big hills that passed us by yelled words of encouragement for her. It made me tear up and realize how much of a warrior she truly was. I could also tell when Madeline felt good- she loved to roll in any good lawn or field or grass. She was usually behind me on a walk and when I would call out to her and there was a nice lawn right near by- she would look at me for a moment or two , pondering if she should listen to me and almost always- she didn’t! Instead she would saunter over to the grass and do a full body roll , her face clearly satisfied and joyful.
Madeline’s good days lasted until just our last 48 together. She took a sudden sharp turn and stopped eating. She also seemed suddenly very weak. I was praying it was just a bout of her IBD, but when morning came- she could not even walk outside. I prayed on what to do. I carried her outside to the back yard filled with straw and lay her down. She seemed at peace. I imagined taking her into the vet- where they would no less do a battery of tests and keep her there in a cage. Madeline hated the vet. She had had years of testing, surgeries, needles, and time away from me. Did she want to try to fight one more time? Did she want to be in the hospital, away from her family? Would she even ever come back home? All day I wrestled with these questions and felt so so very sad and scared. But when I got really quiet with myself , laying next to my Beloved- I had the answer. The answer was No. The answer was She was ready to be Free.
Dr Grant came in the evening. My closest friends were with me . Our last moments were spent in deep communion and perfect love and acceptance. This was a magical dog who came into my life and showed me what true meditation, acceptance, and peace look and feel like. They are a deep vast ocean that fills your heart, mind and body with the Silence of God. When I looked into the eyes of my Madeline- I saw the Universe. I saw Infinite Goodness. There was no complexity , no confusion, no doubt- Just the Abiding Ever Present Face of Love. I will never forget you my lady.
Thank you for every single moment you gave me. I will love you forever.
Thank you for every single moment you gave me. I will love you forever.