Super Bowl Sunday wasn’t the most “super” of days on this end.  In fact it was just about the worst day that I’ve ever known.  In so many ways I’ve been fortunate beyond my means in life.  I’ve experienced very little personal loss and have been fortunate to be blessed with a wonderful family and collection of friends, a wife who means more to me than I ever could have imagined, and a beautiful daughter who was put on this earth to fill me with happiness and pride.  I’ve been successful in school and employment, love and devotion, health & well-being.  I truly could not ask for more.  This past Sunday the foundation of my universe was shaken as I had to admit to my life’s greatest failure and I had to part ways with the most loyal friend that I may ever know.

I’ve referenced my dog in this space before.  Referring to her in generic terms such as “The Dog” or “my trusty companion” she’s been a part of my life for the past five and a half years, well before was a figment of my imagination.  Today I feel it only right that I pay her the respect she is due and address her by her proper name, Maddi.

Maddi was a rescue dog.  The Wife and I picked her from a crowded field of candidates at a popular Chicago shelter one October day in 2008, back when we were just beginning to think of our long term plans together and the term “family” was more a concept than a tangible thing.  I’ll never forget seeing her for the first time, a timid Sheppard/Lab mix in her very own princess-themed room.  She was 40lbs of big eyes and oversized paws.  Surely the orange sticker on her folder denoting her energetic nature had to be mislabeled as the sweet creature who greeted us was nothing but a gentle wallflower who blossomed just for us.  Little did we know the extent that her bought of kennel cough at the time played in masking the true nature of the newest member of our clan.

We never learned the full story behind what brought Maddi to the shelter before we arrived, but we were told that she had originally arrived courtesy of Chicago’s animal services who had likely found her on the street abandoned somewhere.  We also were told that she had been taken home by a family before us and she was returned within the allowed two week grace period as apparently she was not a good fit for what they had in mind.  We welcomed her with open arms despite her checkered past, as being only seven months old at the time it seemed as though all she needed was a warm and welcome environment to call her own.

Once in our home and after we had worked through the medicine intended to cure her cough, we got to meet the dog who earned the aforementioned orange sticker.  Her energy and athleticism was more than we had bargained for and our lives quickly adapted to meeting her needs as best we could.  To my routine was quickly introduced a mile & a half run each morning upon waking, and The Wife learned to navigate the local parks and streets in incorporating regular afternoon walks.  Maddi brought a level of activity to our lives that we’re better for today.

As I’m sure is often the case with new animal owners, Maddi became our first child as our marriage was just getting underway.  We planned around her schedule when we traveled and when we went out at night.  She’s what we spoke about when at dinner after ordering our main course.  She taught us a level of responsibility we’d never known and how to put another’s needs in front of our own wants.

While we grew as people Maddi continued to grow in her own right as well.  She filled out to a full 70lbs and gained levels of athleticism few had ever seen.  In her time with us she’s escaped from no fewer than four doggie day care centers by clearing their 6’+ fences, sometimes jumping the majority of the way up the fence on her own and then pulling herself up the rest of the way like a competitor from the American Ninja Warrior obstacle course.  She is the fastest and strongest dog I’ve ever known but she also possesses the kindest heart within.

As mentioned before she was our baby and relished the role to no end.  Whether it was her life on the street and an assumed lack of bonding at an early age with her mother I cannot say, but Maddi was constantly in need of attention and affection.  She needed to be making physical contact as often as she could, resulting in her spending time on the couch with us during primetime and sharing a bed at night.  We tried crating her for the first three full years but it never became the personal space haven for her in the way that it does for so many other dogs.  Time in the crate meant being separated from us and she went to great lengths to let her displeasure known.  The crating experiment ended two years ago as we came home to a scene from Jurassic Park as metal bars were splayed in every direction and poor Maddi was found bleeding in the corner of the family room.

The anxiety within her never dissipated unfortunately.  As people would come and go from our house the endless hours of obedience and agility training we poured into her would all go out the window as she would get worked up beyond any reasonable level of self-control.  She would jump on everyone who came through our front door, inadvertently knocking down the elderly and children on occasion through no nefarious intent.  In fact one of my first memories of Maddi was in taking her to Wiggley Field at Lincoln & Sheffield where she jumped on a woman with a prosthetic leg, knocking her over and spilling her Starbucks all over her jacket in the process.  Perhaps the writing was on the wall from the outset.

We sunk countless hours and dollars in classes of all kinds to focus her attention and behavior into something more constructive but in the end it all proved for naught.  She was unable to control herself during these moments of panic & change.  She experience similar fits of distress when The Wife would step into the shower for whatever reason, so when I would be traveling for work my pregnant wife would need to lure the dog into the bathroom by leash and keep her in sight just to ease her stress, as the alternative would result in Maddi clawing at the back down in a panicked rage to escape as soon as the shower head was turned on.

As we look ahead to an incredible calendar year of change for our family – where in the span of the next six months we’ll be selling out home, building another, moving in with in-laws and welcoming a new daughter to our tribe – making accommodations for Maddi became all but impossible.  As described above, she and change are not particularly compatible entities and unfortunately change is going to be the constant theme for the rest of this calendar year for us.  It’s not fair to her to put here through three or more moves; it’s not fair to our generous hosts who will take our family in during our nomadic travels; and it’s certainly not fair to The Wife to ask her to balance a toddler, the final trimester of pregnancy, and a 70lb ball of anxiety that has proved to be the biggest baby of the group.  After months of discussing our options the decision was finally made that moving on with a fresh start would be in the best interest of all parties.

After making some phone calls and sending emails to friends and family who may have interest we were unable to find a new home for Maddi on our own.  They all knew too many of her stories.  Everyone expressed their greatest sympathies but also were unable to open their doors.  I don’t blame them.  Maddi had burned bridges during visits to the houses of various acquaintances over the years and no one was willing to take on the headaches that come with her for any extended period of time.  After making another round of phone calls last week, on Sunday morning I made the long drive back to the shelter where were originally embraced her with open arms.  The tears streamed down my face like raindrops on a windshield.

In many ways Maddi was a bad dog.  But she was our bad dog if that makes sense.  There’s a line at the end of the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love where Steve Carrell is speaking at his son’s graduation and in reference to his estranged wife he says, “I love her, even when I hate her – you married folks will understand that.”  I think of that line when I think of Maddi.  In spite of everything written above she was my best friend.  She greeted me when I walked through the door with the same enthusiasm whether I came home from a week long business trip or after running a quick errand.  She stuck by my side when outdoors so closely that she didn’t need a leash or a fence.  Her love was unconditional and her intent was never malicious.  When we brought my daughter home from the hospital for the first time nearly two years ago, Maddi immediately took her under her protective wing as well.  We have countless pictures of Maddi perched in a position to watch over the crib or bouncer as The Wee One slept.  The two of them quickly learned to work together to form quite a little team at the dinner table as well.  It kills me today when my daughter drops her mac & cheese off the tray of her high chair and calls for “Maddi-Pup” to clean up the mess.

Maddi was everything I was looking for in a dog but it came to the point where her bad qualities out-weighed the good.  Her love and loyalty were unparalleled but they eventually were undone by her penchant for mischief and her bouts of anxiety.  Not with a two year old and an infant in tow.  It just wasn’t a chance we were able to take.

In many ways my inability to “fix” her issues and moderate her behavior is my biggest failure in life.  I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about all the hours of television I watched or time I’d spent writing these posts that could have been better invested in working with her on additional obedience training.  I can’t help but think there’s more that I could have done to better assimilate her to our family and our societal norms.  Maybe I’m wrong and there’s nothing I could have done differently, but in my heart of hearts I don’t  know that I believe that.  Someday Maddi is going to be the old dog who sits on a porch and watches the world roll by that I’d always hoped she’d become.  Unfortunately she’s going to be someone else’s dog when that day arrives.

I loved Maddi and will continue to do so for as long as I live.  I can’t imagine a day going by where I won’t think of the good times we shared or wonder how the rest of her story played out.  I have the utmost confidence that the shelter will find her a new home but in my eyes it will never be good enough because it’s not my own.   We’ll get another dog someday, once the dust of 2014 settles, but the void in my heart left by the sense that I gave up on the first dog that I truly owned – and was solely responsible for – may never be properly filled.  I want my daughters to believe that if they’re good people and they work hard for a noble cause their efforts will be rewarded.  Maybe it doesn’t always happen that way, no matter how hard you wish it to be true.  I guess that’s a lesson that I had still yet to learn even as I approach my thirty-third year on Earth.  My only hope is that my daughters never have to be faced with this realization at all.