A tale of love and loss under the sun

There is no way to predict what a day will bring. If there were, perhaps we could shape the effects of time, but such are the risks of those who chose to love and live.

Bill Kelly* woke early that Saturday morning as the sun crested the horizon, its rays reaching in like fingers through his east-facing window.

“Morning Maggie,” he whispered quietly as he stretched his arm to caress the dog who lay pressed against his bedside. “Let’s go get the paper.”

Bill let Maggie out the side door and she trotted down the driveway, returning in moments with the morning news.

“Hey Cathy,” Bill called out to his wife. “It’s another Indian Summer. Let’s take the kids down to the river for a picnic and a hike.”

It was decided, and the usual Saturday morning leisure was surpassed by the general chaos of gathering, feeding and packing, slathering sunblock and herding their three young sons into the minivan.

“Maggie!” their oldest son exclaimed, pointing to the nose poking through the blinds and pressed against the picture window. “We can’t leave her behind. She wants to come.”

Bill and Cathy exchanged glances. It was true: Maggie had always come, but at 11 years old, arthritis had diminished her agility.

“Your call, Bill,” Cathy said. “It’s going to be a hot day.”

Sensing their parents’ waffling, the two older boys leapt into action.

“I’ll get her,” Joey said, leaping from the car.

“We’ll need to bring water and keep her in the shade,” Cathy shouted from the open window.

“I’ll grab her water dish, mom,” Rudy said as he followed his brother.

Four-year-old Alex, tightly secured in his five-point-harness car seat, looked up from his Kindle. “Maggie come.”

And come she did, trotting down the walkway, her lips parted wide in a satisfied smile.

With a hearty hoist Joey lifted her rear, and she plopped where she landed, her large, blocky head angled over the center console.

“All in?” Bill shouted out as he turned to make sure the boys had secured their seatbelts. “OK, old girl. Think you can keep up with us?”

Maggie did her best that day, though she and Bill took more breaks as the kids raced ahead on the stone and rooted pathway.

“You taught them to walk, remember girl,” Bill cooed as he sat with his beloved dog under the shade of a large, knotted pine tree. At lunch Maggie fetched just a few sticks before stretching out on her favorite flat rock. The heat emanating from above and below lulled her into a dream state, her paws twitching as she no doubt revisited her earliest puppyhood with her littermates, then on to adolescent squirrel-chasing, and finally to memories of running alongside her boys as they scootered and cycled away from their parents. Even the hand that reached to interrupt her sun-baked slumber was folded into a dream of caresses that were never-ending.

“Come on, old girl, it’s time to go home.”

Before driving off, Bill did his final head count.

“Where’s Maggie?” he questioned.

“She’s with me,” Rudy called from the back seat. “She’s pooped.”

Arriving home minutes before 4 p.m., Rudy jumped from the car to meet his friend, as Bill lifted the sleeping Alex over his shoulder.

“Mom, I’m starving. Can you make me a snack,” Joey shouted as he dragged the towels up the pathway. Cathy’s phone rang. Her mom would be over in a half hour to help with dinner. Distracted, Cathy bumped the car door closed with her torso and hurried in to use the bathroom. That simple gesture would haunt her for years afterward.

How much time elapsed before they missed their Maggie’s presence? Not much. Where was she?

Maggie had been left in the car. And when Bill raced out to get her, she had already suffocated. She was gone.

Accidents … do … happen. No fault. No intention. I knew Maggie. She was the Kellys’ first baby, their fur-child, and they had brought her to my puppy school. I’d follow them through the years, periodically visiting their home to welcome the birth of a child or to help Maggie gain impulse control as the boys became more mobile. The news of her death chilled me. How often have I worried about my own dogs, who routinely hop into the car in hope of a new adventure, and my children, who often leave the car ajar? I obsessively warn my clients of the hazards of dogs and heat. Dogs cannot perspire to cool their body temperatures. They overheat quickly and need water to avoid rapid dehydration. An automobile heats like an oven, even with opened windows in temperatures above 65 degrees.

Please be careful with your pets this season.

*Note: The names of the family and dog have been changed to protect their privacy.


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