I’ve spent the past week trying to write a beautiful tribute to an amazing dog. This has proven to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. How do you sum up an almost 12 year love affair in one epic story? I’m not sure it’s not possible, but I will surely try. Ever since I bonded with a tiny spotted puppy, I dreaded the day that I would have to say goodbye to her. That day has come and gone and it is no surprise that Chez Dalinois is utterly heartbroken.
That time I became a dog person
I remember when ÜH first told me he wanted a dog. I might have gaped at him with an incredulous look on my face. I was a cat person. In fact, I had a mild fear of dogs. (Around about the time I was 8 years old I had the unfortunate experience of being airborne at the end of the leash of a quite large, over exuberant yellow lab while he chased a neighborhood cat. It wasn’t an experience hat an 8 year old cat-lover really ever gets over.) But, I smiled and said, “Sure! Let’s get a dog!” I’m certain my parents thought I’d completely lost my marbles when I told them we were getting a dog. They probably even tried to talk me out of it. But we were steadfast in our resolve.
We (*cough*I*cough*) researched breeds and the top two that in contention for our perfect puppy were German Shorthaired Pointers and Dalmatians. Both seemed active and engaged and just right for a couple who wanted to hike and bike and take on the world. I called a few GSP breeders. They immediately shut me down. First-time dog owner… yadda yadda yadda… they said that I had no business with a GSP. After that warm welcome we moved on to Dalmatian breeders. No one in our area was breeding at that time. But, we located a nice person in Colorado who had a litter coming up shortly. We picked out our perfect dog. Her name was going to be Bella and things were going to be wonderful!! And the breeder even arranged to keep her longer than normal because we had an epic trip planned to Africa. When we got home, we were going to be DOG OWNERS! Except that when we got home, we got a call from the breeder…. “I’m so sorry, but I cannot in good faith sell you this dog as a first-time dog owner. She’s too much to handle. But don’t worry! I have another litter coming up in a month or so and I’ll send you the pick of the pet-quality dogs!!”
And so, that’s how we got to be the pet-parents of our first dog. Completely sight unseen, we were sent the “yellow ribbon girl.” It was a nerve wracking day when we went to pick her up from the cargo area at Dulles. We had been told that the airline shipping policy was that if the temperature at the ORIGINATION location went above 75 at any time they’d ship her BACK (regardless of what the temp was at Dulles). It was late July. We were terrified that she’d arrive and then make a big U-turn back to Colorado. As luck would have it, Colorado would remain balmy that day and we met a tiny, rumply spotted pup who was the most adorable thing that you’d ever seen!! And she instantly became Magnolia.
The little quiet puppy that we picked up at the airport showed her true colors shortly after. A force to be reckoned with she was a ball of energy who could squeak a squeaky toy ON YOUR LEG for 30 minutes straight. Her favorite game was to steal toys and play keep-away so that you would chase her (a game that, apparently, my mother inadvertently taught her – thanks, Mom). I assure you, if this pup had been kept an extra three weeks like our first choice, the breeders might just have laughed in our faces when we said we wanted her. Magnolia was no first-time dog owner dog. But we persisted. I love a good challenge, and that’s exactly what Magnolia was determined to give me.
My little mischief maker
Magnolia taught me patience, oh the patience!! And she taught me that turning a blind eye for even just a second could result in the loss of an uncooked pretzel. In her own way, she gave us the biggest gift that we could ever ask for: all the preparation necessary to raise our very own infant (which could be coming any day now)!! If counter-surfing was an olympic sport, Magnolia would have won unmatched. No gingerbread or gluten free cupcakes were safe unless stowed/stashed/hidden in a cupboard or microwave! And despite the mess that she made ripping up the tinfoil, it was too hard to be mad at her when we discovered the aftermath; she was just too darn cute about it. There was also that one time that she made me eat crow because as it turns out she was both stealthy enough and small enough to fit through a cat door and eat all the cat food.
Despite the fact that she could flawlessly complete every exercise for a Companion Dog (CD) title, she never once wanted to actually perform in public. When she was very young we all but gave up on two UKC dog obedience trials when she thought doing victory laps after her “stand for exam” was more important and also when she jumped ring gating to say hello to her very special Aussie friend, Bravo. But really… we don’t need no stinkin titles to tell us that Magnolia was some kind of special!
Becoming the Spotted Wonder Dog…
I could tell you that Magnolia was the Spotted Wonder Dog from the beginning. I could tell you that she was a flyball genius, a dog who never made mistakes, and who was brilliant from the beginning. But really, that wouldn’t be a very good story. It also wouldn’t be the truth!
One day, after having to sheepishly apologize for some crazy antic that she had done at doggie daycare, the owner mentioned to me that we might want to try to find an outlet for all of her endless energy. She recommended we look into flyball; a woman, Rhonda, (who would become not only Maggie’s dog trainer, but a very good friend) that worked at the day care happened to be part of a team who was hosting a tournament that very weekend – we should go check it out. The moment we walked into that building the following Saturday I knew that’s what Magnolia was destined for. She had to run flyball.
In the beginning we weren’t sure that flyball would ever actually happen for us. There were so many times that I went home crying, wondering why I even bothered. It wasn’t that she was stupid or that she didn’t want to learn. It was more that her verve for living out-shadowed everything else. I mean… why go get a silly tennis ball and bring it back when there are HAMBURGERS?!? And to that I am of course referring to the Great North Carolina Hamburger Incident where she crossed FOUR LANES of actual racing to run out of the building and attempt a not so stealthy act of picking a purloined patty off of a grill outside.
But we continued training and eventually the lightbulb just went on. And by lightbulb I mean that she realized that flyball was more than just a tennis ball game (cause really, she could care less about the balls), flyball was a CHASE game. And she was determined to win!!!
Magnolia would go on to earn her Flyball Grand Champion 40K (FGDCh40K) title, be the 4th North American ranked Dalmatian in the North American Flyball Association (NAFA), be selected for Fur Fun’s Dream Team at the Coconut Classic after beating canine colon cancer, and be the 1st Dalmatian to have her ONYX title recognized by the AKC. She helped many a green dog learn the art of passing and the finesse of team racing on Beltway Bandits. Calling her the Spotted Wonder Dog sounds a bit like an understatement right now.
A steward for her breed
But Magnolia wasn’t just about flyball. She was my Renaissance Dog. It was a common joke that she should wear a sandwich board that said “Don’t Buy A Dalmatian Because of Me.” This is not to say that Dals in general aren’t as awesome, well-tempered, and wonderful as Magnolia… but she was certainly the exception to the rule most of the time. She went everywhere with us and was normally well-mannered and calm. We’ll not talk about the one time that she stole a 3-year-old’s hotdog right out of the bun while no one was looking….
Nearly every December the family would make the trek down to Williamsburg for William & Mary’s annual Yule Log celebration. Magnolia loved walking Duke of Gloucester Street and meeting all the tourists. She was a ham for photos and appears in so many stranger’s holiday pictures! We got used to hearing random strangers call out, “Look! There’s Magnolia!!” (I still to this day don’t know how word got around who she was!!!) She would regale crowds with her many tricks, her favorite “stick out your tongue”. And everyone would comment on how beautiful and unique she was. Sure, she might not have been open-marked enough to wow any judges in the show ring, but no one can argue that she wasn’t a looker!!
Magnolia “had it” when it came to dog language. She could diffuse a bad situation (a potential dog fight even) into a tea party. She made friends with the friendless, and just generally was joyful. Magnolia loved life and was completely full with it. She had a special french fry song that she would sing and her eyes would roll back in bliss when you shared a summer peach with her. In typical Dal fashion she would greet her favorite people with a smarl, and if you were really lucky you might even get a body slam. Magnolia’s kryptonite in the car was a chromed-out motorcycle and she would bark and “chase” them until they passed by. She loved sunbathing in the summer and was the world’s greatest con-artist when it came to getting in the bed an hogging all the covers. Her vitality was what made her sparkle. It’s so hard for me to capture every aspect of her personality in one biography. Magnolia was the epitome of grace and style. She was known and loved by many.
It’s not really good-bye
Just after the sun set on May 16th, 2016, Magnolia crossed over the rainbow bridge; 13 days shy of her 12th birthday. We spent the day loving on her and doing things she loved. The stillness and silence in the house without her is deafening, and it will take a long time for the grief to subside. Even though we are devastated that our Spotted Wonder Dog has left us, we know that it’s just temporary. She’ll be waiting for us at the bridge when it’s our time to go… with a mischievous grin on her face, begging a game of chase. Over the rainbow bridge there’s an endless supply of french fries (without worry of losing one’s girlish figure, of course), butterflies to chase, the flyball lanes are always straight and the racing is fast, fair, and furious, and best of all youth is forever.