Our foster puppy Maggie on our bed

When We Got Maggie She Was At Death’s Door

I’ve been fostering puppies for years, but I never had one like Maggie. I met her when she was nearly lifeless. In the lobby of the Atlanta Humane Society, I saw a vet tech turn the corner with a bag of bones dangling from her arms. It looked like a burn victim, red and blistered. She asked me if I would take it and I said yes. Turns out she was a five-month-old, eleven-pound mess named Maggie. Someone found her on the side of the road and dropped off her at the Atlanta Humane Society right after Thanksgiving. She was nearly starved to death with several serious skin problems and barely any hair.

She needed a checkup so I returned the next morning to bring her home. Along with Maggie came medicine, a pink crate, a gate, food, blankets, bowls, toys, dog coats and more. She had no flesh, just skin on a skeleton, so we wrapped her like a mummy and gently set her in a fleece-lined bed. It was like bringing a baby home from the hospital. It took me three trips to empty the car.

Maggie went right to sleep in her crate covered head to toe above and below with fresh blankets. When she woke, she groaned from pain and exhaustion, quiet inhales followed by low rumbles. It sounded cute until you remembered why she was doing it. Outside she would walk in a straight line, tip over, get up and try again. She did a little drunk weaving too. Still, she was eating. And she got her puppy on in the evening, sniffing her way through the house and climbing over and into things. She peed and pooped constantly just like a regular puppy.

The second night Maggie was with us my son and daughter were home. We all sat in the living room and admired her. Like parents of a newborn baby, we noted all her unique qualities and imagined what she might look like when her hair grew back. Our dogs gave her their first sniffs while she sat in my lap. I told them how good they were for not eating her. We were expecting Maggie to live with us for a month or two, until she had a gleaming coat and a few manners. We never imagined her dying.

On the third day Maggie collapsed like a string puppet when I took her out of her crate. I panicked, called the Atlanta Humane Society, and got in the car with my friend Diana to drive her down. Diana’s job was to hold Maggie in her lap and check her breathing. We talked and talked to her. When we arrived three veterinary technicians and the foster care coordinator were waiting for us with a room set up to administer emergency care, every tool in place. One of the vet techs looked at Maggie’s gums and said she was crashing. They went to work in tandem, moving quickly and deliberately with a quiet confidence that was reassuring.

One tech put a heating pad on her stomach and tried to take her temperature. It was too low to register. Another tech gave her tiny injections all over her body. One tech force-fed her glucose with a syringe while another grabbed some high protein dog food and watered it down. The third tech did blood and fecal tests that came back with good results. They checked every fold of her tiny mass, looking for additional clues. The glucose revived Maggie but they still couldn’t register a temperature. A veterinarian joined us. She put a stethoscope on Maggie’s tiny red chest and told us her lungs were congested. Then they took her away for oxygen.

Maggie had continuous care at the Atlanta Humane Society for over a week with some hair-raising ups and downs, but she also had sweet lunch dates with staff members who shared their food. And she had sleepovers at their homes so someone could keep an eye on her through the night.

We brought Maggie home yesterday afternoon with only two bags of supplies this time. She’s a different dog. She can walk a straight line without toppling over and eat like a pig. She is absolutely delighted to meet people, and she’s a devote face licker. She’s also quite willing to take a bath with you and have an oatmeal shampoo massage.

Maggie’s lounging beside me in her big pink crate right now, cleaning her nails and chewing the edge of her undershirt. I love her raggedy nails, her hairless body, her little black eyes, and her sweet nature. I love her. Several people are interested in adopting her. It’s possible she’ll have a new home next week. In the meantime, she’s our baby.