Heavy Petting

Heavy Petting: An Obituary for the Worst Dog Ever

Saying farewell to Madeline, the dog who ruined me forever for well-behaved dogs

(Anson Stevens-Bollen)

On Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, we said a final farewell to our oldest dog, Madeline. She was a 14-pound dachshund I adopted as a puppy from San Diego Humane in 2004. From the very first day we brought her home, she proved to be the absolute worst dog ever. In reflecting on the last 18 years dealing with her unique brand of misbehavior, I’m struck with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the chaotic crazy she brought to my life.

I vividly remember the day I adopted her. We were walking through the shelter, and the only thing we knew at the time was that we wanted to give a good home to a dog in need. We didn’t have any size, breed or age requirements. I was completely open to whatever type of dog “felt right” for us.

When I happened upon Maddie’s kennel, I almost passed her by. She was curled up in the back of the kennel in the shadows, just trembling with fear. At the front of the kennel, attempting to murder me, was her mother—an overtly aggressive and angry-for-no-reason miniature dachshund (which in hindsight, should have been a red flag). I took one look at Maddie, and said, “That’s her. She’s perfect.”

She wasn’t perfect.

Jack adopted Maddie as puppy in 2004. (Courtesy Jack Hagerman)

Shortly after we adopted her, we had to go out of town for a work trip. I asked my dad to house sit and take care of her while we were gone. I left him a key and he let himself in shortly after we left for the airport. When he arrived, Maddie greeted him with an ear piercing bark and absolutely refused to let him get even remotely close to her. She barked at him nonstop for the next four days until we got back, biting him twice and sending him to urgent care. It was then we learned Maddie was not down with the patriarchy.

Not long after that, we discovered that it wasn’t just elderly white men she didn’t care for. In fact, she didn’t care for just about anyone except me. She loved me and was content to be by my side at all times. That would have been cute, except she really saw herself as my bodyguard and would bark, growl and snap at anyone who attempted to come near me. You can imagine how complicated it was to host a dinner party.

Once I started working in animal welfare, I brought her with me to work every day. The first day I brought her to work, she bit my boss. In fairness to Maddie, my boss totally deserved it. Then a couple years later, she bit my new boss, too. It was then I came to understand Maddie had an issue with authority figures.

About a year ago, she decided sleeping through the night was boring—opting to wake us up a few times a night just for funsies. We haven’t slept since.

You’re probably wondering at this point why I’m painting such a negative picture of my time with my baby girl. To me though, I can’t properly celebrate the beautiful life she had unless I’m being completely honest about the reality of it. The reality of Miss Madeline is that she was an opinionated, aggressive, fearful, nightmare of a dog in so many ways. But there was another side to her that made up for all of that.

The truth is, I got to see a lot of beautiful sides to Madeline. When I signed up to be her caretaker and companion, I made that commitment wholeheartedly despite her many unknowing attempts to make me regret it. I never regretted it though. Not for one second.

Why? Because she taught me some important life lessons that a well-behaved dog never could have. Here are a few:

Patience. With every boundary she pushed, I was pushed to be more tolerant, compassionate and fair-minded.

Forgiveness. Every time she barked at a stranger, or took a bite out of my employer’s ankle, I forgave her. I forgave her for something every single day, and at some point, it occurred to me that if I could so easily forgive Maddie for whatever wacky thing she did that day, then I could forgive people for the things they do or say that hurt me as well, with the same ease and compassion.

Resilience. I joke a lot about how “awful” she was, but the truth is, she was a deeply shy, fearful dog by nature. So many things scared her on a daily basis. But she never let her fear stop her from reveling in the happy moments, playing with her favorite toy, or leaning into zoomies in the backyard. When she felt safe, she was the happiest dog on earth—and her enthusiasm was infectious.

Now, in her death, I’ve learned another lesson about life. It’s short. It’s scary. But it can be beautifully rich when you are open to the unconditional love of an animal companion…especially the ones who refuse to behave.

Rest in power, my precious little demon.

Jack Hagerman is the CEO of Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society.

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