Sometime around second or third grade, my family got a puppy we named Patty. She was a mutt, some collie mix with long hair but short and squatty. I was the designated feeder. Patty was fun to have around, but I am not sure I ever truly bonded with her. When we first move to Albany there were no leash laws, so the neighborhood dogs roamed and as far as I know there were few if any problems. When they did pass one, we put Patty on a long elevated running wire in the back yard. Even though she could roam around, it was difficult seeing her limited. We finally adopted her out where she could be freer. Years later with my wife and kids in the Philippines, we had two other dogs, mainly for security, then after moving to Redding, we adopted a lab mix Maddie, a sweet dog that our kids adored. Once again, I am not sure I ever bonded with any of them. I definitely liked dogs better than (bird-eating) cats, but chewed-up furniture and destroyed irrigation systems made me ambivalent.
When my wife brought Max home nine or so years ago I was still ambivalent. Max was obviously a very smart dog. He was active and picked up on things very quickly. Max was a mixed breed from the local shelter so we did not know quite what we had. And as a rescue puppy from a previous home we did not know what experiences he had had either, just that he was too active for that environment. He was half the size of Maddie and very energetic. He reminded me of Ed the hyena in The Lion King with that always happy, I’m ready to go, smile. He was more prone than Maddie to destroy the irrigation system and absolutely loved eliminating my squash and zucchini seedlings. Many deep breaths ensued. I tolerated Max, but didn’t love him.
Then came the day we found a rat in the house. The rat ran to the master bedroom closet. I called Max, then about five years old, he went in, found the rat, and summarily broke its neck. Several days later he found another, killed it, and brought it to us, responding to the previous praise he had received. I was enamored and never looked at him the same again.
I already knew Max was a great hiker. He functioned as a scout, always aware of the environment and out ahead of us looking for threats, but looking back to make sure we were safe. He was also a defender of our house, always barking at someone who came to close. I did not necessarily like that, but couldn’t fault Max for looking out for us, and we had not spent the time training him to avoid that behavior. We ultimately learned from DNA that he was an Aussie Cattle Dog/Border Collie mix and everything made a lot of sense.
In the last couple of years of Max’s life I came to love that dog. I cannot say we were ever best buddies, but we did lots together and he evolved into a respectful, loyal and (usually) obedient dog. He never did resist the temptation to pull food off the counter or shelf when we were not around and did not get it out of reach, but as with all dogs, that was our fault, not his. His desire was to please us and he did his very best. His favorite activity with me was tug of war, which I almost never won.
In early November, Max’s energy level and appetite began changing. At ten, we thought he might be slowing some, but several weeks later after a removed tick continued to bleed, a visit to the vet revealed cancer on the spleen. We had several good days of walks and loving on him, but he was obviously laboring.
Here are the words I wrote in my journal the day he left us:
“I cannot even believe how much Max has woven himself into my heart—loyal, playful, tenacious, intrepid, watchful, concerned for the well-being of all, adventurous, brave, protectful, loving and compassionate, welcoming. I will miss him deeply. He is our warrior—always there. Thank you Lord for the years with a wonderful dog! We’ve been blessed.”