Max first came into our lives on November 18, 2006. My husband and I had recently signed the lease on a rental house with a small backyard, and since we’d been wanting one for a while, this was the perfect opportunity. We did a lot of looking, and found a cute little keeshond puppy that was being held at a small-dog rescue about 45 minutes outside of town. We went through a little interview, and the lady running the rescue said that before she showed us the keeshond, she had another little guy she wanted us to meet.
“Stewart,” as they were calling him, wandered out of the house an into the backyard, sniffed briefly at our feet, and promptly attacked a squeaky toy. It was love at first sight, even though I had once sworn never to own a dog smaller than a footstool.
Apparently, Max (as we named him on the ride home) had been hit by a car and taken to animal control, who called the rescue when Max’s time was up to see if they had room for him. While the other dogs lived in runs outside, Max got to stay in the house, doing “puppy rehab” in a playpen while his wounds– lots of bruising and, as we learned recently, a minor break– healed. Since I was working from home part-time as a grad student at that point, they thought we’d be a good match because I’d be at home to keep an eye on him.
We signed his adoption papers, then took him straight to the groomer’s for a flea bath and a trim, since we thought he might get hot. I can look back at the photos now and see that he was awfully funny-looking with his fur that short!
Max settled in quickly. He had a few potty-training issues because he’d been in the playpen for so long, so he ended up sleeping in a small crate near the end of our bed for a bit. Once we were confident that he wouldn’t wet anything, we let him up on the bed to sleep at my feet, eventually putting up “doggy steps” so he could climb the 3′ into our bed on his very own.
Max was my faithful buddy through the rough days of grad school and some health trouble. He was always there to cheer me up with a big doggy smile if I ever needed it. Seriously, he was the smiliest dog I’ve ever met by far! Everyone would comment on his cheerful nature whenever we took him to the vet or pet store or doggy park. He brought joy to everyone he met.
Max had many loves throughout his life. One of his favorite things in the world was stuffed toys with squeakers in them. He was incredibly fierce, and would often rip the stuffing out of a new toy within minutes– literally! He had a few toys that held up, but even then, he seemed determined to go for the kill, grabbing the toy by the neck and shaking it fiercely while making little growly noises.
He also had a weakness for treats. Peanut butter was one of his favorites, we’d smear it in his Kong toy and he’d spend hours trying to lick it out. And good luck if you had anything with bacon or pepperonis on it, he’d be by your feet, staring up at you with those sad, hungry puppy eyes until you just couldn’t resist any longer. He even figured out that we kept the wet food (“special chows” in our house) in the pantry, so any time I walked over there, he’d get super excited.
For some strange reason, Max loved running around in circles. I would swear that he couldn’t walk in a straight line, and he also couldn’t turn counterclockwise! It made walks all sorts of fun, because he would get the leash endlessly tangled around his front legs. He didn’t care though, he just wanted to spin!
In December of 2007, we had moved to a larger house with a HUGE yard and decided that Max needed a friend. We ended up bringing home a little black puppy named Sam (he and Max were now named after characters in a video game!) who was only a few weeks old and weighed half what Max did. That didn’t last for long, though, as Sam quickly grew to be a 60-lb, part-moose hose-dog! Though he may not have been bestest buddies ever with Max, their mutual love for squeaky toys and special chows brought them together.
Things were fine and dandy for a good while. Max and Sam were our doggy buddies and enjoyed trips to the dog park and pet store, playing with their toys, and napping at our feet.
Things were great on the health front, save a little bit of pomeranian luxating patella (trick knee) that didn’t give him much trouble. But then, one afternoon, we discovered an open sore on Max’s side, so we took him into the vet to get him cleaned up. They thought he’d run into a branch in the backyard and poked himself, but when the sore didn’t close after two months, it was time to check it out. The diagnosis? The cutaneous form of valley fever, which usually goes into a dog’s lungs but had settled into Max’s skin and bones. By this time, he’d begun to limp on his front left paw as well, and an x-ray showed bone lesions from the valley fever.
Max was put on anti-fungals, but they didn’t work and things got worse. Finally, we were able to take him back to the vet for a re-check, and an x-ray showed that the valley fever had progressed, eating away bone until his elbow joint had been completely destroyed. Amputation was the best option to relieve his pain and remove the source of the infection, so we went to an orthopedic surgeon to have the limb removed. At this point, I joined the Tripawds community and met some wonderful people, and that made the decision a lot easier to deal with.
Surgery was last week, August 2nd. We dropped him off on Tuesday and picked him up on Wednesday– boy was he ever happy to see us! He was a little punked out from the painkillers, but you could tell that he was already feeling better.
Unfortunately, his recovery was not as easy as we’d hoped. He kept getting sick and couldn’t keep down food or water. Two trips to the ER suggested an ulcer, but after several stomach medicines, he was still sick. We were force-feeding him baby food and Pedialyte and even high-calorie canine food gel, but it just wasn’t enough, and the vets had no idea what was going on. He hadn’t eaten since the surgery, he couldn’t keep water down, he could hardly walk, and he was completely non-responsive. His condition continued to deteriorate, and we grew increasingly worried.
At 3:00 this morning, Sam woke us up with his whining, apparently he needed to go outside and pee. We took a look at Max, who was napping on the floor on his favorite fleece blanket after falling off the bed the previous night, and saw that he’d thrown up several times. It was time to take him to the vet one more time to see what they could do. We then realized we had to be prepared to let him go if we needed to.
We wrapped Max up in a towel and he was very quiet for the entire car ride. I hugged him close and scratched his ears, and he lay still in my lap. We soon saw the doctor on duty, who told us Max’s situation was very grave. He’d lost a lot of blood in the vomiting, and his GI track was basically shutting down. Trying to be brave, I told the doc that we were ready to say goodbye if we needed to, and the vet began to tear up, too. She and the other techs working that night had already grown attached to Max from his surgery and previous trips to the ER, and they had no clue why his condition had worsened so quickly.
We went to a quiet room, and the tech brought Max out one last time. He looked different– like he’d completely given up. The techs said that even though he’d been quiet all day, he’d started crying when they took him to the back of the clinic, but he was silent and limp again as I held him in a towel. I told him what a good dog he was, how happy he’d made people, and thanked him for being our friend. We took off his collar, and they took him back to let him go.
I had this song from the Muppets movie in my head on the way to the vet, and I think it’s a pretty good song for Max, even though listening to it while I write is making me bawl like a baby.
We’re heartbroken that Max is gone, but we know we did the right thing for him. We took good care of him and did everything we could to make sure he was a happy dog with lots of love. If we hadn’t rescued him, who knows what would have happened? Max got 5 very good years with a family that loved him very much, and a dog can’t really ask for much better than that. He was the happiest dog I ever knew, and his smile will stay with me forever. He made a lot of other people smile, too, so I like to think that he brought a little bit of doggy joy into the world.
I’m glad I have a lot of pictures to remember him by, and I’m glad that I was able to spend time with him over the past few days before he passed. WYesterday, I laid in bed with him next to me, stroking his side (the one that didn’t get completely shaved for surgery) and telling him what a very special doggy he was. Even though he had no energy to cuddle, I know that he heard me, and I don’t doubt for a second that he knew just how much we loved him.
I know that it hurts now, but it’ll get better. We’ll keep our memories of Max in our heart, and he’ll always be with us.
Farewell, little buddy, may your soul be at peace.
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