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Dying dog enjoys snow one last time with help from local ice center

“A simple act of kindness or service, you just don’t know how much it impacts the family."
A giant white and black dog sits on a pile of snow next to a man with pigtails under a bandana, in jeans and a long sleeved shirt.
Eli Saltzgaber with Maggie, who died this week.Eli Saltzgaber

It seemed to Eli Saltzgaber and Marianna Wilson that all of Salt Lake City were trying to help them make their beloved Saint Bernard/Newfoundland dog, Maggie, enjoy her last days on Earth.

Maggie, who would have been 11 in December, was dying from bone cancer. Her two humans, Saltzgaber and Wilson, were sad to see her go — especially before her favorite season, winter.

"She's always had a hard time with the heat," Saltzgaber told TODAY.

That's when they had an idea. What if they could help her enjoy some snow, one last time?

The two posted on local Facebook pages, searching for snow machines. Hundreds of people responded — some even offering to help them cut up blocks of ice into snow, Saltzgaber said.

Then, Saturday morning on her day off, the facility director at the Salt Lake County Ice Center called with a solution: snow collected from the center's Zamboni.

When Saltzgaber got to the ice rink, the snow was already outside and labeled.Eli Saltzgaber

Saltzgaber and Wilson took Maggie camping for her final weekend of fun and relaxation. On early Monday morning before dawn, they headed back to town to pick up Maggie's snow.

"We just scooped up some of the ice that we had from our Zamboni — we did a couple runs and got some shavings," Tiffany King, the facility director at the ice rink, explained. "Then we piled up in bins and put a tarp in his van and loaded it up as much as we could."

Saltzgaber and King snap a photo of the snow exchange.Eli Saltzgaber

Saltzgaber got back to his mother-in-law's house and shoveled the snow into a pile for his dog ... but she didn't immediately take to it.

"She was a little weirded out," he laughed.

"She was kind of confused," Wilson chuckled. "I handed her some snow and she ate it."

Only after they tossed her toy on top of the pile did she get comfortable.

"When she felt that it was cold, that was when she lay down and where she stayed for the rest of the morning," Saltzgaber said.

Wilson added that Maggie, who had been restless from the pain of her cancer, even slept for a bit on the snow.

Hanging out with Maggie in the backyard on her snow.Marianna Wilson

They turned to the veterinary hospice Lap of Love to put Maggie down, surrounded by her family.

"It was peaceful," Wilson said, emotional. "For what it was, for how hard it was, it was peaceful."

Wilson started her business, Happy Tails Dog Hiking, years ago as a way to spend more time with Maggie, who had separation anxiety. Losing her dog, best friend and pack leader has been tough, she said.

Maggie with the dog pack her mom walks regularly.Marianna Wilson

“I know some people just think of pets as pets but I believe they come into our lives for a reason,” she said, adding that Maggie had been part of their family.

“Life is short and beautiful but we weren’t ready to let her go," she explained.

In this undated photo, Maggie enjoys a snowy day on a hike.Marianna Wilson

Wilson and Saltzgaber’s photos of the dog on her snow in her final moments — sent to the city’s parks and recreation department — made their way to Facebook, where they immediately went viral.

"Sending our love and condolences to Maggie’s family. We appreciate the unique privilege of providing her a little heaven on earth," the post read.

In the hours and days that followed, King and Saltzgaber said they've been getting messages from around the world.

Eli Saltzgaber, Maggie and Marianna Wilson Eli Saltzgaber

"It has been such an eye-opener for me that, you know, a simple act of kindness or service, you just don't know how much it impacts the family," King said.

Saltzgaber added that the media coverage and public response have been "wild."

"Everybody who has pets has to go through this someday," Saltzgaber said. "And it's just nice to not feel all alone."