Welcome to Maddie’s Stories, a collection of stories honoring the memory of our wonderful canine, friend, companion, and expedition dog Madison. These stories are a companion to Maddie’s Trails, a collection of quality hiking trails in western Montana, all hiked by Madison and her people. I have about 15 stories I want to tell and will be adding them over the coming weeks and months.
Julie’s family has a fantastic cabin in the Bighorn Mountains above Sheridan, Wyoming, at 7000 feet. The cabin is part of an association of about 25 cabins and a few thousand acres of beautiful sub-alpine country including lakes, creeks, forest, and several pastures for grazing. Nearly every cabin keeps a horse or two, and riding is part of the daily routine in the summer.
We had ridden with dogs many times including a few with Madison. One day we started a morning ride, and as we were riding single file up a trail, about a half mile from the cabin, I noticed Maddie fall behind, checking out something off-trail that had caught her nose. I remember being worried it might be a porcupine – if only.
I looked back, and after a few seconds saw her break off whatever she was exploring and start running to catch up as fast as she could. Thinking back, a small but serious alarm went off in my head, and I realized this was a bad situation. Everything slowed down. I heard Maddie running back up the trail, then some horse commotion behind me, then a sickening thud, and then that terrible sound of an animal screaming in pain.
The rear horse had caught her squarely in her right-front shoulder as she tried to race by too close on the narrow trail. I dropped my reins and jumped off my horse (which was dumb) and ran back to Maddie. She had tumbled about 10 feet off the trail. By the time I got to her, she was no longer crying, but she was panting heavily and lying on her “good” side. The initial damage looked terrible. Her shoulder had a circular indentation, and there was a curved gash from the hoof.
The rest of the group returned to the corral – someone must have led my horse. Fortunately, this happened early in the ride, and we were only about a quarter mile from the nearest dirt road, so the plan was for someone to get a vehicle, and we would carry Madison to it if necessary. It would then be about a 30 minute drive down the mountain to the nearest vet (who we soon learned had a tie to the cabins).
I stayed with Maddie, and once we were alone, a calm fell over us. I scritched her and talked to her, and eventually she slowed her breathing, and after about five minutes, she surprised me by struggling to her feet, and she started to hobble back down the trail 3-legged. She knew which way to go, seemed very determined, made it the whole quarter mile, and we lifted her into the car.
As we were driving out of the cabin area, we met a car coming in, and Julie’s parents recognized it as belonging to one of the vets from the clinic we were heading to! We stopped, flagged the car down, and the driver examined Maddie right there in the back of our car. What excellent service!
Maddie knew she was hurt and let the exam happen without fuss, as she always did when she needed some human assistance. The car-vet didn’t think the shoulder was broken but gave us the clinic’s number and told us to call once we had a cell signal. When we got to the clinic they got Maddie into an exam room immediately, took an x-ray, and after 30 minutes or so told us there were no broken bones. She would be very sore for awhile but probably make a full recovery. Which she did, though I always wondered if some of the “arthritis” she had in that leg in her later years traced back to the kick by that horse.
The next summer, for our first ride, we left Maddie at the cabin while we went to saddle the horses and start our ride. We stopped by the cabin on our way out and invited Maddie to join. She trotted down the steps, took a few paces forward, gave us a long look (because deep down she wanted to go), and then she went back to the front door and barked. I let her in, and her riding days were over. We later learned she was only afraid of horses with riders – but not of horses without. Go figure.
Maddie had been on several prior uneventful rides at the cabin. Sometimes, once we crossed onto National Forest land, we would encounter grazing cattle, and when we did Maddie proceeded to carefully maneuver so that a horse and rider were between her and the nearest cow at all times. Why she was wary of cows we have no idea. A cow was probably the only common hoofed animal with which she didn’t have a bad encounter.
Our first few years in Missoula, Julie and I travelled back to the Bay Area frequently, and occasionally we had to leave Madison overnight for a day or two. A new boarding place opened that offered lots of group time with personal sleeping quarters at night. It sounded great, and we left her there a couple of times.
Once when I picked her up, the receptionist gave me a note as we were settling the bill. It said Madison had been subjected to a time-out for starting a barkfest! While a little funny, it didn’t sound like my Madison unless she was nervous, and the next time I left her, when I picked her up, she couldn’t wait to leave. No more doggie hotels for her, only doggie in-home sitters.
In 2004 we took a three week vacation to Europe and had a very tough time finding someone to stay with Maddie. Ultimately I thought of a friend in California who might like to spend a few weeks in Missoula given free room and board and an excellent companion in Madison. A little to my surprise, he said yes. To this day we sometimes come across notes he left in one of our local hiking books, and it reminds us that Maddie had some nice expeditions without us!
Maddie had her share of excellent Dog Sitters, day and overnight. In no particular order: JF, KR, ER, RS, B&K, J&B, BL, BS, A, the J family, J, and probably a few I have overlooked. To all of you, many many thanks.
I don’t remember how Maddie and Hugger first met. Probably on a walk since Hugger was a young Black Lab who lived a few houses up from us.
Our front door has a side window, and one day I noticed Hugger sitting on the porch looking expectantly at the door. Maddie saw I was looking at something, and then she saw Hugger too. She started to wag, I let her out, and they played in our front yard for the next half hour.
Have you ever seen young dogs play? It’s all teeth and neck and submissive and dominant; one on its back, one on its feet. And in the case of Hugger and Maddie, taking turns. When she finally came in her neck was soaked, and she was exhausted. And for about the next year, Hugger would occasionally appear at our front door, asking if Maddie could come out to play.
“You have a very bold dog.” These words were spoken by our newly hired dog trainer about 20 seconds after meeting Madison for her first session. We later realized this was trainer-speak for “you’re going to need a lot more training than this 10 week course.” Bold isn’t so bad, is it? Little did we know, the trainer summed up the worst and the very, very best of Madison in that simple first impression.
Puppy school was 10 Saturdays in a pretty Missoula park during Maddie’s first fall. Even though it was a “beginner” class, many of her classmates had either received some personal training or were already well-trained and just in the class for socialization. We were by the far the most raw rookies – puppy and owners both.
You’d think that with 10 weeks of training our dog would be at our beck and call, but the bar was actually much lower. All she had to do to pass her final exam was heel, sit, stay and come. Heel, impossible. Maddie tugged on her leash her whole life. Sit, yes! Stay, seconds, quivering harmonically in her younger years, but almost perfectly mid-life. Come, easy. Any of these in the presence of the rest of the puppy class that first fall – not a chance. We were prepared for a sit-down with our instructor at the end of our class, but to our surprise, she let us off the hook and praised our progress.
Nobody who knew her would say Madison was well-trained, but for the things that mattered to us, she was great. She was great in the car. She was great on the trail. She was great in our home. Puppy school, not so much.
We moved to Missoula on New Year’s Eve, 1998. It was our first home and our first opportunity to have a dog. The house needed some work including a new kitchen. Since everything in the kitchen was coming out anyway, we decided we could get a puppy and keep her there during her formative months – so what if she chewed up the cabinets. Which, turns out, she did.
Julie grew up with Black Labs, and constantly talked about one day having a Black Lab of her own. Black. Always Black. One word: blacklab. I thought there was no other kind.
So, Spring of 1999, we went to visit some puppies. The litter was a mix of mostly black and a few yellow pups, and they were rolling around in the breeder’s front yard when we arrived. Julie immediately threw herself into the pile of puppies and on her way to the party lost her shoe. After a few minutes, a little pudgy yellow – yes, yellow – pup left the group, walked over to Julie’s shoe, and crawled into it. And that was that. She picked us.
We had talked a lot about what kind of dog we wanted. Disposition was important. We wanted a calm dog, so we asked if we could meet the parents. The breeder said yes we could meet Mom, but we would have to come back in a few days. We said we wanted the pudgy yellow one, but contingent on our parental conference. A few days later we returned, and first things first, were introduced to Mom, the most hyper Lab I have ever met.
Julie and I both looked at each other with alarm, but there was no way we were going to change our minds about our pup. On the way home she was a squirmy bundle of energy, and then she collapsed and suddenly fell asleep in Julie’s lap, and that’s the moment she became ours.