My dog Maggie and I have worked for the past ten years as a Pet Partners therapy animal team. Our focus has been working each week with acute-care HIV patients at Our House of Portland. During our ten years working together we have also worked in crisis response at Umpqua Community College (following a mass shooting) and we have visited several universities for final exam stress reduction for students, among other activities. Like most teams, Maggie and I developed this remarkable wonderful bond in our work together through all those years.

In March 2019, Maggie retired from her work with me at Our House of Portland. October 16, 2019, Maggie died. I continue my work with patients at Our House, but I feel lost without Maggie. The patients miss her, as well.

I am sharing Maggie’s obituary with you, to show the effect Pet Partners teams have in their work.

Maggie

September 10, 2004 – October 16, 2019

To know even one life has breathed easier because you live – that is to have succeeded.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

They were inseparable.

He knew her name before he met her. Alan knew if he ever had a dog again, after losing Diva in 2004, he would name her “Maggie.” It was while he was traveling that Alan learned about the life and work of Saint Margaret of Cortona, and that inspired him and began to lift him from his grief. It also planted the seed for the name for his next dog. This 13th century saint worked with the sick and later built a hospital in Cortona, Italy. But, what really intrigued Alan was that St. Margaret was nearly always shown in paintings with her dog at her side. They were inseparable.

The puppy  – who was destined take the name of Maggie –  was born September 10, 2004, in the home of a family in Vancouver, Washington. She was the puppy in the poodle/shih tzu litter who walked up to Alan and decided to stay. A small puffball, she grew only slightly larger into a miniature shaggy dog, mostly fur. Within six months she began to shed her shaggy look and tame her wild puppy ways. Maggie was ready for PetSmart puppy class.

In class Maggie took the training, in part because of her rapt focus on Alan, but mostly because she liked the treats. But her focus and the treats served her well as Maggie quickly bagged “sit,” “stay,” “down,” “walk,” “leave it” and “come.” Maggie graduated at the top of her class, nudging out an eager, but forgetful, black lab.

As she grew, Maggie, like most dogs, loved retrieving, long walks, and sticking her nose in every new scent on her path. She loved nature – geese landing on the river and squirrels scampering up the trees, with her encouragement. But her favorite spots in her world were no doubt the view from the bow of a kayak and the warmth near Alan’s chest at naptime.

All was not serene. There was sometimes disorder in Alan’s world – home remodeling projects and three moves – but Maggie took it in stride. She welcomed everyone who came through the front door: framer, plumber or painter. The sounds of compressors and hammers hardly fazed her. Wherever Alan was near, she was content. Finally, after one big remodeling project, Maggie earned her place on the cover of This Old House magazine. It was a small reward for her remarkable patience with his lifestyle.

Observing the varied interactions and settings he and Maggie experienced, Alan took note of how responsive and calm she was, in addition to being patient. Alan saw an opportunity for more school for Maggie. At the age of four she began training with Delta Society (Pet Partners) to become a therapy animal team with Alan. Their training, and what followed, would cement their relationship in ways neither of them imagined.

That year Maggie joined Alan in working with residents at Our House of Portland, an acute-care HIV residence. Each Monday Maggie and Alan would visit residents. Sometimes Alan would visit with the residents as they stroked Maggie’s back; or Maggie would often be the encouragement a resident needed to go outside for walk. Maggie knew to sit quietly with the residents when Alan led meditation. And on several occasions Maggie laid quietly on the bed of a resident at end of life.

In 2011, when Alan’s mother had a massive stroke, they rushed to California to be with her. Though she could not speak, Alan’s mother, Helen, was able to say just one word. That was “Maggie,” when they entered the room. For three days, Maggie laid at Helen’s side, tucked under her arm and uninterested in budging, until Helen passed.

After a mass shooting in 2015 at Umpqua Community College, Maggie joined other canines as part of a crisis response team on the first day the college reopened. Though Maggie was but a tenth the size of the other canines, she understood as much as they did the work she was called to do.

During her 10 years as a Pet Partners therapy dog, Maggie occasionally visited other colleges, but doing slightly different work. She, along with other canine teams, would visit universities as part of a stress reduction program for students at final exam periods. More strokes and adulation.

Maggie and Alan received the Heartfelt Award  from Our House in 2014. In 2017 Portland Monthly magazine gave Maggie and Alan the “Extraordinary Volunteer” award for the Portland metro area. Of course, they were honored by the awards, but the spotlight was never something they sought. They liked the quiet places – places on the sidelines, making new friends in new and sometimes unexpected settings. It was reward enough. That, and being together. They were inseparable.

Story provided by Alan Koch.

Read about Alan & Maggie’s work together in their Featured Team story.