Last month was filled with marked high and low points.  I’m delighted that Miranda and Caliban was released with excellent reviews and good buzz, and I hope that continues to grow.  However, February was also the month in which Julie and I had to say farewell to our dog Maya, a.k.a. The Dingbat.

She had been sick with an autoimmune disorder for a couple of months, but I hadn’t said anything about it in public; at first because we were holding out hope for a recovery—she was only eight years old—and then because I just wasn’t ready to.

Maya was only the second dog I’d had in my adult life.  My first dog was a Cool Dog, one of those dogs you see riding shotgun next to their owner in the car, looking chilled and alert and a little aloof.  Maya was… not cool.  No, she would be cowering in the backseat, eyes glazed over with existential horror.  Riding in the car terrified her.  Any kind of change terrified her.  Strangers terrified her, and a friendly overture would result in Maya shivering and clamping her tail between her legs.  “She’s a rescue,” I would say in a grave tone, and animal lovers would nod in sympathetic understanding.

But the funny thing was, she wasn’t like that at first.  Maya came into our lives at about four months old.  A precocious young girl saw this puppy staked out in her neighbor’s yard without food or water or shelter for days on end, until she marched over, knocked on their door, and said, “If you don’t want that dog, can I take it?”  They let her.  The girl was unable to keep her, but she named her Maya, and gave her into the care of a woman involved in pet rescue.

Julie and I, who had recently lost our canine companion of many years—the Cool Dog—were asked to foster Maya.  The moment we met, this grungy, scabby, smelly puppy with a raging case of mange crawled into my lap, and I knew that was it.  She was ours.  And for two months, Maya was filled with nothing but trust, love, and invisible mites.

Then… something changed.

There was no inciting incident, no reason for Maya to go from a trust-filled puppy to a neurotic adolescent.  She just did.  Hormones, maybe?  As the previous owner of a bona fide Cool Dog, I felt certain that with enough consistency, patience and training, I could coax Maya through this difficult period and help her grow into a mature, confident dog.  Yeah, that never happened.  The Dingbat remained a dingbat for her entire life.  She’d developed a hair-trigger panic button, and once it was pushed, nothing but time would cure what ailed her.

And yet in the ways that she was a good dog, she was a very good dog.  Her trust and affection, so difficult to win, were all the more prized by those upon whom she bestowed them.  Once we conquered the mange, she grew into a strong, athletic dog with lots of energy.  Her default personality—what I thought of as her true personality—was that of a happy-go-lucky goofball.  She loved to play with other dogs, and for years, I took her to doggy day camp twice a week.

Later, Maya and I spent many hours together racing along the lakeshore and splashing in the waves or roaming the dunes of the state park.  I could let her off the leash, confident in the knowledge that all I had to do was call out, “Wait!” and she would freeze in her tracks, waiting for me to catch up to her. We had our places.  The journey to reach them may have terrified her, but once we were there, she explored with gleeful abandon.  The beach, the dunes, the secluded wooded trail along the river that I called “Jacqueline and Maya’s Private Park.”  Now those places feel empty without her.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to go back yet, but I know my footfalls along those paths will ring hollow with her absence.

One day, we will get another dog; no doubt, another rescue.  I might wait a while longer this time.  It’s nice not to have the responsibility of a dog; to be able to, say, take a spontaneous weekend trip without having to worry about making arrangements for a dog-sitter.  It’s nice not to have to brace myself for a volley of barking when the mail carrier comes to the door.  It’s nice not to have to pluck dog hair from my yoga mat.

And yet…

For almost eight years, Maya was my virtual shadow.  It feels strange to move through the house without the sound of her nails clicking on the linoleum behind me.  I keep expecting to see her there. When I awake in the middle of the night, I find myself reaching down beside the bed, reaching for that warm, solid presence, wanting to brush my fingertips against her fur and touch base with those deeply comforting dog-snores, the slow heave and fall of the ribcage that says, yes, all is well, all is right with the world.

RIP, my dear Dingbat.  You might not have been a Cool Dog, but you were an awfully sweet one.