A Dog's Best Friend

updated 08/22/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/22/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

TWO SMALL GARMENTS—A PLAID winter jacket and a khaki raincoat—sit neatly folded on a white pedestal in the dining room of Martin Scot Kosins's home in Huntington Woods outside Detroit. Nearby is a framed charcoal sketch of Maya, the female boxer-shepherd that once wore the coats. In the living room, several partially chewed dog toys are lined up in front of the fireplace. And on a small buffet table, a photograph of Maya sits framed next to one of Kosins's mother. "Everything in the house is how it was when Maya died," says Kosins. "I've been reluctant to change anything."

Six years after the death of his beloved dog, Kosins, 47, a pianist and composer whose work has been performed by Sir Neville Marriner conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, remains devoted to her memory. And the slender, soulful tribute he penned to Maya in the months after her death has become a surprise hit. Titled Maya's First Rose—a reference to the flower he placed on her blanket on Dec. 6, 1988, the day after she died—the book was first published in 1992 when Kosins and Maya's illustrator, Howard Fridson, put up $25,000 of their own savings to print 3,000 copies. They hand-delivered them to several Detroit bookstores, and within two months, it had become a local best-seller. Then, in July 1993, Maya was picked up by New York City-based Villard Books; to date it has sold more than 15,000 copies and has gone into a second printing. "All the love I felt for Maya I tried to put in the book," says Kosins. "People suffer the loss of their pets in silence. They tell me when they read this book, they feel like someone is telling them, 'You have a right to cry.' "

Kosins wasn't always a dog lover. He and his sister Laurie, the children of Ben Kosins, co-owner of a suburban Detroit menswear store, and his homemaker wife, Anne, had a dog as youngsters, but Kosins wasn't particularly attached to her. His first love then was the piano. At 14 he formed a band with friends and played weddings and bar mitzvahs in the Detroit area. Kosins graduated from Wayne State University in 1968, and in 1971 he married Linda Katz, who had been a fellow student. When she suggested they get a dog, Kosins objected. "I was working in clubs, going for my masters degree in music composition; I was snowed under," says Kosins. "I just didn't want a dog."

But his wife, a social worker, prevailed, and Kosins found himself in a local pet store one day plunking down $8 for one of a litter of mixed-breed boxer-shepherd puppies. "Maya was in the corner, facing away from me," he recalls. "She had one foot in a bowl of water. My reaction to her was just automatic."

As it turned out, Maya—whose name means illusion in Hindi—outlasted the Kosinses' marriage. When they divorced in 1976, he insisted on keeping the dog. Over the next five years, Maya was his constant companion, accompanying him on long walks, bicycle rides and watching Charlie Chan movies late at night.

Shortly after Maya's 10th birthday in 1981, Kosins noticed that she seemed to be in pain when she walked. He took her to veterinarian Michael Pintar, who prescribed aspirin, then cortisone for arthritis. When Maya didn't respond, Pintar suggested she see a specialist. Kosins was told she needed surgery to remove cartilage. When he came to pick her up after the operation, her hind legs were encased in casts. "At that point," he says, "I remember thinking there was nothing I wouldn't do for this dog."

As Maya's health deteriorated over the next seven years—she would eventually suffer three strokes and a heart attack—Kosins became consumed with her care. He broke off a relationship with an actress he was seeing in New York City. By 1987 all other work had stopped. He lived off his savings and royalties and wound up spending thousands of dollars on Maya's illness. "To me, caring for her near the end was no different than if my mother had lived and become infirm," he says.

Not everyone understood. Family members and friends became concerned about him. "They'd say, 'Put her to sleep. Get on with your life,' " says Kosins. "I'd say, 'Don't make me feel like I'm crazy for doing what I know is right.' " On Dec. 5, 1988, Maya woke up during the afternoon but couldn't lift her head. For the next several hours, Kosins soothed her by stroking her face and singing "Sweet Sixteen," his favorite Al Jolson song. "When she died, I swear something happened to the air," he says. "The atmosphere changed. It was almost as if I could feel her soul leave her."

Kosins has no regrets about the time he devoted to Maya. His career is thriving again—he gives concerts and is working on three new book projects—and in 989, he began dating Joyce Jerow, 47, a homemaker and former teacher he met at a concert. "I didn't think it was strange," says Jerow, recalling her reaction to the first time Kosins talked to her about Maya. "How can you judge someone's emotions?"

Although Kosins hasn't got another dog, he is beginning to consider it. "I still think part of what I had with Maya is preventing me," he says. "It's not fair yet to bring so much of one relationship to a new one. In many ways, I feel like Maya is still here with me."

SUSAN REED
FANNIE WEINSTEIN in Huntington Woods

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