Max was a Golden Retriever, with a big reddish-blonde face. We met at my best friend Harold's house when Max was two. He was left at Harold's doorstep by his daughter, who raised him from a puppy. She had to give him up when she moved to a new apartment that didn't allow pets.
My first impression of Max involved his eyebrows - they wiggled up and down separately, as he stared sad-eyed at me, tail wagging, waiting to be petted. I had never seen a dog wiggle his eyebrows separately, and it got my attention. After I petted him for several minutes, he grabbed my leg with his paws and began dancing with it.
"Max, go away!" Harold said angrily. Max hung his head in shame and skulked over to the corner of the room.
Max waited the appropriate amount of punishment time in the corner, and slowly ambled back over to the couch where my wife and I were seated. He stared at my wife, and wiggled his eyebrows at her. She laughed at his wiggling eyebrows, and began to pet him also. After several more minutes, he grabbed her leg with his paws and began doing the mambo.
"Max! Stop it!" Harold swore, pulling Max away again.
Max was so ashamed of himself he crawled back to the corner on all fours, whimpering as he crawled.
"I'm sorry," Harold apologized. "I'll pay for a new pair of stockings," he offered, seeing the damage caused by Max's untrimmed nails.
"It's okay," my wife assured him.
"We can't keep him," Harold lamented. "It's just Pearl and me at home now, and we wind up leaving him alone most of the time. He needs a young family with children to play with."
Harold looked over at Pearl, his wife, who nodded agreement. The hint had been dropped.
My wife looked at me, secretly, and I shook my head no. The hint had been ignored.
"Do you want him?" Harold asked directly now. "He's a good dog, except for that."
My wife looked at me again, her eyes even sadder than Max's.
"No thanks, Harold. We have enough to do with three small children," I confirmed.
My wife continued to look at me with those sad eyes. At one point, she wiggled her eyebrows like Max, but I refused to smile and give in. The subject was changed and we left a short time later.
"Honey?" my wife asked as we snuggled in for the night.
"No way," I answered.
"Isn't raising a 2 year old, a 4 year old, and a 6 year old more than enough work for you?"
"Let's sleep on it, and see how we feel in the morning," I suggested.
The next morning, my wife made the same face, with the same wiggling eyebrows at the breakfast table.
"Are you sure we can't?" she asked, again, with a pathetic, searching look. I could feel myself weakening.
"Yes, I'm sure!" I said, mustering my resolve.
"Sure of what?" Holly, our 6 year old daughter asked.
"Never mind," I answered. "It's adult business. "
"We're thinking of getting a dog," my wife explained. She said this so sweetly she thought she was fooling me as to her true intent - issuing a call for volunteers.
"A dog! Great! I always wanted a dog!" Holly exclaimed.
She had her first volunteer.
"Hey David and Amy, we're getting a dog!" Holly called out.
Two more volunteers were enlisted. It was four against one.
"Wait a minute. Nobody said we were definitely getting a dog," I said sounding like Scrooge. "In 2 weeks, he'll be just another old toy, and I'll be the one who will be feeding him and walking him. "
"I'll walk him!" David, our 4 year old son assured me.
"Me, too," Amy, our 2 year old daughter said, raising her hand.
"Yeah, right. He weighs 20 pounds more than you," I grumbled.
"Dad, please?" my three children pleaded, in unison, with my wife's prodding.
And that's how we came to own Max.
It took a month to train him to stop dancing with people's legs. After that, Max was great with the kids. He had the gentle spirit of a holy man. The kids pulled his tail, rode him like a horse, and dressed him like a doll, but Max never complained. He was thankful for the attention. If we forgot to take him out, he would rather let his bladder burst, than have an 'accident' in the house.
The first major problem occurred a year after we took him in.
Amy was playing with Max underneath the kitchen table. Amy must have wondered what a dog tasted like, because she decided to bite Max's leg. Max let out a yelp of pain heard a block away, and then snapped at Amy instinctively. He caught her on the lip and drew blood. When Max heard Amy crying, and saw her bloody lip, he hid under the basement stairs. We rushed Amy to the emergency room, and she received the required stitches. Upon returning home several hours later, Max was still under the basement stairs, whimpering pitifully.
We had to drag Max out from under the stairs and bring him to the vet's office, where he was given a tetanus shot. Human bites, we learned, can be as dangerous as a dog's. We forgave Max for biting Amy's lip, because after all, she bit him first, and it was self-defense.
The second major problem happened during the third year of Max's adoption, after our neighbor purchased a female Doberman named Missy. Missy was an attractive, high strung dog who roamed their backyard, barking and whining at everything that moved. Our neighbors neglected to get Missy 'fixed', so when she entered into her first cycle of 'heat', Max, once again, reverted to his old ways. We watched, amazed, as he scaled the six foot, stockade fence separating our properties. Once inside, he and Missy ran around her yard together in a mating ritual.
Our neighbors were outraged, and chased Max away with a stick. Now that doggy passion had been replaced with fear, Max could not scale the same fence and return to our backyard. Instead, he remained in the corner of their yard, howling for help. We ran over to fetch Max while our neighbor eyed us angrily.
The following day, when we looked away for a second, Max scaled the fence like he wore a cape and mask, with nary a paw touching the six foot high barrier. It became obvious that there was no way we could leave Max alone in our fenced backyard while Missy was in heat next door.
The last major problem occurred during Max's fifth year as a member of our family. We began to notice he stopped wiggling his eyebrows as often as he used to. In fact, he stopped doing anything he used to other then lie on his blanket in the corner of the kitchen. When we brought him to the vet, the tests revealed the worst - he had canine leukemia.
Max needed an expensive operation on his spleen, costing $800, and then required two expensive blood transfusions of $250 apiece. We paid these without a second thought for the money, even though money was tight in our young family.
The medical treatments appeared to work, and Max got better for a while. When he resumed lying in the corner of the kitchen, we knew he had a relapse. He got worse this time. He got so weak he could barely get up to go out for a walk. When he couldn't stand up long enough to eat, my wife sat with him on the floor. She would then dip her fingers in a bowl of milk, and let him lick the milk off her fingers.
After several frantic calls, the vet admitted he had reached the limit of his treatments. He suggested it might be more humane to put Max to sleep. We decided that was unthinkable.
A week later, Max was crying constantly to himself. He began vomiting and losing control of his bladder and bowels. He could no longer walk or even sit-up. The unthinkable was discussed and ratified.
I carried Max into the car with a big towel wrapped around him. The family piled into the car, and we drove to the vet's office in silence. My wife and children were crying when I carried him into the vet's examining room. Each member of our family said good-bye to Max, and then kissed him. The vet invited all of us to remain for the procedure, but I was the only one who stayed.
I sat on the examining table with Max, his head in my lap. The vet administered an injection while I petted Max and held him. He looked up at me and wiggled his eyebrows one last time before he closed his eyes and stopped breathing. In a short time, he was perfectly still. The event was peaceful, almost religious. I watched Max transform from the passionate wonder dog, into a lifeless, still form.
I cry now, thinking of Max. I cry because I miss him and that gentle, yet lustful spirit. I think I would like to pass from this world the way Max did - held in the arms of someone who loves me, in spite of the embarrassing faults I cannot change.
back to the Short Story Page.Max the Wonder Dog, 16 May 1997