In the spring of 2001, when my youngest brother Jimmy was 9 years old, he asked my parents for a dog. They were unsure (our track history with dogs was not good – one was returned to the kennel, one was returned to the farm – but those are other stories).
Jimmy asked some more.
My parents considered that our house once filled to the brim with kids, between the 4 of us and all the neighborhood kids running in and out, was soon going to be more of an only child house. Jeff and I had long since moved out, and Tommy was on the brink of getting his license.
Jimmy asked them again.
They thought about it. We watched My Dog Skip one Friday night, and all fell in love with the little boy and his dog. My parents asked Jimmy if he was sure.
He swore he was.
On a piece of lined paper torn from a notebook, in the clumsy handwriting of a young boy, Jimmy wrote his promise to always feed and walk his dog, even if he didn’t feel like it, even if it were cold and snowy. For years it hung on the wall above my father’s desk upstairs.
They said, if you want a dog, you need to find the dog… my parents decided that a beagle would be a good fit for our family and Jimmy called up breeders and asked them if their dogs would be good for a 9 year old boy.
And one day they drove an hour west of Worcester, to a breeder of beagles. The breeder opened the kennel and out came all the puppies running everywhere pell mell. Except for the runt, who ran right up into Jimmy’s lap.
That puppy was Max.
In his puppy years we loved to feed him Cheeze Balls, the neon orange puffs of deliciousness… Max loved Cheeze Balls. As we realized how terrible they were for him, we switched to Rice Cakes, which he loved even more. You could get Max to do anything for the promise of “Rice Cakes”.
He was a sweet dog, who loved most to snuggle and be loved. He slept in Jimmy’s bed, and loved to curl up under the covers behind his knees. He delighted in being scratched behind the ears, and when you stopped, he would gently nudge you with his paw to ask for more. At the sight of another dog would scrunch down on his belly and frantically wag his tail, letting out whimpers of uncontained excitement. He fought the good fight against the wild turkeys in the woods behind my parents house – barking at them as if sheer force of will would transport him beyond the fence and into their domain.
When we brought our diva shih tzu George into the fold, Max is the one who patiently taught him his dog manners. How to stand still to be sniffed. How to play nice. How to not be an ear biting pest of a puppy.
They were best buddies.
We had always felt like we were one kid short, like our family would have easily fit a 5th child in… and Max had come to fill that place.
After EJ was born, Max solidly performed uncle duties – watchfully minding the tiny baby on the floor, gently eating the Cheerios offered by EJ’s baby fingers, his back and ears happily offering a sturdy handhold as EJ learned to walk these past 2 months.
Over the past few weeks Max started having accidents around the house. Last week his belly swelled and he stopped eating. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and not eggs, cucumbers (his FAVORITE), or hamburger could entice him to eat… and with it the heart medicine needed to relieve and prevent the fluid build-up.
On Thanksgiving, we all spent our time giving him our love, and saying our good-byes.
After improbably making it through two horrible nights, and one day of relief after my mother literally force-fed him the medicine, my mother brought him to the animal hospital, in a hopeful and desperate attempt to do something, anything, to help him.
His heart was failing, his kidneys were failing, and his liver had shut down. There was nothing the doctors could do, and he was suffering greatly.
And so, with profound grief, my mother had him put down.
We miss him terribly.