Dogs, Grief and Loss

Goodbye Max; Thanks for the Memories

 

Max
Max still looking good at 14!

Dear Reader:

Fourteen years ago, we fell in love with a dog. Not just any dog. A perfectly proportioned, perfectly marked, black and tan long-haired miniature dachshund. He wasn’t meant to be ours, but HE picked us!

Here’s the story. Our good friends and award winning breeders, Karyn and Jeff of Wagsmore Dachshunds, invited us to their home to meet their new litter of pups. They  breed to show and any dog that does not have the potential to be a champion, for one reason or another, is placed in a loving home to live out their life outside of the ring.

At the time, we had another Wagsmore dachshund at home. Bill was born with a slightly twisted tail that needed a snip at the end. But, that wasn’t Bill’s story really. He was a perfect dog. If he’d been a person, he’d have been a perfect person. He was growing older and we wanted to give him some company. (And, frankly, one dachshund is never enough!)

We sat on the floor of our friends living room delighted to be surrounded by five darling puppies. But, only one puppy sat down in Natalie’s lap and fell asleep. It was a short nap followed by more puppy play. And, then that same puppy snuggled up to my husband and climbed into his lap. I turned to my friend Jeff who whispered, “He’s a show dog.” I understood that this dog was meant to remain with Karyn and Jeff and win awards just as his father, Tommy, had. There was another dog that was available, but he hadn’t been friendly and his demeanor did not appeal to us. So, we told our friends we’d wait for another litter to arrive. I still don’t understand why they decided to let us take Max home, but they did. And the chant in our house for more than a decade was: “He coulda been somebody; he coulda been a contender.”

Max
Max and me at the beginning of lockdown in March.

For those who haven’t ever loved a dog…well, first, I’m sorry, but I must simply say that just as people are unique, dogs are unique. They have personalities. It became clear very early on that Max was not only a thing of beauty with a perfect show-dog trot, he was also a bit of a devil. He was in sharp contrast to the elder statesman, Bill, who only caused trouble when the UPS man came.

Here are my Top 5 Max Moments to illustrate my point.

It was the night of my daughter’s third grade play; she was playing Little Red Riding Hood. Her grandparents had made the trip to see her performance and to meet our new puppy. At that time in our lives, my daughter and I were passionate about crocheting. We kept a basket of unfinished projects and skeins of yarn in the corner of our family room. We never thought to move it. We laid out puppy pads and gated off the room and arrived back home three hours later to find that Max had been busy. It seemed he’d re-created this memorable scene in the classic movie The Ugly Dachshund. Natalie burst into tears, thinking we’d surely return the puppy, but our surprise turned to laughter and an appreciation for the creativity of our new pet.

Max was no longer a puppy the day he sent me into the streets screaming and yelling and flagging down drivers on a very busy road. We were visiting Natalie’s grandparents and suddenly we looked up to realize, with alarm, that there was only one dog following us around the house. The home was large and sprawling, with many rooms to search. And, search we did, in vain. We decided he must have escaped from the yard and onto the dangerous roadway outside. I can’t remember how long we looked for him, but, ultimately, we returned in tears to find him in the pantry adjacent to the kitchen. He entered and someone closed the door and he did not make a sound as we called for him. Why would he?

Max liked to eat. You may have guessed that based upon his preference for the pantry in my in-laws home. He would ultimately become a connoisseur enjoying chicken, beef and cottage cheese. But, in his early years, he was like a toddler who puts anything in his mouth. Max went through a short-lived stage of rock eating. Usually, the rocks would come and go, so to speak, without much trouble. But, one night we found ourselves racing him to the emergency room. We were instructed to leave him there by a seemingly competent vet who felt sure that surgery would not be needed. We waited by the phone and at 2:30 a.m. learned that there had been a shift change at the hospital and the new attending vet thought that we should begin surgery at once. I didn’t like the way this new vet spoke to us. I trust my instincts. So, I hit the road to see my dog and have a face-to-face with Dr. Arrogant. Well, I’m not the greatest driver. It was late. Well, early. I started to exit the freeway, but then had a second thought about whether or not I was on the correct exit. Evidently, I slowed down to a crawl. I was glad I had taken the time to put on a bra and fluff my hair before I got in the car. I felt I looked somewhat respectable as the two highway patrolmen questioned me and ultimately decided to let me go with a terse verbal warning, but no ticket. My appearance startled the doctor almost as much as the fact that within a few minutes of my arrival Max safely passed the rocks on his own.

Certainly one of the greatest fears of any dog owner is the possibility that their dog could be run over. Thankfully, we’ve never had a dog that was hit by a car. But, one day, Max hit a car. I was standing in the front yard talking to neighbors when a car sped down our cul-de-sac at an unsafe speed. Max came running from the back yard barking loudly. He quite literally attacked the car, running into the side of it. As Dr. M put it:  “Good thing he ran into the car and not the other way around!” He spent about a week sleeping the incident off in his crate.

Max
Dr. M performed routine healthcare on Max while we vacationed. I always miss the dogs when I’m away!

And, then there was the day, I heard myself saying this: “Dr. M, Max ate my Prozac!” Apparently this isn’t a rare occurrence. She calmly asked, “How many milligrams?” He was only a ten pound dog, but thankfully I was trying to taper of my 20 milligram meds and so he only got 10 milligrams that morning. It wasn’t a problem.

As I share these stories with you, it crosses my mind that you may think me an unfit dog mommy. But, I can assure you that I am not. I will add a word of caution here: There are dogs…and then there are dachshunds! The breed I love so dearly has a talent for seeking out and finding trouble. I might also bring you back to the beginning of my tale; Max was fourteen years old when we said good-bye to him.

Max did have an immediate effect on his brother Bill. Our friends all commented that Bill seemed younger and more energetic as a result of his brother’s arrival. It would be four years before we lost Bill and by then we’d added Bart and Bella, two more Wagsmore hounds, to the pack. Max mellowed a bit as he assumed the role of top dog, a role he performed for 10 years. He’ll always be remembered as the #1, a trouble-maker, a beauty, a trotter and a sweet companion and lap warmer.

Max, Bella and Bart
Max, Bella and Bart circa 2014

As a family we’ve been mourning our loss for two weeks now. It would have been impossible for me to write this post any sooner. I’ve lost my brother, my grandmother and my parents. Our doxies Bill and Bart have passed. You might think that this loss, amid a world-wide pandemic, would be less impactful. You’d be wrong. A piece of me died with Max, part of my history framed by the presence of my furry companion.

Max and Winnie
Winnie, our baby, snuggling Max just last month.

Thank you Dr. M at VCA, Almaden Valley, for taking care of my boy for most of his years. Thank you to the best neighbors anyone could have, Hector and Ralph, for the flowers and sympathy card. Thank you Karyn and Jeff for inexplicably letting us take home Max.

Many talented writers have taken to the page to share their love of dogs. The joy and sorrow that come from sharing your life with a dog is immense and I like best the way  Will Rogers summed it up:

“If there are no dogs in heaven, when I die I want to go where they went.”

Michele

P.S. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve just read the longest post I’ve ever written. Thanks.

P.P.S. You get extra credit if you’ve been able to keep all the doxies straight. We now have two, Bella and Winnie. My husband is outnumbered…4 ladies to keep him company during lockdown.