Maggie was Dawn Kairns' first dog. Like many middle-class children, she grew up with dogs -- her dad's Beagles and neighbor's German shepherd -- but Maggie came into the home of Kairns and her new husband at a time when his children were nearly grown.

The 37-year-old psychotherapist/nurse practitioner and her 42-year-old husband decided the only newborn they would have together at this stage in their lives would be a canine.

Into their Colorado home came Maggie, the Magster, a coal black fur ball that slowly began to change Kairns' life. Through changes quick and gradual -- becoming stepmom to three grown boys, making the decision to change careers -- Maggie was Kairns' light relief and unexpected support.

"The more I see Maggie as an intelligent, emotional being, and the deeper our bond becomes, the more she seems to manifest these qualities," Kairns writes.

 After Maggie's bout with mast cell cancer at the age of 8, Kairns delves into research on canine nutrition and vaccine interactions. The information she finds propels her to make an appointment with a holistic veterinarian. He diagnoses Maggie with hypothyroidism and places her on medication, testing her thyroid levels on a regular basis.

When Maggie's thyroid test results seem off but her vet is not concerned, Kairns finds a different holistic veterinarian, who concurs with the first vet's opinion. She is told Maggie's lump is a symptom of a common ailment in older labs called laryngeal paralysis. But the lump and the results of her thyroid test nag at Kairns. Her dreams are filled with scenes of Maggie's death.

Six months later, Kairns learns Maggie has thyroid cancer, inoperable because it is embedded in and around the throat tissues and blood vessels. Maggie dies just weeks later. Through research, Kairns learns that, if diagnosed earlier, Maggie might have had a chance at survival.

If Kairns has learned anything from the experience, it is that she should have trusted her feelings that things weren't right with Maggie. "No one knows our animals like we do," she said. "(Veterinarians) have the medical knowledge but not the intuition about your dog."

"Hindsight is a cruel master, Kairns said. "In talking with other people, it's the theme."

Kairns didn't start out to write a book about Maggie, but was so distraught when Maggie died she started to keep a journal. "That was how I got through my days," she said.

Turning journal to book took several years, but Kairns wanted other people who have gone through something like she had to know they were not alone. She also wanted to share what she learned from Maggie -- that if you see dogs as intelligent, emotional, communicative beings, you're going to relate to them differently and form a special and deep relationship.

About the author

Dawn Kairns grew up in Northwest Indiana and graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville.

"Maggie: The Dog who Changed my Life" is the now Colorado resident's first book. A family practitioner turned writer, Kairns was a 2009 Indie Book Awards finalist and Dog Writers Association of America 2008 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award finalist. Her book is available through and national bookstores.