Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Early fall in Utah usually doesn't bring blizzards, but for one well-loved pup to complete a final bucket list item, it meant one last jump in the snow.
Maggie, a Saint Bernard and Newfoundland mix, joined Marianna Wilson and Eli Saltzgaber's family at 2 months old in 2011.
Thus began more than 10 years of joy, Wilson said.
"She was so many things: She was gentle, maternal, happy, very protective, loyal, attached, adventurous, athletic and a foodie. She had severe separation anxiety which proved to be rather difficult to navigate initially," the dog mom recalled.
Wilson said the separation anxiety started when she opened a dog-hiking business — which later led to them being able to spend every day together.
"Maggie was able to spend her days hiking the trails of the Wasatch with her pals, alongside her mom. As a result of that life change, Maggie found comfort knowing anywhere I went, she went as well. Our world revolved around our Maggie Bear. Our vacations, our weekends, our gatherings, my work. Anywhere we were, she was right there with us," Wilson said.
Wilson adopted Maggie after losing another Saint Bernard, Roxanne, to cancer in early 2011. She had adopted Roxanne at the end of her own father's fight with cancer in 2001, Wilson said.
"To us, Maggie was more than a pet. She was the glue that held our family together. She taught us a greater sense of compassion, patience, adventure, unconditional love and joy," she said.
To us, Maggie was more than a pet. She was the glue that held our family together. She taught us a greater sense of compassion, patience, adventure, unconditional love and joy.
–Marianna Wilson, Maggie's owner
The family loved spending time in nature together skiing, paddle boarding, camping "and just sitting in reverence and awe of nature." That made Maggie an immediate adventure dog, starting out hiking half a mile and then walking miles and miles, Wilson recalled.
"Some of our fondest memories are of Maggie rolling in the snow. Sledding like a toboggan on her back. Pouncing on her squeaky ball in the snow 'til it was fully buried. We have easily lost over two dozen squeaky balls in Millcreek alone. The absolute joy and innocence and pleasure that she felt and embodied when we were in the outdoors was only magnified when there was snow on the ground," Wilson said.
But in July, Maggie was diagnosed with cancer, and her owners made a bucket list of activities they wanted to do with her one last time. They took time off work to go on a paddle boarding trip, they drove her to places they'd visited when Maggie was a puppy, and they traveled to the hot springs where Wilson and Saltzgaber got married — and Maggie served as their "ring bear."
"We sat on the porch of our cabin in the Payette National Forest, looking at distant snow patches, longing for her health to remain steady so she could experience snow one more time," Wilson said.
Over the last two weeks, however, Maggie's health started to quickly decline, and Wilson and Saltzgaber thought they wouldn't get to see her play in the snow again. They made her an appointment with Lap of Love, a mobile veterinarian that helps families with end-of-life care for pets, on Monday and made plans for the dog's last day.
The idea of using shaved ice to recreate snow in their backyard hit, and Saltzgaber jumped on social media for help finding someone with a shaved ice machine.
"From there, the response was incredibly overwhelming," Wilson said.
"From people offering up their personal snow cone machines, to people offering to chip ice, from restaurants offering up their ice, to suggestions about where we could procure snow. One of the many suggestions was to reach out to ice rinks," she added.
Saltzgaber heard back from Salt Lake County Ice Center, in Murray, where a manager promised to bring them some snow on Monday.
The family was able to give Maggie a perfect day. After camping in the Uintas with her, they drove back to their home in Salt Lake City.
"Eli drove to the Murray ice rink while my mom and I prepared her backyard for the snow. When Eli backed in and opened up his van doors, we all immediately burst in the tears," Wilson said. We were so incredibly overwhelmed by this final request for our sweetheart."
The family unloaded the snow and created a mount in the backyard, shielded with a shade tarp.
"At first Maggie just wanted to eat the snow. She wasn't quite sure what to make of it. So we decided to feed her her last meal, a bacon cheeseburger that my mom had prepared. After she was done with her cheeseburger we re-introduced her to the snow. We threw her squeaky ball into the pile and she pounced on it and buried her squeaky ball. We leveled out the pile so that she could rest on top and cool herself. And that is where she remained," Wilson said.
She said the most difficult day of Maggie's life "was made easier by the outpouring of love from strangers," including the special snow delivery from the Salt Lake County Ice Center manager and the veterinarian at Lap of Love.
"We genuinely think that it brought her a lot of comfort. And seeing her reaction to the snow brought us an immense amount of joy," Wilson said, expressing gratitude for the way they were able to send her off.
While the family's heart is broken at Maggie's loss, Wilson says the response to their story, which was posted by Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation on social media, has been "overwhelming."
"It seems like it's so easy to lose hope in humanity these days. Everything is so divisive, and we are not immune to that either. But the response and the love and the outpouring of support from people from all walks of life has truly rekindled our faith in humanity," she said.
Wilson said the experience has also reminded them "how special animals are to us."
"We are not alone in our pain and our heartbreak, every day people lose a piece of their family when they lose a pet. We might differ in so many ways, but the one thing we hold in common is knowing how profound of an impact our animals have on our lives, our families, our existence and our health. And that's pretty powerful."