In February Nanci and I had to say goodbye to our beloved Golden Retriever Maggie, who had been diagnosed with cancer only six weeks earlier.
I have tried to write this blog multiple times, but each time I’ve stopped. It will be long, even though I cut out a lot. I have too much to say.
Nanci’s and my grief has been weighty. The house seems empty without Maggie. Of course, our God and King is with us always. And Nanci and I are here for each other. But we miss the unique and particular ways God showed us His love through Maggie.
Maggie has been a constant companion to us through these three years of Nanci’s cancer. For the past year, due to her reduced lung capacity and strength, and because of the nature of COVID and being at extremely high risk, Nanci has had to stay home 98% of the time. In a strange and beautiful way, Maggie has been our therapy dog and a constant reminder of the presence of God.
Nanci goes to bed early, and I go to bed late, often around 3:00 a.m. (I get some of my best writing done early in the morning when people sleep and no texts and emails come in.) Nanci and I pray together every night when she goes to bed. (Maggie would often jump up and join us for the prayer time!) For years Nanci’s last words of the day to me have been: “Take good care of Maggie.” Nanci gets up four hours after I go to bed. For Maggie it’s the changing of the guard. She jumps on the bed, excitedly welcoming both of us to “the best day EVER”—not a direct quote but that’s exactly what she’s thinking! (I write in the present tense because I can’t make myself do otherwise.) Before Nanci closes the door, and I get my remaining three or four hours of sleep, it’s my turn to always say, “Take good care of Maggie!”
That was the routine, with two daily handoffs of Maggie. Because of our different schedules there were only about four hours a day neither of us was awake, which means Maggie was used to more awake human company than almost any dog. At night Maggie, with her super-thick fur, would sleep with her back against the concrete wall in the basement, in the coldest place. Or she would spread out on the floor with her stomach on the tile in the “boys’ room,” where our grandsons sleep when they stay over.
Maggie first discovers that the downstairs shower is nice and cold!
A Reflection of Her Creator’s Happiness
When I was writing my book Happiness, I often thought that many of the barriers to happiness we humans face never occurred to Maggie. Happiness was her default condition. She was closer to both Eden and the New Earth than any human I’ve ever known, except Jesus. And in that way, she brought Jesus to us every day. When she wasn’t feeling well, still the happiness broke through. Everything we fed her was the best thing she’d ever eaten, and every walk we took her on was the best walk in the history of the world. She could be sick, and her tail would wave furiously when we talked to her or someone came to our house. (God help them if they didn’t love dogs, because Maggie always loved them!)
She was not a confident swimmer, but summer after summer she got in the freezing cold water at Dodge Park to be with me and our grandsons, and when she got out and shook off the water she was SO proud! Then she got right back in again because she had to be near us.
Maggie at one of her and our favorite places, Dodge Park on the Sandy River, where we took her to swim with our grandsons. (I actually snorkel there with the boys, and we watch the fish and the crawdads. Hey, it’s not Maui or Grand Cayman, but it’s still a blast—and once you’re numb you forget how cold it is! Well, almost!)
Young Maggie exhausted from being so happy.
Maggie learning how to take a walk with Nanci.
Maggie softly nibbling my ear just over nine years ago!
Grandson Jake is now nearly 17 but Maggie was more of a match for him when he was 7!
Taking a break with an Air Bud movie on pause.
Maggie loved all our grandsons and insisted on getting in the photo!
Maggie making sure we didn’t leave without her!
Maggie always loved a good stuffed animal. And usually she allowed them to remain stuffed!
Here’s a four-second video of Maggie’s reaction every time we asked her, “Do you want to take a walk?” She would keep turning circles, so excited that we had to catch and hold her just to get the leash on.
Maggie settling in after running around in the yard with one of her best and much younger friends, Bo Keels:
Maggie dreaming about the playoffs:
I have often thought that if we all loved Jesus as much as Maggie loved us (and almost everybody else) the world would be transformed in a day! That’s not an exaggeration. It’s simply the truth.
God has wired dogs with an incredible loyalty and capacity for unconditional love. On your worst day ever, when you have failed miserably, your dog will still believe you’re the most wonderful person in the world. When I’m down on myself, Maggie has always picked me up. Jesus called us His friends (John 15:15), and I consider Maggie a gift of His friendship to Nanci and me.
If you love dogs (but only if) and are up for a two-minute slide show, here’s Maggie in her first month with us:
Here’s a blog I did on Maggie last May, not knowing that in eight months we’d have to say goodbye to her.
She was a gift, and a gift that keeps on giving. I think about her daily. I’ve put a photo of her on my phone wallpaper, so I look at her every day, every time I check messages. Yes, I cry sometimes, but usually I smile and laugh and thank God in ways that transcend the grief of missing her.
One of my fondest memories is our frequent “bite fights.” She would grab the end of a beach towel I used to dry her off, and show her teeth and growl, daring me to a tug of war. We would go on and on, she would pull with all her might, and once in a while close her mouth on me but always so gently I could barely feel her teeth. She really wanted to win the fight, but somehow kept herself from ever doing any harm.
Maggie dreams of being ferocious:
Maggie loved the snow and ice. When it came again just after she died in February, we could only think of her one day living on the New Earth where snow and ice will be again, but no one will suffer from them.
While looking at past blogs where I placed photos of Maggie, I bumped into this video where I was doing a filming and 14-week-old Maggie suddenly barged into the room because she couldn’t stay away. If you don’t love dogs don’t bother watching because you just won’t get the connection between us. But if you DO, you will totally relate! :)
Nick Foles is Maggie’s favorite pro-football player because in her mind he came to our house for the only reason anyone ever comes to our house—to see Maggie! They had an immediate and lasting bond. For years, Nick has had two main questions when he texts me—how is Nanci and how is Maggie? (I often send him photos of Maggie and he sends me photos of his Goldendoodle Henry. And, yes, we share family photos too! If you’re not a dog-lover you may not get it, but that’s okay, because I think when the world is no longer under the curse, ALL of us will be dog-lovers! And we’ll love all the other animals too, and we’ll see God’s creativity and beauty and wonder in them.)
Think people and dogs can’t converse? Check out Maggie and Nick Foles communicating after they met at our house in 2016.
Nick had to lean down to fit in the picture, but check out Maggie looking straight up at him with total adoration!
One of the most thrilling days of Maggie’s life was when Nick won the Superbowl with the Philadelphia Eagles, and was named Superbowl MVP. Of course, the following day was thrilling also. And every day prior to and thereafter was also the best day ever. :)
How Important Are Animals to God?
It may sound strange to hear me say I feel confident I will see Maggie again. But based on Romans 8, that creatures now alive will be swept along by the resurrection of God’s people, and knowing God and His love for animals and His covenants with them, I feel a remarkable certainty that I will see my beloved dogs again. (See my videos on Romans 8 and animals in Heaven, part one and part two.)
Of course, animals aren’t as valuable as people, and losing a pet isn’t the same as losing a child or spouse. But it can certainly feel like losing a dear friend, because in fact a pet is capable of being a close friend. (You don’t have to be human to be a friend.)
In fact, it’s the differentness of a pet that’s part of what endears us to each other. They can’t be the same that humans can be, but likewise despite their greater worth, no human can be what a dog or cat or horse can be. While humans are of greatest worth to God, I also believe animals are of great worth to Him.
Genesis 9:9-15 is a remarkable passage that shows God’s high esteem for animals, to the point when he made a covenant with Noah and mankind, He states four times that this covenant was also with the animals, all living creatures:
“I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
Don’t miss the amazing significance of this passage—God has made an “everlasting covenant” with all the world’s animals!
Saying Goodbye to Maggie
My brother, Maggie’s beloved “Uncle Lance,” came to take care of her whenever we traveled. Maggie saw Lance as some combination of best friend, visiting royalty, and full-time entertainer. (Every time we left town, when he came in the door suddenly it didn’t matter that we had packed our suitcases because she was going to have a vacation with Uncle Lance!) Knowing her time was short, Lance took Maggie for a last walk. Their relationship was strong and precious.
Our dear friends Steve and Sue Keels came to say goodbye to Maggie. Steve had rock star status with Maggie, as he often visits me late at night. Maggie was always certain he just came to see her. She would run into the room knocking things over to get to him and jump up on the couch to greet him. When Steve drove off, often past midnight, she would race his car to the end of the fence.
Grandsons Jake and Ty came to have dinner and watch a movie with Nanci and me. Then, flashlights in hand, we went together to Mo-Mag park for them to have their final walk together. “Final” walk together on this present earth, I mean. I told the boys the biblical teaching of the New Earth populated by animals and my understanding of Romans 8 that many animals who lived in this old earth will be brought back to live on the New Earth. So when they left instead of a final goodbye they said, “See you later, Maggie.”
Maggie years ago, with Felix who belongs to our daughter Angela’s family, including Jake and Ty.
Our Last Day Together (for Now)
How did we know the time had come to let Maggie go? Her breathing was getting harder, as the tumors in her neck grew. One night she was struggling so I got out a sleeping bag and slept by her on the floor to make sure she was okay. Meds helped her sleep but the breathing was so heavy and unnatural I suspected it would be her last night with us. In the morning Nanci and I had the dreaded conversation. We fed her whatever she wanted, some special treats. I made the call to an in-home vet to come over to our house, as I had nine years earlier with Moses.
While waiting, I decided to take her for one last walk. She perked up with remarkable energy, though noticeably less than the day before. After we’d gone less than 100 feet she stopped in her tracks. Not to sniff or dig or look at a person or animal. She simply didn’t want to go any farther. That was the first time ever she gave up on a walk. I didn’t have to hear the words. I knew what she was saying: “I no longer want to do what has always been the greatest joy in my life.” This confirmed our decision. So I got down on my knees and looked into her eyes, and I knew she was saying, “It’s time, Dad. You need to let me go.” She slowly led the way on our very short walk home.
Nanci then sat out on the back porch just with Maggie in a scene I will never forget. I watched them through the window, and heard Nanci’s loving voice and saw her petting her precious friend. I thought about all they’ve been through together, great joys for both and some big sorrows for Nanci, with Maggie always there for her. The vet came, confirmed that we were making the right decision and said, “Always better one day early than one day late.” But I knew it was exactly the right day and thanked God for making it clear. While she gave Maggie the first shot to anesthetize her, I patted her head and fed her some turkey slices, then told her how much we love her and how precious she is to us.
There are two kinds of goodbyes. There’s the kind where you will never see someone again. And there’s the kind where you will be separated for a while, but one day in the future will have a glorious reunion. I told Maggie in her last few minutes of life in this world under the curse (a curse that her happiness usually lifted her above), “We’re going to be together again on God’s New Earth. Reunion’s coming. We’ll see you there.”
I was with our dogs Champ and Moses, gently stroking and loving and talking to them in their final moments on this earth. It was a privilege to do the same with Maggie. I started to see a peace in her that had been waning in her last few days. As I whispered my love her eyes locked on mine. I assured her everything would be okay. I knew she trusted me and that I would only do what was best for her. I told she was going back to the God of happiness who entrusted her to us for a short but unforgettably wonderful nine years. I found myself, unplanned, reciting to her Numbers 6:
24The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
And then she closed her eyes and truly was with the Giver of peace.
Will We Get Another Dog?
People who know us are asking, are we going to get another dog? The answer is easy: absolutely! We know someone who’s now with the Lord, who loved a dog so much that when the dog died he couldn’t ever bear to have another one. We think very differently—as much as losing them hurts, we don’t want to be without a dog and miss the joy they bring us.
There may not be many people on the planet who love dogs more than I do, but Nanci is one of those few. We are already thinking about the next dog, looking online, considering different breeds.
We are thinking probably in the 20-35 pound range, though we’re flexible, since though we love larger dogs (Maggie was 80 pounds), it would be nice for Nanci to walk a dog that’s a bit easier to handle! Our hope is to get our next dog soon, probably in April, in a month or so. We’re praying that God will lead us to just the right one He has for us.
If anyone reading this has recommendations of particular breeds, or wants to share about your own dog, we are dog people who will read all you say, so please feel free to comment on my Facebook page. If you have contacts or know of dogs that might be weaned and available in the next month or two, please message us. We are open to suggestions and are very much looking forward to our next dog and the adventures God will give us with her!
Some Final Thoughts
I called Maggie “The Queen of Chase Road,” because so many people stopped daily to talk to her and scratch her through the cyclone fence, and some came in the gate to hug her, to her delight. I still see people walking by looking for her.
I just reread this tribute to our Dalmatian Moses I wrote after his death just over 9 years ago. Out of the thousands of articles on our website, it’s one of the most popular, and many people who’ve lost their beloved animals have written me about it. I think you may find it very encouraging.
I wrote this about Maggie in my book Happiness:
As I look out my kitchen window, I watch Maggie play in the yard, her eyes wide and her nose to the ground, as if she expects something wonderful to appear. Then suddenly she stops and stares at something. It’s a thick branch from a rhododendron she’s been happily tearing to pieces. (Since we love her more than the bush, it’s not a problem.)
Maggie pounces on this treasure, then marches around the yard with her prize, strutting like a conquering hero. If you asked me to describe my dog’s state of mind, I would say, “Happy.” From head to tail, she shows clear evidence that her delight is heartfelt.
When my wife, Nanci, gets out Maggie’s leash, it’s a sight to behold. She gleefully runs in circles (Maggie, not Nanci—though Nanci is happy too). Maggie can’t wait for her beloved owner to take her outside. During their walk, they enter into each other’s joy, feeding off the happiness of the one they love.
As God sees us from Heaven, doesn’t He delight in us the way Nanci and I delight in Maggie? The fact that God is infinitely smarter and greater than we are doesn’t diminish His ability to find pleasure in us any more than our superior intelligence or worth interferes with our enjoyment of Maggie.
…When the weather is nice, Nanci and I often keep the side door open while we eat or watch a movie. Every few minutes, we see Maggie run by, carrying a huge branch. We laugh at her repeatedly, and she never tires of the game. She can play for hours—with us, with our grandkids, with other dogs, and by herself. And God, I believe, is with her. He made her to play, and when she plays alone, she is really playing with Him.
Maggie frequently comes to me while I work and nestles her head against me. If I don’t respond quickly enough, she realizes I’m distracted by what she considers less important concerns (including writing this book), and she knocks my hand off the keyboard with her big paw. I laugh at her, then play with her. I know that in those moments she’s being the way God made her. I’m consciously aware that Jesus is causing me to smile through her. And I believe He’s smiling at us both.
This is the photo of Maggie that’s now the wallpaper on my phone. I took it two evenings before she left us. I could see in her eyes that she knew her time was drawing short. That’s Nanci’s hand on her head, which is what makes this photo so special. They loved each other in ways that transcend death.
Maggie taught me joy. Her favorite place was what we call Mo-Mag park, just across the street from us, a future site of a Gresham park (I doubt they will adopt our name for it). We called it Mo Park because it was our dog Moses’ favorite place to run off leash. We took Maggie there as a pup and it was instantly her favorite place too:
One of Maggie’s greatest delights was digging. This video is the first five seconds of a dig. Twenty minutes later she’d still be digging.
Now that Maggie’s been gone several weeks, what do I miss the most? Her presence. Watching her nap. Watching her sheer over-the-top joy at the prospect of a walk, food, taking a drive, even if it was to the vet—no dog ever loved the vet more!
Like my other dogs, Maggie taught me about God. In some ways she had a happier and more loving spirit than any animal I’ve ever known. I remind myself where she got that endless reservoir of happiness. It wasn’t the product of time, chance, and natural forces. It was all from the God who created her. I miss seeing her enjoy the outdoors, and stand, walk, and run in the sun, rain, and snow. I miss letting her in late at night, drying her off (one of our favorite games), and seeing her jump up on the couch to rest, and hearing her sigh of utter contentment. I miss giving her doggie treats. I still sometimes instinctively begin to put down my plate for her to lick before realizing she’s not here.
One night I was on my knees crying by the couch, my face in my hands. That day we’d gotten some very bad news about Nanci’s cancer. Maggie came over to me, put her front paws up on the couch, gave me a look of loving concern, licked my tears and then suddenly made a loud mournful sound she had never made before and never did since. I can only describe it as a groan. Immediately I went to Romans 8 which tells us that we groan, and the whole creation groans, and God’s Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. I realized that three of us were there groaning together—my God, myself, and my dog. And then I wept more, but this time conscious of the great comfort given me by both my companions.
Romans says, “What may be known of God is manifest in them for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:19-20). Maggie is one of God’s creations, and for sure I saw God’s happiness, delight, loyalty, friendship, and contentment in her.
Thank you, Jesus, for entrusting this precious creature to us. We know you better because of her. We know that this life is way too short for God to give us all good things here and now. The fact that we live under a curse, and so do animals, makes it more difficult still.
What if God’s pleasure is to keep freely giving us forever all things that would delight us and make us happy and increase our joy in Him and bring Him glory and actually please Him? All sin undone, all sickness healed, and death itself swallowed up (Isaiah 25:6-8)?
Under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, Paul asks a rhetorical question in Romans 8:32, meaning the answer is an absolute affirmative: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things?” What if those “all things” includes a child’s desire to live in a perfect world not only with his family but his dog? What if those “all things” include a dog’s desire to forever be with her human masters and friends that God entrusted her to, and play in fields and swim in lakes and dig to her heart’s content and greet every stranger on the New Earth as if he were her dearest friend?
I actually think those “all things” include these things, and much more.
I really believe all of us, as God’s beloved and redeemed creatures, will live happily ever after. This is not a fairy tale. This is the blood-bought promise of God.
More Resources on Animals and Heaven
I’ve written elsewhere about why I’m convinced that there will be animals on the New Earth, where we will live after the resurrection. In two chapters in my book Heaven, I address the subjects “Will Animals Inhabit the New Earth?” and “Will Animals, Including Our Pets, Live Again?”
You might enjoy this four-minute video where, in teaching a college course about Heaven and the New Earth, I talk about Wesley and his profound insights on animals.
Two brief answers to whether our pets will be on the New Earth: Is It Wrong to Grieve the Loss of Our Pets? and Will Our Pets Be in Heaven and Will They Still Be Our Pets?