When I was a child, I watched old people with their dogs. Of course, back then at 11 or 12, old was a relative term—everybody who was out of high school was old. Anyway, they doted on these animals. They treated them like children. They made them wear sweaters. They sat them on their laps like little babies. To me, it was weird, if not a little sick, the devotion these people showed to these animals. They were only dogs, for goodness sake. When one of these pets died, as they always did, holy cow, you’d think a child had passed! I watched the sadness and the tears and I wondered how a person could invest so much into a dog. A dog!
My lovely wife Tonya had an Old English sheepdog when she lived on her grandfather's farm in in Pennsylvania. His name was Bandit and he weighed 180 pounds. He was gentle and smart, and fiercely protective of her, and my eventual daughter, Alexis. Tonya always wanted another sheepdog. She found a picture of this 6 month old dog on a breeder’s website in Nebraska and fell in love.
And that’s how we got Max. He arrived in the back of a van after a three day trip. I remember opening the cage and seeing this huge ball of fur with two frightened blue eyes looking at me. It was no easy thing getting him out of his travel cage; even as a puppy he was incredibly strong. I won the battle and carried him into the house.
I was a little shocked at how quickly we bonded. I had always been a bit ambivalent about dogs. They were nice and all, and cute, but before Max I had never really gained any kind of attachment to one. Max attached himself to me immediately. I became his sun and stars and his entire reason for existence. Can you imagine? It was overwhelming, the magnitude of unconditional love that radiated from this dog when I was around him. Is any human being worthy of such devotion?
Dogs as big as Max are prone to a malady called hip dysplasia. Over the years, their hips stiffen up and it becomes difficult for them to get up. Max was no different, and the fact that he was hit by a car in 2005 didn't help. We had a cold snap last winter. The frigid temperatures almost killed him then, and his poor back legs never really recovered. He made it through all that, and I thought he had rebounded as the weather warmed up. He got his springtime shave and for awhile he was able to get around okay. This last month, however, he took a terrible turn for the worse. It became impossible for him to get up on his own. I had to put a towel around his midsection and help him up two or three times a day just so he could get into the backyard and relieve himself. He was becoming incontinent. Even with all of that, I hoped for a miracle. I would come into the garage one day and Max would jump up and run to me like he always did, all sloppy kisses and soulful eyes, and I would get on my knees and hug him around his barrel chest and he would snort with pleasure. But that never happened.
It was time, long past time, for me to make the dreaded call. Our beloved Max made his final trip to the vet this week. Where are the words? I went into the garage and began to gather up his food bowl (he hadn't eaten the food I had poured for him that day) and his water dish. I was bunching up his blanket and smelling him in the dusty folds. Tonya came in and we held each other crying: all that pain with no where to go, it felt like my chest was literally going to burst into flames.
Isn't it crazy, all of this for a dog? I remember watching a news report of that poor lady who thought she lost her dog in a recent tornado. And right in the middle of the interview, her little friend pops out of the rubble, just like that. I watched her face, equal parts joy and disbelief. Yes, all of this for a dog.
I get it now. Goodbye Max, my true and faithful friend.