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My Best Friend Was Trapped in a Dog's Body
A story of pure love
Max was my constant companion. He was also my personal trainer, power walking with me at least six miles a day. Over eleven years, we covered over fifteen thousand miles together — the equivalent of walking halfway around the world. He was always ready to go — rain or shine, bitterly cold or swelteringly hot — and insisted there was no excuse not to walk. In the car, he was my co-pilot sitting bolt upright in the passenger seat and scanning the road for danger. He was my best friend, and we shared an unconditional love.
My best friend isn’t here any longer. Our 12-year-old mixed-breed rescue puppy died two years ago — it was a while ago, so you don’t have to reach out and say you are sorry — after a long battle with cancer. You may possibly think I am crazy to be still thinking about Max — after all he was just a dog.
Max was my first dog; I had never had a pet as a child. I had put off all entreaties by my children for many years, but when my husband said he would move out if we got a dog, something in me couldn’t resist the “joke is on you” challenge.
No sooner than mentioning the possibility to a dog-loving friend, she was forwarding daily emails from a local dog adoption organization featuring cute dogs with tear-at-your heartstring stories: “In the dog world, I am considered a hunk. Do you want a fine-looking friend to join your family? Well, here I am!”
We filled out the adoption application, sent it off, and in no time, the kids and I were headed to meet the dog they had selected for us. As they ushered us into the room, out came one-year-old Max, a small dog with a bad haircut. Someone had left behind this little pup, probably bought on a whim from a pet shop, because they didn’t have time. He was very wiggly, sweetly charming and peed on the floor at least five times in the fifteen minutes we spent with him. When I think back, I am astonished I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask whether this was normal or anything else relevant. We confirmed we were interested, and they told us to return in two days with a dog crate and other items.
Once home, we quickly discovered Max was anxious and totally untrained. He had accidents constantly despite being taken outside hourly. Walking him on a leash was a nightmare, and he barked incessantly every time someone entered the room or rang the doorbell.
At night, I lay in bed worried and sleepless that I had made a terrible mistake, as I had no idea what to do or how to train Max. I thought the best solution was to return him until I realized this was not the right message to convey to my children, who were both adopted. Luckily, we hired Damian, the dog whisperer and embodiment of a dog authority figure, who worked with Max and instructed us on the basics of all dog matters, including how to bathe our stinky pooch.
I marvel that Max turned out to be the best-behaved dog on the planet. When he felt known and loved, his anxiety-related accidents ceased, and weeks went by without a single bark. He got a great haircut and became my best friend. My husband did not move out, and my adamant statement that the dog would never sleep in my bed flew out the window. When Max jumped up on the bed, he knew that the best spot was right next to my husband’s leg. We loved this dog with all our hearts.
I know the societal expectation is that I should be over it by now. Max was a dog, and dogs have cruelly short lives. I grieve nonetheless for this special creature; I thought of him as a human trapped in a dog’s body.
Max was smart, loyal, curious, and pure love. He had a unique relationship with each member of our family. He was an excellent therapy dog for my son, who suffers from depression and anxiety, with an uncanny ability to offer comfort and diversion. He barked and nudged my leg if I was somewhere in the house and did not hear the doorbell ring. He snuggled with us in bed every night and was a faithful friend who I could count on never to disappoint me.
On his last day, Max and I stayed in bed all day. Our appointment with the vet was at five o’clock, his first available moment. The kids came in and out as did many of their friends. When it was time, we swaddled him in a cozy fleece blanket and the four of us set off together, my 6’8” son carrying him like a baby. To know Max was to love Max, and by God did we ever love him.
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