The day I met Maisie, she was alone in her kennel at the shelter, even though she had a roommate and partner-in-crime named Jerry. But the day I met her, Jerry was being neutered, his adoption pending. I never did get to meet Jerry and sometimes, if I think about it too much, it breaks my heart just a little bit that they were separated. I remember thinking at the time that if Jerry’s adoption fell through, I was going to adopt them both — one for me and one for my husband — but Jerry’s adoption did not fall through.
I don’t know if Jerry was put back in the kennel with her when he returned from his surgery to heal before going to his new home. I wonder if they somehow knew their time together was coming to an end, if there was grief involved in their separation. I wonder if Jerry was scared without her, I wonder if Maisie felt abandoned and forsaken. I do not know if it was as dramatic or traumatic for either dog as it is for me when I think about it. (I’m a storyteller by nature and so I gravitate towards at least a little drama.) I also don’t know if Jerry was a litter mate or her offspring, but they are about the same size and even though Jerry is white and black, they are most likely related. I have heard that Jerry was the sweeter of the two, which also kind of breaks my heart, because I can’t stand the idea of someone not thinking my little Maisie is the sweetest, most lovable, beautiful being on the planet. Barking at strangers and all.
My husband and I have pondered Maisie’s story many times. He has a vivid imagination and is even more of a story-teller than his wife and so he often goes to more dramatic places. “I think she’s seen some heinous shit,” he tells me one day. I don’t know if I agree with him. She adjusted so easily, seems so unfazed about so many things, has far less separation anxiety than Henry did, and just generally seems to be a pretty emotionally grounded creature. She does not seem to be the least bit traumatized by her past. The thing I mostly wonder about is how anyone could have not come looking for her the 17 days she was in the clink. Sometimes I ask him, “Do you think she misses her other family?” He just takes a long look at her, and then looks at me and says, “I don’t know.”
I am writing this post and it is after noon, long past when I typically take Maisie out for exercise. I have been working a good part of the morning, trying without much success to get some creative traction. My brain is getting tired — this is hard work, people — and I start to think I should abandon ship and just take her out. We often head to the dog park sometime after 11, but I’m wondering if we should go for a walk instead. Her late morning dog park buddies have probably come and gone, and while the grey morning clouds have given way to bluer skies and sunshine, the wind is blowing hard and it is cold outside. It is hard to leave the warmth of the wood stove, but I know she needs to run, so we head to the park.
We are the only ones at the park, something about which I have equal amounts of relief and disappointment. I don’t have to worry about a strange dog for whom she might have a few choice words, but she also doesn’t get nearly as much exercise when there is no one to chase her. I am throwing tennis balls for her, which occupies her for only a short while. She is less interested in catching or fetching them and more interested in pouncing on the balls scattered all over the park before I get to them. It’s our little game. She picks one up when I try and grab it, then drops it when I walk away. Her main goal seems to be, simply, to prevent me from getting it first. We run all over the park playing this game and if ever I get the ball first, she barks and barks and barks. It seems like a pointless exercise, but I am laughing while we play and I am happy.
It is while she is barking at me that I hear a man over on the other side of the fence say, “Hey, how old’s your dog?” And I know. I know this is the day I’ve feared since we adopted her. I know this is the day that someone will say, “that’s my dog.” I’m not sure why I know this, but I know instantly that that is what this man really wants to say to me. Perhaps it is because of the unusual question he has asked — not what kind of dog is that, or what’s her name, but how old is she — or perhaps it is because of the way he has appeared suddenly by the fence, nowhere near the entrance to the park. I walk towards the fence. Feigning ignorance and dodging the question, I call out, “I’m sorry. Is her barking bothering you?” I continue walking towards him but I can’t think fast enough to come up with a lie about her age, so I just say I’ve had her for quite a while. I’m a terrible liar and I can feel myself panicking.
And then he says it. He says, “I think she used to be my dog.” Maisie follows me to the fence, doing the little giddy-up gallop that she does when she gets too far from me. He looks at her and says, “Yup, she used to be my dog.” She is not terribly interested in him and starts to wander off, sniffing around on the ground, while I fumble for ways to assert that she is my dog. I ask him if he’s sure, because there are a bunch of dogs in town who look like her (really? where’d I get that one?), but he maintains that he is sure. “She was at the shelter for a long time,” I tell him, and he says they didn’t have the money to get her out.
He goes on to tell me that there were five dogs stolen from their basement by a couple of 11- or 12-year-old neighborhood kids, how they broke in and lured them out with powdered milk, how two of the dogs came back (or were returned, I can’t remember) and they know where one of the others has ended up. I suspect that he is talking about Jerry, because I have heard that Jerry and his adopted mom ran into his former owners. Which is why I have been, in the back of my mind, bracing myself for this day. I try to lie about how long I’ve had her, try and say things that would put a vast time difference between when she went missing and when I adopted her. Finally, though, I give up and just say matter-of-factly, “I’m not willing to let her go.” He is quick to reassure me that he would never ask me to do that.
There’s a bit of an awkward pause in our conversation. I ask vague questions, trying to ask them as nonchalantly as possible, as if I were simply curious, to help me determine the veracity of his claim. When she went missing, what the other dogs looked like. It all seems to add up. He asks me if she likes to swim and I tell him I don’t know. He tells me they named her Diamond, and looking away from him towards her sniffing around in the grass, I quietly say, “Shine on, you crazy diamond.” I look back at him and ask if he knows the song, and he says yes. I tell him we named her Maisie.
We talk a little more, though I only half remember about what. Something about her being a collie-terrier mix, something about her puppies, something about what beautiful dogs they make, something about them gradually adding more terrier to the mix, which is why they are so small and a bit high-strung — I think. In my somewhat agitated state, I am vaguely aware of the opportunity to find out what her real story is, to get answers to some of the questions I was pondering when I began writing this post, but I’m too afraid of admitting that, yes, maybe she had been his dog and that he might be able to tell me something about her. Because I’m too afraid of losing her.
At some point I tell him again that I can’t give her up. He tells me again he’s not asking me to, tells me it looks like she has a good home and a good life. “She does,” I say, and then I add, “I started a blog about her.” He asks me the name, tells me his wife would like to see that. At some point he tells me they have goats and chickens, too, and I imagine Maisie living out in the country, running happily amok with children and other dogs and goats and chickens. And then he reaches his hand over the fence to shake mine; he tells me his name and I tell him mine, tell him it’s nice to meet him, after which he walks away to get in his truck.
I don’t know if he stopped at the business by the dog park and happened to see Maisie or if he happened to see Maisie and so he decided to stop. I watch his truck pull away and then go back and try to play with Maisie. She seems oblivious to what has just transpired, but I am too unsettled to enjoy playing with her. The wind has picked up and I’m getting cold, so I say to her, “Let’s go home.” We walk to the gate, I attach her leash, and we head to the car. She is jumping up and grabbing the leash, but I am too preoccupied to try to get her to stop. We get in and I turn the key in the ignition. I look at her, her hind legs on the back seat, her front paws on the armrest, her ears pitched forward and her eyes looking intently out the window. Bringing my gaze back to the windshield, I say quietly, “Diamond.” She doesn’t respond, so I say it again, this time louder, and then I say it again. She continues to look out the window, ignoring me, and so I say, “Maisie.” And her head turns to look at me. “Never mind,” I say, and I put the car in gear and drive home.
It is a mixture of anxiety and relief that I carry with me throughout the rest of the day. I tell her often how much I love her, hold her in my lap when I am trying to write because she seems particularly needy. A few more times I call her Diamond and she still doesn’t answer. Of course, we have been calling her Maisie for eight months now (eight months to the very day when this happens, actually), so I’m not surprised; but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was also relieved.
Maisie and I take a long walk in the evening, after the sun has set. The wind has died down a little and a full moon is rising up over the prairies to the northeast of our park, its face shining radiantly through a gauzy bridal veil of clouds. As we walk, I let go of my anxiety, but the anxiety gives way to sadness: for the family who lost their dogs, for Maisie who lost her companion and her first family, for the unknown fate of the fifth dog. The man I met in the park seemed okay with things, and I know Maisie is happy here with us, but I still feel an undercurrent of melancholy, because I know how my heart would break if I lost her and didn’t know where she was, didn’t know if she was happy or if she had found a safe place to live, had found people who loved her. I hope this man knows how much his Diamond, my Maisie is loved. How very grateful I am for my crazy, beautiful, always shining diamond, Maisie.
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So dear readers, do you have the good fortune of knowing your animal’s “story” or do you get to have the fun of making it up? Have you wondered about where your rescue got its start in life? I always love hearing from you, so please feel free to use the comment section below.