The kids and their canine cousin

By  Lisa Petsche
  • October 29, 2006

My sister, Cecile, and her husband, Philip, who live in Florida, recently spent two weeks visiting in our area.

Usually they fly up for their annual visit, but this time they decided to drive so they could bring along Maggie, their big, beautiful golden retriever.

It was Maggie who transformed my canine-fearing kids into dog lovers several years ago, during our first-time visit to Florida. Actually, they were starting to warm up to the idea of her prior to that. During a couple of solo visits I had made, Cecile had purchased and sent back with me some gifts for them “from Maggie.” All three youngsters were quite impressed that their canine cousin cared so much about them — and knew just what they’d like, too.)

Once they got over her size (a vigourous wag of her tail could knock them over), they loved to be around “Mags,” stroking her and giving her hugs. They would argue over whose turn it was to groom her, throw her toys in the pool, hold the leash during her walk or give her a treat.

The kids were intrigued by Maggie’s human qualities and amazed at her good behaviour. An obedience school graduate, she knows to stay out of the kitchen when food is being prepared, to refrain from entering the pool until given permission to take a dip and to remain outside until someone dries her off. And she loves riding in a golf cart.

Since we don’t see her very often, the kids were ecstatic about her visit. The highlight was the evening Cecile, Philip and Maggie came over to our place for dinner, the night before they were to leave.

It was strange to see Maggie bound into our house and excitedly go from room to room, checking things out. We’d never had a dog in our home before. But it was more than that. Somehow Maggie seemed bigger than ever — almost larger than life. We quickly figured out why.

Her home in Florida is an open-concept style: big and bright, with high ceilings and wide doorways. In that environment, Maggie didn’t seem to take up nearly as much space as in our traditional, closed-concept home with modest-sized rooms. The poor creature could barely turn around in our son’s compact bedroom — formerly the nursery — and when she finally lay down on the kitchen floor, everyone had to take a giant step over her.

Even stranger, though, was when we descended to the basement family room after dinner and Maggie refused to follow. She went as far as the top of the steps, then settled there, seemingly oblivious to the kids’ pleas for her to come down and join them.

My sister quickly explained Maggie’s unusual behaviour. She wasn't being anti-social — she just wasn’t accustomed to doing stairs. Not only is their home in Florida a basement-less bungalow, but so are the homes of all their neighbours, friends and relatives down there.

At 70 years old (in human life terms) and with an arthritic hip, Maggie was not about to change her lifestyle — at least not when faced with a whole storey’s worth of stairs. Three or four might have been different. (She had to do stairs at my parents’ two-storey house, where she was staying, but they have landings between each level.) Our basement staircase must have seemed formidable to her, being relatively narrow and steep, with 11 steps. Or maybe she’d just had enough of stairs after two weeks of negotiating them almost everywhere she went.

And so the kids came back up and took Maggie for a walk around the neighbourhood instead. Afterwards they enthusiastically fed her treats. Being the only dog in our extended family, Maggie was showered during her stay with such doggy delicacies as Pup-Peroni and Snausages in a Blanket.

All too soon we had to say goodbye, as Cecile and Philip were planning to head out on the road early the next morning. The kids were sad about parting with Maggie and thought she looked mournful, too. Still, I’ll bet she’s happy to be home now, living life on the level once more.

(Petsche is a Contributing Editor to the The Catholic Register.)

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