“I’ll stay 'til the wind changes.” ~ Mary Poppins
Last Saturday night, we felt the wind change. Out of nowhere and from nothing our beautiful and loving and joyful Maude suddenly left us. In her wake is a cyclone of anguish and helplessness.
The wind that brought her to us nine years ago blew up from the south. Hurricane Katrina. Amidst its mayhem and destruction, it swept up a terrified three month old puppy in Louisiana and dropped her into the PAWS clinic on the south side of Chicago.
Which is where we met her. Huddled and catatonically afraid in a small crate, surrounded by the organized chaos of 300 other animals that were being rescued by PAWS that late summer from the devastation around New Orleans.
We had sold our business three months earlier and spent the final days of August watching in horror as civilization collapsed in real time on live television. Finding PAWS gave us a way to help and started a relationship that endures to this day. Over time, it was a relationship that has also given us two other dogs, Fred and Summer. But those are stories for years from now - if I have anything to do with it.
Maude stole our hearts in that first moment, and never gave them back. When she left us, much too soon, on Saturday night she took part of them with her forever.
In truth, Maude never fully recovered from the hurricane. Found wandering the streets around New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, the efforts to trap her scarred her for life. Until the last of her days, the arrival of a stranger sent her into a panic, a fear hard-wired so deeply that only a handful of people made it all the way through her defenses.
To gain her trust gave you access to the unbridled joy that defined her when she felt safe. She didn’t run to you, she bounced. She didn’t wag her tail, she thumped it, the sound loud enough to fill a home. And whenever we returned, whether after an hour or a week, her greeting was the same; a clamor for attention then a leap onto the nearest dog bed with a bone while her tail drummed in celebration at the family being made whole again.
Maude had not been in our thoughts during that first rescue weekend. For the decade before Katrina arrived we had been a tightly knit pack of four. Chris and Charles and Harry and Maya. We were a unit and not much inclined to upset the status quo.
But I have learned that the status quo is a fantasy, no matter how much we might wish to freeze our life in certain moments. And now I am drawn to change through conscious choice, for the present is always beyond our control. It is only the future we can seek to influence.
And so, when I came across Maude, wide-eyed with terror as she looked up at me through the bars of that crate, it was instantly obvious that the status quo had just left the building. Chris walked over and stood beside me. “I think she really needs our help,” I said gently. Chris nodded and all of our lives changed forever.
In the first few days at PAWS, Maude was almost rigid with fear. The first signs of life came when I fed her peanut butter from a jar, her little white beard becoming sticky in her attempts to navigate the spoon while keeping as far away from me as possible.
One day she was startled by a sound and leapt off the desk I had been working on and landed with a thud. I scooped her up, terrified I had broken her.
But as the PAWS vet looked her over I felt her lean against me for the first time. It was not yet trust. But it was a building block towards it. And that was good enough for now. Success should rarely be measured by perfection. Success should be measured by progress and then built upon with intent.
The test was whether Harry and Maya would accept her. That night, we brought her home for the first time. From the instant she arrived, Harry became her big brother and Maude his little sister.
A few days later I took this picture.
For Harry, that spot by the front door allowed him to make sure we were protected. For Maude, it was the safest of places from which to explore her curiosity of the world.
As we got to know her we realized that this tension between wanderlust and a yearning for safety, was central to who she was.
In fact, Maude was a walking contradiction of opposing forces. Slowly, we came to understand that for her the cost of overcoming one brought enormous reward in another.
The fear that held her back from every stranger meant that her love, when given, was as precious as any breath.
The car-sickness that gripped her on any trip of more than ten minutes made her joy on the walks or swims that followed a spectacle worthy of Barnum or Bailey or both.
Without obstacles there is no achievement. Without tension no progress is sustainable.
That constant tension made Maude the member of our family that every visitor sought to woo. Hundreds of hours were spent coaxing her towards outstretched hands. But only when backs were turned would she come over and decide if she was ready to let you in.
We are blessed that she spent nine years with us.
That she knew the joy of dog beach in Chicago and the snowy winters in Millbrook.
That her name is forever etched in an adoption room at PAWS.
She was a friend to every dog we came across.
She was a sun worshipper, and a grass roller and a lover of being chased and of tearaway, joy-unlimited puppy crazies.
She was precious.
She was funny
She was extraordinary.
She is gone.
Happy and vibrant last Thursday morning. In emergency surgery Friday night. And after initially seeming to survive, she suddenly collapsed on Saturday evening and died in the car as I raced her back to the ER.
A week before, I had kneeled down to say good night to her, suddenly struck by the privilege it was to have her welcome my attention, to turn her tummy up to my touch, to paw me for more. To be her Dad.
And when my own journey here is done, no matter what else I may accomplish, there will be nothing of which I am so proud but that I earned her trust and warranted her love.
In Maude’s lifetime she said not one word. The definition of speak softly.
But she carried the biggest of sticks. Love. Hard earned and then unrelenting.
She is gone.
She is everywhere.
We will know it is heaven when we see her again.