Maggie Van Ostrand
was a blue-eyed creature of enormous beauty, so beautiful that she
was named after a Greta Garbo film heroine. You'd be proud to take
her anywhere, as she was always perfectly attired. She was a magnificent
She was found in the Sherman Oaks dog pound, and adopted at the approximate
age of 9 months, and for the next 12 years of her life, she lived
well. My mother would've said, she lived "high off the hog."
After the Northridge Quake of '94, we planned a move to Guadalajara,
Mexico, but Amtrak said Ninotchka would have to ride in the baggage
compartment. That was not good enough. Planes wouldn't be an option
either, not with the way certain dog people are prone to worry when
their pets are out of sight. There was no choice but to take all the
savings out of the bank and hire a Lear jet to fly us to Guadalajara.
Any dog person will understand.
It was in Mexico that Ninotchka met the love of her life. But it wasn't
a Husky or even another dog -- it was a horse. The horse was a stallion
who lived next door and whose owners had named it Lassie. From the
minute dog met horse, it was true love. It might've even been obsession
since, for the first time, Ninotchka refused to come when called,
insisting instead on remaining at the fence and French kissing Lassie
through the openings between the chain links. Lassie was even more
intensely enamoured and kissed back with a tongue longer than the
red carpet on Oscar night. Doubting human friends came to witness
this phenomenon and walked away true believers. There was even a write-up
in the local papers. With pictures.
Soon Lassie's enthusiasm broke all boundries of civilized behavior
and his ardor was aroused for all to observe. He whacked frantically
at the fence for immediate admittance, leaving hoof dents in the chain
link as mute evidence of his passion.
One day, Lassie was gone. His owners had sold him and did not tell
his whereabouts. Ninotchka never loved again. Her Mexican Lassie was
her soul mate forever. The only thing she ever loved as much was snow.
Each year, we drove north to Taos, New Mexico, so Ninotchka wouldn't
suffer from the dry heat that strikes Guadalajara every April and
May. We took long walks in the forest along icy creeks and had wonderful
times, always returning to Mexico, until the time came toreturn to
the U.S. permanently.
Ninotchka has been poorly for about a week, unable to come on her
beloved walks, not wanting to eat, so we went to her longtime vet
in Brentwood where she spent two days and nights and had some tests.
The prognosis was negative.
Today, I brought her a cooler full of snow from home and spread the
snow all around her as she lay in a kennel at the vet's. With great
effort, she managed to get herself up on one elbow. She licked the
Then she put her beautiful face in it, and died.
You may think the pain of loss is a terrible thing, but I don't. Love
is like that.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
January 21, 2005 column