Our sixteen year old retriever mix, Max, reached the end of his earth walk yesterday. He suffered a stroke in the morning and deteriorated during the day. He still knew us and was not in pain, but could not stand or control himself and was clearly distressed. There was effectively no chance of recovery. We were holding him when he was euthanized.
I was less than a day into a two day housewarming trip to my sister’s in El Paso when my husband called with the news of Max’s crisis. My husband took him to the vet where they cared for him until I could make the five hour drive home. Shortly after leaving El Paso I realized that the last time I had made this trip, over eight years ago, I was on my final leg in my move to my new life in Tucson. My Honda Civic had “Tucson or Bust” in bold letters in the back window and Max was in the backseat enthusiastically keeping an eye on my driving. The memory did not make the trip to the veterinarian hospital over 300 miles away any easier.
Max spent the first half his life in North Carolina. My daughter and I adopted him from the animal shelter after he tipped his sweet demeanor by leaning yearningly up against us in his run, slowly and gently working his way into our laps. My daughter was almost 15 at the time and he was five months old (my daughter will be 31 in May), and in the ensuing sixteen years Max only grew more loving, trusting, and loyal. His favorite thing on earth was to find deer in our forested Chapel Hill backyard, escaping under the fence (deaf to my commands not to), and chase them full-out through the long leaf pines. He’d come back fifteen minutes later, tongue dangling long in exhaustion, as happy as it was possible for a dog to be. He loved walking in Duke Forest, once swimming down the swollen New Hope Creek behind my Teva’d daughter who was wading that hot summer day in water up to her armpits; Max joining her more out of concern for his “girl” than wanting that much swimming.
The other half of his life he was a good desert dog, or at least he became one. The first few months were a learning process for him – avoid cholla cactus, don’t try to bite off the cholla cactus you didn’t avoid, and above all, javelina are not deer. It wasn’t long before he was confidently leading the way, off leash, on the hundreds of miles we logged in arroyos and on trails, the soft fringe on his coat sashaying from side to side as he trotted along, frequently looking back to check on his humans. As he aged and hip-dysplasia began to limit his ability to walk for any distance, our walks dwindled to a block or so, and always at his pace – more an experience in smellivision than exercise. He was mostly deaf and half blind, and had gotten anxious when he didn’t know exactly where at least one of his humans was. But he was a dog delighted to greet each day, each meal, and each mostly empty ice cream bowl to prewash until his last few hours.
Max helped me finish my 24/7 stint as a single mom. He was waiting at home for me when I got back from dropping my daughter off for college, devastated that that part of my life was over. Shortly after our move to Tucson he facilitated my falling in love with my then neighbor, now husband, by charming him out of bits of his breakfast waffle and giving him an excuse to join Max and I on walks. He’s been a good companion to us both ever since. We were hoping against hope that he would be able to come with us for our cabin rebuilding in Colorado this summer, to experience a few weeks among the ponderosa pines and for us to be able to have memories of him there. Max will make the trip with us, though in a different form. Some of his ashes will join the remains of many of my husband’s family’s also loved dogs and we’ll know some part of him is nearby no matter where we are residing – Tucson or Colorado.
The passing of a sixteen year old dog cannot be considered a tragedy, but he has left a huge hole in our lives. Max was not a wonder dog, but more of a Satchel (for other Get Fuzzy fans out there). He just wanted to please everyone and be loved in return, and he did and he was. We miss his happy presence, his biscuit dance, and his unfailing good nature. Most of you knew him, many of you loved him. Despite his generously long life and the long goodbye – we knew the inevitable was coming, there were signs – we are so much sadder than we imagined we would be. Tough times, but the sorrow is well-deserved for a dog that brought so much pleasure, companionship, and love to our lives and who will be forever missed.
If there is such a thing as dog heaven, somewhere Max is chasing deer.