This past month, my family and I said goodbye to our cherished, dog Maverick. He was 19-years old and frolicked into our lives before our children. My girls knew him their entire lives. The unconditional love he shared brought us unquantifiable joy every day. His passing left a hole in our hearts and a physical void in our home. The loss of a pet is incredibly painful and end-of-life decisions equally so. There are no right or wrong answers and no correct way in which to grieve. Even though a few weeks have passed, my children, husband, other dogs, and I continue to process his absence. One way we find ourselves coping is through sharing memories about Maverick with one another.
Our oldest child is seventeen, so only my husband and I knew him as a puppy. We had no intentions of acquiring a third dog. We were poor newlyweds living in Georgia while he attended veterinary school. One of his classmates found a puppy abandoned on the side of the road. She was going out of town for the weekend and asked if he would be willing to take care of him while she was gone. Without consulting me, he agreed. I vividly remember that day. My husband sheepishly walked into the house carrying this tiny, black puppy with droopy ears and speckles of white and brown on his chest and paws. His sweet, little eyes looked sleepily into mine; and instantly the word “No” disappeared from my vocabulary. We carefully introduced him to our two other dogs, and he was running around with them in the backyard in no time. When his classmate returned on Monday, she was relieved to learn that the puppy fit right in with our crew. She already owned two dogs, was single, and secretly hoped that his temporary stay would turn into a permanent home. Similar to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys, I’ve come to accept that those in the veterinary community commonly acquire castaway pets for their own. It’s an occupational hazard, so to speak. We have big hearts, and although unrealistic, we would take in every stray and injured animal possible.
Like all puppies, this little guy was full of energy and constantly getting in trouble. One of the first nights, we had him we popped in a VHS tape of Top Gun. After the first tower-flyby -“Damn-it-Maverick” scene, we knew. We had our very own little Maverick. He grew bigger and ran around the yard with his R.I.O., Oscar, our first dog. I shared with the girls that my husband and I would curl up on our futon to watch “Jag” – another military show. I would prop Maverick up on his little hind legs while sitting on my lap and have him “conduct” a make-believe orchestra during the theme song. In the end, he would “salute” the pretend audience. He was such a good dog. He tolerated my goofy shenanigans and would then collapse into my lap and fall deep asleep.
Although 19 years was a very long time, it doesn’t feel long enough. Maverick loved, protected, consoled and brought happiness into our lives. He even saved us from a burglar that attempted to break into our home when my husband was an intern at Penn State. He was a hero. We will forever miss him, but we find comfort in sharing his memory and believing that he reunited with his R.I.O. - Oscar and wingman - Bella over the Rainbow Bridge.