Max was neurotic, he didn’t play well with others, he constantly ran away, and once he even bit his own offspring. Even so, he was a well-loved dog.
I do not seem to do well with pets. A few years ago I bought my kids those beautiful Japanese fighting fish. The woman who sold them to me said they were virtually impossible to kill, as were the plant things on top of the vases they came in. This was an added bonus as I generally kill plants as well. The fish lasted a while, until Mother’s Day when I decided that we should change their water. I’d bought the best bottled water I could find, and it was room temperature just like the lady said. Well, right after I changed it, my son Jordan’s fish had some kind of grand mal seizure and was dead as a doornail in minutes. No sooner than my daughter Layne said, “Mine’s fine” than her fish began to do a bizarre break dance and went to fish heaven.
Killing your kid’s pets on Mother’s Day will not win you Mother of the Year. Fish aside, however, I had an even bigger failure in my attempts to bond with pets. It involves our family dog Max.
Max was a golden retriever from a great blood line. We got him from a farm just outside of Lethbridge, Alberta. The young girl who showed him to us kept trying to direct us away from him, and encouraged us to take his fat lazy blonde brother who kept wandering off to find a comfy place to nap. We, however, were drawn to Max, who we named after the dog in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
He was a lovely red colour, and he was full of tumbling energy, nipping at his siblings, turning over and biting my brother Garry’s foot. That sealed it — he was our dog. We loaded him up, paid the bill and headed home with him.
I feel in some ways we were victims of false advertising because the TV at that time was full of commercials of happy little golden retrievers, cuddly as stuffed bunnies; and loving pets. I’d even researched them. We followed recommendations about breeders and we had seen his mother. I’m pretty sure now those TV puppies had been given a darn good dose of Valium. Max was nothing like them.
His first nights in our house were not what we expected. He calmly went to sleep — no crying or whining. He was exceedingly easy to housebreak. The nature of my work allowed me to take him to work with me until he got accustomed to being in our home. All of the trying things you think you’ll go through with new puppy went pretty good. Too good really.
Just as soon as Max got his bearings, kind of like the scary characters in movies — think of the orphan and the nanny — he got nasty. He did not play well with others. He was territorial. My husband had taken him for a little walk by the river, and he came back saying Max had bit someone’s border collie puppy. We felt like it was the first day of play school and your child smacks the kid next to him and ends up in time out. To make it worse, the next day at work, a colleague described the wicked beast of a golden retriever puppy who attacked her new puppy at the river.
I was sure we had brought home a dog with attachment disorder, maybe oppositional defiant disorder. At the very least, we had a dog who was going to be a pain in the ass. I took him in a carrying kennel to a dog trainer. She was finishing up a dog obedience class when we arrived. When Max smelled the other dogs it was like there was a Tasmanian devil in the kennel. He snarled and shook and bounced around in the kennel as I tried to carry it by the handle.
As I spoke to the dog trainer, a participant in the class asked what I had in the kennel. I told him it was a three-month-old golden pup, and before I could say don’t let him out, the fellow was oohing and awing and opening the kennel, but he was ill-prepared for the attack of the piranha dog chasing down a grown German Shepard and biting the guy who let him out.
So we tried the things the dog trainer suggested and they sometimes worked, but nothing worked as well as simply letting Max assume the place he thought was rightfully his, right between my husband and me in the family pecking order. Over the years there were many times we considered getting rid of him. Certainly when he had bit both of our children. Undoubtedly when we left him for a weekend at a kennel and came back to find he had tunneled out under six kennel enclosures like he was part of the prisoner-of-war TV show Hogan’s Heroes. The kennel owner had woken to find emptied bags of dog food strewn all over her property and Max sleeping on her porch. Needless to say, he was not welcome back.
To be fair, over the years Max probably had his own misgivings about being a part of our family. Sometimes he would run away, taking his food dish with him. If, in the course of running off, he would see one of us looking for him, he would act like he hadn’t seen us, or didn’t know us and high tail it home. When we got back he’d be waiting there on the step, looking at us as if to say, “Where the hell were you?” Anytime Max did something that the possibility made sending him away loom, my children would cry and beg. Max stayed.
My sister and her husband kept Max for us during a family emergency. When they had him he was well behaved. He was even heroic, barking and blocking the path of a little boy heading close to the river, until an adult intervened. He behaved kind of like Lassie or the Littlest Hobo instead of like the hound from hell. My brother in law was so impressed by him that he arranged a date with a lovely female golden retriever — and Max became a father. We were offered pick of the litter and my daughter choose a beautiful male.
By this time Max was older, and behaving a bit better. Of course the neighbors had called the police and said he chased people. I asked my husband what he’d said to the officer who came by. He said it was hard to say much cause the dog was chasing the cop around the yard. We decided to keep the puppy. Every bit of Max’s bad, terrible and neurotic behavior came back twofold. He hated that puppy. Then he kinda warmed a bit until one night when I was watching TV late and Mac was lying by the door. The pup was lying in the living room. Then unprovoked and out of nowhere Max lunged and bit the puppy. The pup was unharmed but it was apparent we could not keep both.
My husband was angry; this was it. Max, that damn dog, would need to go this time. My husband and my children loved Max deeply. I thought about it long and hard that night. In the morning after my husband was at work and the kids were at school I made a call to a trusted coworker. Mike was a really caring wonderful guy with a house and a yard. He was single. I asked him if he would take the puppy. He told me to bring the puppy into work. He was spending part of his day with a client of ours with some mental challenges. At the end of the day he came to me and said he and the client both thought him having the puppy was a good idea.The puppy stayed with him and Max stayed with us.
With all of Max’s oddness and his bad behavior I knew it would be hard for us to find a place that would love him. I knew that even though he had been and would continue to be a challenge, we loved him. I tried to believe a day would come that he would be like those calm golden retrievers on TV. It never really did.
One morning my husband was outside in the early morning and Max fell over. He lay in the snow a few minutes and then got up. It bothered my husband. I thought it was the stupid dog being neurotic again. It wasn’t long though before Max was having trouble breathing. We took him to the vet and the news was not good. He did not have long but he was not in pain.
We brought him home. In the short time he lived he fought to stay. He was so tired though. He would lay down near me and let me rub his head. One day, the periods of labored breathing outnumbered the periods that he could get some air and we took him back to the vet and said goodbye. It was so sad to see him like that, and then he was at peace.
I miss Max. I don’t miss him nearly as much as my husband does. He spent a lot of time with Max.
As I said earlier, we are now petless. This is because I’m really lousy with fish and you can’t replace a dog like Max.
“Max the Golden Retriever” © Donna Leskosek. All Rights Reserved.
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