Goodbye to Max

Goodbye to Max

I think every little boy wants a dog of his own. When I was a kid, we had a dog named Snippy. I loved him. He was SO smart, and funny and full of character. I remember very clearly one day most of the family was sitting around watching something on the television (yes, that used to be common). Snippy got up & walked out of the room. A few seconds later, the bomb he had just dropped hit us. The commotion! Oh my God, he almost killed us. Then, ten minutes later, he peeked his head around the doorway and took a good sniff. Seeing that the coast was clear, he happily trotted back into the room and went back to sleep, as if he hadn’t just tried to gas us all.

We took him in as a pup. His mother, Ginger, was basically a neighborhood stray, but very sweet and friendly. After we took her son into our family, she would come by the house daily. We’d let Snippy outside, and the two would play in the yard until we called for him to come inside. Then, she’d bring him to the door and go on her way.

We had Snip for a few years. He was always getting out of the house and running around our semi-rural neighborhood, and one day he was just… gone. It was sad, but not that painful; at least as I remember it almost 50 years later.

So, yeah. He was great. But he wasn’t MINE. Snippy was the FAMILY dog. All four of us kids had a claim on him.

But last night, the little boy inside of me had to say goodbye to HIS dog.

Almost eighteen years ago, my wife and I bought a house. I’d been waiting all my adult life to have a dog again, and I finally got my chance. We adopted Foxy from a shelter in Oceanside, CA. Unintentionally, we had brought home a dog with the same build as Snippy, and the same red-brown coloring of his mother.

Foxy was sweet, but seemed to have some separation anxiety issues. We interpreted it as loneliness, so about a year later, we got her a “brother”; Max. The two hit it off well. She was a diva – a cat in dog’s clothing – who saw herself as above the rest of us. Max was younger, submissive, and just wanted to play. He took all of his cues from her, which suited her just fine.

As a dog, Foxy wanted to be in proximity to humans. But not TOO close. She enjoyed being scratched, but HATED to be held. Max loved any kind of attention he could get, and wanted nothing more than to be close by. Well… maybe he loved chasing a ball more, but it was close!

Foxy’s idea of playing fetch was for me to throw a ball, her to chase it, and then me to chase HER for an hour. Max was born to bring it back. And back. And back. And BACK. He couldn’t help himself. He would run until I stopped throwing the ball, which I had to do; I was afraid his heart was going to pop. Then, he’d get a big drink of water and lay down for awhile.

Of course, that only lasted a couple of minutes, and then he’d be dropping his ball on my feet again, still panting like crazy, and tongue nearly dragging on the ground. Even the lawn mower failed to dissuade him. He’d lay directly my path, looking expectantly from me to the ball and back, until I nearly ran over it with the mower. Then he’d snatch it up and find another spot to lay in.

When I’d pull up in the driveway, Max would run to find his ball – usually a Kong toy, with three balls piled on top of each other and a hole thru the middle – and proudly tease me with it at the gate. Sometimes, he’d pick it up from the small end, and show up with it sticking straight out of his mouth, like a megaphone. Ever hear a dog bark thru a rubber tube?

Over time, all of us slowed down. Foxy showed her age first, losing most of her hearing, then her sight. A couple of years ago, she was attacked at night by a coyote. It was sad. I had been preparing myself for her passing, but wasn’t ready for that. Her suffering was the hardest part.

Max got old overnight, too, it seemed. We stopped throwing the ball a year ago, when his vision started to go. Lately, he couldn’t see anything much past a couple of feet away, unless it was moving. Even then, tracking something was difficult for him. He got regular ear infections, and when the hearing went, he was left not catching much beyond strong vibrations, like clapping.

Still, he was a happy guy. Our neighbor gave him treats often (without ever once asking if it was OK), and Max would go over to the fence and bark in their direction until the guy came to say Hello.

But, a couple of months ago, Max couldn’t stand up in the morning. Eventually, I got him on his feet and outside, but he laid on his bed outside the sliding door in what I came to call his pain position – all four legs gathered under his body – for hours, occasionally tensing up. I thought he was dealing with some constipation.

Finally, I took him to an urgent care facility nearby. They took x-rays, and determined that he didn’t have a blockage, but likely had arthritis in his lower back. They sent us home with pain meds, and the next day, my friend was feeling better. On the second day, he was almost back to his old self; tail was wagging gently, which made me realize I hadn’t seen THAT for several days.

However, a couple of weeks down the road, the pain pills ran out on a Monday morning. I called Urgent Care, and was told they don’t do refills. They’re not set up for that. I’d have to contact my regular vet. So I did. They wouldn’t give me more until they did a physical exam. I could bring him right in – three days later! No amount of pleading would shorten the wait.

Max was good that day, but the next I could see that the medicine was fast clearing from his system. By the end of the day, he was not feeling well. I did my best to keep him comfortable. On Wednesday, the vet called. They had an opening later in the afternoon.

After the exam, we headed home with a fresh bottle of Tramadol. That same day, I received an order of joint and arthritis related supplements. It was the same product that the vet would later recommend. I got the goods into Max’s system, and by the next morning, he was much better.

A couple days later, another supplement bottle arrived. This one was fish-based, and stunk to high Heaven, so Max loved it, of course. I was relieved, if not happy. We had staved off the inevitable, for a while. The tail was wagging again.

For a couple of weeks, we did well, although I had to get sneaky in order to get Max to take his pills. He hated the taste, of course, so I stuffed them inside of various things; banana pieces, rolled up lunch meat, chunks of cheese. But eventually, he would taste the medicine, and became much more careful about how he ate what I gave him. I was forced to toss out several pills.

In time, Max turned his nose up at his dog food, then at each of his treats, and finally at everything. I could see him losing weight. I tried all kinds of things, but he just lost all interest in eating. He DID drink a lot of water (and do a lot of peeing), so I hoped against hope that he would regain his appetite. He didn’t.

I forced the pain pills down his throat, but they became ineffectual. It was obvious that the time was at hand, so I tried to make his transition as easy as possible. On Saturday, he seemed extremely peaceful all day, and I doubted he would make it through the night, but he did. I wish he hadn’t.

Sunday – yesterday – was a terrible day. Max never again stood up, or even tried. He stayed in his pain position all day, but couldn’t get his hind legs under him. It was so frustrating, not being able to do anything for him. Then, around 11:00, he had a grand mal seizure that lasted about a minute. It was terrible to witness.

I called Urgent Care and told them I was coming, and we needed to put him to sleep. Within an hour, it was over. He’s at peace, now.

I feel guilty for not doing things sooner, but he kept recovering from his setbacks, and I think a part of me still had hope. It’s illogical, I know, but I’m human. Now I have to be sure to remind myself that he was able to lead a pretty happy life because we took him in. In the end, what more can you do?

For now, I’m crying when I talk about him, or when I talk TO him. I can sense him still around the house, which helps. The adult part of me is looking at it rationally, but the little boy in me just lost his dog.

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