Wonderful Waldo: ‘The big lesson is live a happy life’

Sonja Keith
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Morrilton residents James and Nina Magie have a special friend who has accompanied them on trips to nearly every U.S. state, 20 national parks and 11 national monuments He has also traveled with them as they have explored parts of Route 66, Mount St. Helens and the Appalachian Trail.

The trips and the memories are extra special to the couple as Waldo, a 10½-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, was diagnosed in January with Grade 2 soft tissue sarcoma. “He had surgery but they were unable to get it all, so we are living with cancer,” said Nina. “However, he hasn’t let it slow him down. With such an amazing vet (Dr. Greg Hartman), Waldo is continuing to live life large. He even went to Canada this past summer!”

James is a watchmaker/jeweler in Morrilton and owns Magie Jewelers. They have two children, Jennifer and Ben, who had moved out, leaving James and Nina as empty-nesters.

Waldo was intended as a birthday gift to James from Jennifer, but the puppy quickly chose Nina to be “his person,” she explained. “He loves my husband, James, but I’m his person.”

Nina Magie and Waldo are loving life in the 501. (Mike Kemp photo)

At the time, Jennifer was a new mother and a week later her dog had four puppies. It was a difficult time for Nina as her mom also died during that time from lung cancer. “Nate was born April 20, my mom died April 27, and Waldo was born May 1. That’s a lot in a short time,” Nina said, explaining that her daughter gave them Waldo “because she felt I needed him even though I didn’t want him. Maybe that is why he chose me as his favorite human. He knew I was grieving and he wanted to bring joy back into my life.”

The couple began taking Waldo – who travels extremely well and enjoys riding in the car – with them on trips. Nina tracks all the states that Waldo has visited on a map. “Our human children are jealous of him because we’ve taken him more places than them.” There are only seven states in the continental U.S. where Waldo has not visited. The couple had plans to visit those states but postponed because of the cancer diagnosis.

Nina said traveling with a pet requires research and planning to identify places that will allow pets. With that in mind, the couple purchased a travel trailer. “It makes it easier to take him.”

On one of their trips, the couple took Waldo to his first drive-in movie in Chattanooga, Tenn. “He loved it! We saw ‘The Secret Life of Pets.’”

Most recently, the three took a 10-day trip to Colorado.

Nina admits that Waldo gets “spoiled rotten.” He has his own stroller to make it easier to travel in crowds. He also has a Facebook page, which is limited to people the couple know.

Waldo also enjoys chasing squirrels off of the couple’s deck. His favorite toy is his Waldo. He likes to sit on the couch and enjoys watching “Let’s Make a Deal.” His favorite place is Chick-fil-A, where he enjoys grilled chicken nuggets. “He loves meeting people,” Nina said, adding that he is very social.

When the three visit national parks, Waldo gets a souvenir toy. They include Buddy the Bison from Yellowstone and Freckles the Sea Lion from the Oregon/California coast. “He has quite a collection of toys he loves.”

Nina said last December she was petting Waldo when she noticed a bean-size bump by his nose. She took him to Hartman Animal Hospital. Hartman, her nephew by marriage, examined Waldo. Initially it was thought it could be a bug bite and a round of antibiotics followed. In two weeks, the bump had doubled in size. Nina said it is unusual for dogs to get cancer on their nose but a biopsy was done. The test revealed suspicious cells but it was inconclusive. Additional tests were done and Waldo was referred to a special surgeon in Little Rock, who acted quickly to get Waldo in to surgery, which lasted about two and a half hours. “That’s how scary it was,” Nina said.

Because of the type of cancer it is, the surgeon was unable to get it all. As they awaited pathology results, Hartman consulted and researched treatment options. “Dr. Hartman has been fabulous,” Nina said, adding that he is a relative but she thinks he goes “above and beyond” when it comes to treating all animals.

The only treatment option for Waldo was radiation. It would involve 40 treatments five days a week for eight weeks in Memphis.

“They couldn’t guarantee it would extend his life,” Nina said. “We opted to go for quality versus quantity. They said it would probably come back in three months or so. It’s been 10 months and he’s still in remission. I think we made the right choice.”

Since his diagnosis, Waldo has gained three pounds (on food that Nina now prepares) and has remained active. “If we say ‘Let’s go,’ he’s the first one out the door,” Nina said, describing him as adventurous and a “front seat, co-pilot type of dog.” The three will be going to Branson at Thanksgiving and back to Colorado during the Christmas season.

Waldo visits the vet office once a month for a checkup. “His vets say if they didn’t know he had cancer, they wouldn’t know by looking at him.”

Nina said Waldo illustrates the importance of living life. “He keeps us going,” she said. “The big lesson is live a happy life. Love your people. Just be happy and enjoy your life.”