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BEACON Senior News

A woof and a Christmas wish

Nov 22, 2023 11:12AM ● By Rhonda Wray

I’ve given hundreds of gifts by now, but one stands out as an extraordinarily good choice. My children had long wheedled and pleaded for a dog. Eventually they wore me down, and pre-Christmas 2005 involved searching for a good family pet. My only stipulation was it had to be a westie. 

As a child, I’d select the D volume of our Collier’s Encyclopedia set and look up the section with color photos of most breeds. The West Highland white terrier won my heart. They’re the ones on the Cesar dog food labels and in the McDuff children’s books. I dreamed of owning one someday. In the early 1970s, I knew nothing about rescue dogs or mixed breeds—just that I was smitten by those cheery little guys.

Our puppy was born on a Nebraska farm, and a coworker’s daughter returning from college delivered her. The timing didn’t perfectly line up with Christmas, so we kept her a secret for a few days. 

One night my 6-year-old insomniac crept upstairs. When I heard his footsteps, I quickly threw a blanket over that two-month-old ball of fluff. She never protested, and he didn’t suspect a thing. 

When the big day came, I scooped her up and put her in a brightly wrapped box (with air holes, of course). 

“Okay, guys, this is for all of you,” I said. 

Like a jack-in-the-box, the lid came off and a furry face with inquisitive eyes popped out! They squealed with delight. They were 11, 8, 6 and 3 then. 

Maggie had soulful brown eyes, a round face, perky triangle ears and a carrot-shaped tail, with a coat as white as the Christmas snow dusting the ground. 

“You have a terrible guard dog,” visitors would say. Maggie never barked at knocking, the doorbell or guests. She loved surveying her kingdom from the back of the couch or the top of the backyard play structure. She’d scrunch down, wag her tail and fix us with a hopeful gaze when she wanted to play. She was sweet, calm (except when squirrels were involved) and endearingly, a bit awkward. 

She was a little escape artist. A hole in the fence meant she’d take herself on adventures. But she was microchipped, with a toll-free number on her tag where we and others could report her lost or found.

I thought that with her life expectancy and any luck, we’d have her until even the youngest reached adulthood. The years passed, and it worked out that way. When she was about 14, though, she began to slow down. 

“Whenever you leave, Maggie curls up on the rug by the door and just stays there until you come back,” my son said. 

Her naps increased. Cataracts clouded her eyes. Most troubling were multiplying skin growths. When she reached 15, it was time to ensure she wouldn’t just endure pain-filled days.

The vet arrived and explained exactly what would happen. We all watched her curl up like a comma one last time on the deck and cried more than we thought we would. 

My granddaughter was not quite three when I told her Maggie died. In the pure-hearted way of children, she gave me a hug, handed me her favorite blanket and said, “I’m sorry, Grammar.” 

Maggie’s twinkly chocolate eyes greet me whenever I pick up my phone. I still melt when I see a westie jauntily walking his owner, carrot tail up and ears in the radar position. I’m reminded of Christmas, children, a surprise and a four-legged family member who grew up with us and still has our hearts.