It happened in an instant. One minute the old man was down standing in the water of the Panama Canal. He couldn’t see well and he was almost deaf. I had been calling him, yelling for him to come for five minutes. But he didn’t hear me. Maybe it was selective. He was probably just enjoying himself and at 14 and a half years old didn’t have to listen to anyone. I’m glad he did. Ten minutes later he was gone.
I just finished bathing and drying him, his body. It was clear that’s what it was. I didn’t feel anything else there. And I felt very alone. Less than alone. I feel as if part of me is missing.
On a Friday afternoon in May of 2000 I received a phone call from a woman at the Australian Cattle Dog Rescue Association. I had been speaking with her a few weeks earlier trying to adopt a dog, but their policy was to not give dogs to anyone without a home with a yard. She called me because she felt I knew the breed and what he would need, and had been told of a dog in the animal shelter an hour away in Delaware.
“They are open tomorrow, Saturday, from 8 to 12 and closed Sunday. This dog I have just found out has been there for 3 months minus a few weeks with a family that didn’t work out. Monday morning at 6 am he is scheduled to be euthanized.”
When we got there Saturday morning, they had to drag him out of his cage. He was not friendly and not to trusting. They had me go into a small room about 15 feet square and then put him in with me and shut the door. I took a chair and put it against the center of a wall away from the door. He went and sat in the corner closest to the door. For five minutes neither of us moved. We just stared at each other. Finally he stood up. He walked over to me slowly and sniffed my leg. Then he lifted his leg and urinated on my legs. Then he jumped up into my lap and licked my face. He has never willingly let me out of his sight since.
I filled out the paperwork and we left. We took him to a beach and played with him in the waves. In the pound they had called him Blue. He had been a stray and they didn’t know his name. So we sat at the beach and whenever he turned away from me I started calling out names. I started with the A’s and worked my way through the alphabet. When I said Max, he immediately turned and looked at me and then came over and rubbed against me. Max it is!! That was almost 13 years ago.
A few days later I went in for a job interview. I had recently been downsized. It was the second interview and I was offered the job. It would be hard work, 80 hour weeks, but great money and a stake in a new company. I accepted. When I got home an hour later, Max had destroyed some of my favorite things. I was furious. I wanted to kill him. So I sat down and breathed and thought. And I came to the conclusion that he was right. After almost two years in a corporate job after graduate school, I realized I didn’t want to spend all my time inside any more either. I picked up the phone and called the employer and told them I was going to have to pass on their offer. That was the first time Max saved me from myself.
A week later I purchased a small plastic airline kennel and strapped it onto the back of my motorcycle for our first test run. I shoved Max in and we went to the park a few blocks away. When we got off the bike and went into the park to play, I put my helmet on the ground and went to pick up a stick to throw for him. He walked over and urinated on my helmet. He might as well have spoken to me. It was clear he wasn’t happy with things. So I put on my smelly helmet after a quick rinse in the fountain, shoved him back into the crate and went home. I dropped Max off and went out and traded in the kennel for a larger one. I took it home, strapped it onto the bike. Max took one look at it, jumped up on the seat and into the crate and sat down, ready to go.
Three weeks later we took off on a 1 year journey through the US, Canada and Mexico. We traveled over 20,000 miles camping and exploring and he was the best friend and companion I could have asked for. Only twice did he refuse to jump up onto the bike. The first time was when the crate fell off going over a mountain pass in Colorado at 5 miles an hour. He was not happy. Not injured, but not happy. The second time was when we did an 18 hour day from Los Angeles to New Mexico. I didn’t want to get back on either.
Max traveled with me through ten countries in North, Central and South America. He protected me at night when we camped out. He attacked the police that tried to rob us in Mexico. And he was my friend. He saved my life and he changed my life. He has been rafting, kayaking, tubing on the Rio Grande and flying to South America.
Today I was helpless to save him when he was caught in an Africanized bee’s nest. I tried to grab him and was covered myself and couldn’t get close. We both ran, he the best he could. I raced to a restaurant up the street and stole their fire extinguisher. I raced back and blasted the bees off of him. He was already out of it, covered with bees and unable to move, probably in a coma. We raced to the vet but when we got there, it was too late. I’m so, so very sad. He was my friend.
So now I just keep remembering him standing in the water before it happened, looking happy and free in his old age. Every day of his life was a blessing, since that first day at the pound. And I am so very grateful to have been part of that.
Thank you to everyone over the years that have loved him and been his friend.
Tomorrow we will find a place in the jungle and bury him.