Cayden and Maisie, June 2006

When I switched on my phone this morning, it chimed the arrival of new email. Leading the queue: an automated message from the vet’s office. “Happy Birthday to Maisie!”

“Wow,” I said, genuinely surprised. “Today is Maisie’s birthday,” I told Martin and the kids. “She’s 7 years old today!”

Even a canine birthday is cause for excitement, and Cayden and Hadley chattered about an appropriate celebration.

But there wasn’t a debate about Maisie’s present. No one suggested a bone, dog treats or a tennis ball. We all knew what she’d want. Cayden voiced it first.

“Hey, Mom, are you going to let Maisie run away?” he asked. “On purpose… let her run to the river?”

The perfect gift for the dog who has everything.

And I won’t even disturb the purity of it. Later today, I’ll feign distraction (that’s not difficult). I’ll yell at the kids as I duck into the mudroom, struggling with a load of groceries.

And just like that, Maisie will slink through the open gate, dart around the boxwoods, and jog a few steps (that’s the courtesy 1.6-second window she offers us to notice her absence). Then she shifts into full sprint. In five seconds she’s beyond our sight.

Sometimes the neighbors see her, a lean blur of black-and-white, streaking across their lawns. Through Chet’s yard, past Liz’s barn, then a hard right on the gravel lane past Sarah’s. Then she hugs the fence line to the back hay field, then down the steep hill to the power line, and along the river, finally stopping — well — wherever it is that she stops.

Happy Birthday, Maisie. Enjoy the freebie. I promise that when we find you — muddy and peppered with burrs and brambles — I won’t curse you out. Not today.