Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Learning to Sit

At Fashion Square Mall, Saginaw, Mich., my mother bought an overpriced little Yorkshire Terrier in 1990; "little" means he was smaller than the large outdoor dogs we kept in a pen on the edge of the yard. "Little" means he was vulnerable. He would be staying in the house.

Max grew to be large for a Yorky. At eighteen pounds, he muscled over other toy pets. To the veterinarians with wide eyes and park walkers who would stare, whisper, finally ask, we explained he was just a bit over-sized, big boned. Always tall, Max, and wide.

After weeks and weeks of combing through options, we got a call two days ago that a pet rescue was available. "Get in the car, folks. We're saying farewell to Max, today." And we drove to Shawnee Mission, Kan., to Animal Haven: a dog playground abundant with frolicking and free play, shade, half-filled plastic swimming pools. A black lab stood in one of the pools, stooped like a flamingo, watching. Max trembled; always small and fragile.

There was the time we thought he was nearly gone, one warm weekend afternoon during our first months in this house. Ph. had a soccer match; I was the coach. Scuttle, scuttle before heading off for a match. But Max was on the deck, frozen, quaking and hunched with his head close to the wood surface. His mouth was bleeding. This was it. Did he eat something (glass, nails, metal burrs)? What? Time was short; we had to rush off to the match while D. stayed behind to console Max, take him to the emergency vet, since we were sure he was dying. D. tugged on Max, and pulled. He seemed heavy; he wouldn't separate from the deck. Turns out he'd lain down on the deck and his tag had fallen through one of the gaps between the boards, shifted, and lodged in a perpendicular T-lock. He was stuck. Following a quick check-up (to find out he'd only bitten through his lip from the resistance and trauma), D. brought him to the fields where his light step said relief, liberation, resurrection.

Here's a little piece of the email I sent to help him find a new home:

His hair currently (for summer) isn't cut Yorky-standard. It's rather short for his comfort. In fairness, he tends to have unsavory breath, and the vet has said we might consider having his teeth cleaned, but we've never gone ahead with that.

He's good around kids, and hasn't ever shown signs of aggression toward people or other animals. In his young days, he would chase squirrels and cats, but he never caught any of them (okay, if I was telling this story to him, I'd allow that he caught one or two!). He thrives on positive attention. He's happy when new people come to the house, and he has an odd habit of sitting on people's feet. He's not a licker, and in his old(er) age, he's mellowed out. He doesn't run in the house, chew on anything (never did) or leave much--if any--hair behind. He tends to have dry-ish skin on his lower back, and so he'll try to itch his back on things from time to time, especially with the shorter haircut. He also has a small mole-like thing above one eye, but the vet said not to worry about it, and it hasn't changed in size for the past three or four years--since it first showed up.

cookie peppy brandy (freak-a-leak) jake fang sheba
(freak-a-leak) minerva tony pigeon max (freak-a-leak)

For the first time in thirty years (minus a few of those early, newborn months), I'm without a dog. Cookie was the first; several others followed. According to my count, there have been ten, including Max. While I was an undergrad, Tony was boarded at my parents', but I saw him fairly often. My dad reminded me regularly that Tony was my dog. For the last fourteen years, Max has been a part of the mix. He lasted longer than any of the others, outliving Brandy, Sheba, Mini, Pigeon and Tony--those whose lives coincided with his.

For the last ten weeks or so, we've known that, inevitably, we would have to give him up. The slow sale of the house here in KC meant we couldn't buy a home in Syracuse, which meant we would have to rent, which meant we would have trouble keeping pets. Sure enough.

Max wouldn't have liked the snow, anyway. He doesn't even like walking on grass. We had two options: find him another place to live or, er, do the unthinkable.

There's really very little else to this story, but it's unusually sentimental for me. Max was my mom's dog. I inherited him when she died seven years ago. "Who will take in Max?" I will! He was never anybody's favorite pet, never easy to train, never at ease with his place in the world. Skittish, you could say--terrified of feet and all types of balls. He had quirks, a small dog's stubbornness, and a grotesque, unrefined personality. He was simple. Never learned to sit on command. His cohort--Sheba and Tony, mainly--could sit when told. They'd sit, Max would have a look, see the snacks distributed, finally sit too. I don't think he ever connected the command with the action. It was the snacks, imitation, and delayed social intelligence among dogs. Do what they're doing. He was easily thrown off by noises; he would run to the back door when the front door opened. Sensed thunderstorms three or four hours before they arrived. And we joked about him, his clumsiness, his lack of grace, his surprisingly long life.

So to give him up the other day has convened a strange vacancy. No nudged trips to the grass. No slow-paced click-click of his long toenails on the hardwoods. And since we'll be leaving soon, too, his presence won't linger much longer than ours. Where he's headed, some generous crib in Springfield, Mo., there'll be other dogs to socialize him (roll over!) and abundant spoilation (good boy!) to help him forget and to spur a few more years of simple joy. Woe but for the blessing of always-fading memories.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at July 21, 2004 6:58 PM to Unspecified

Oh, man. Losing pets is far more emotional than I ever realized. We never had pets when I was a kid, because my mother was allergic to dander and fur and the like, dog and cat.

So when we had to put down a cat with leukemia--and my boys insisted on being with the vet when he gave Felix the shot--I really broke down. The emotion surprised me.

Our aging cat, Thor, is our last pet connection to our late son Gregory. Thor is a ragdoll that a girlfriend rescued and Gregory took him in. We inherited him. It will be very hard when Thor's time comes.

So I understand the emotions behind your post, Derek.

Posted by: John at July 22, 2004 1:26 AM

It didn't affect me much until I took the call that the rescue people were ready. Strangest part was that I knew it would come one day soon. Max wasn't a favorite pet or even a fun pet. But the time:endearment formula crept up on us. Everyone learned to like him (and him, us) just because he was around for so many years. Of course, there are lots of other attachments and issues that explain my feelings, too, including the knowledge that I probably could have done more to secure a place that would allow pets in NY. It was all much easier after meeting the wonderfully committed and kind pet rescue folks. I've always thought of them as a little bit batty. I mean, if you're going to lead a charitable life, why domesticated animals? No longer. It's basically like a foster care service for animals. So Max is staying with a family right now (who we met), while they take pet adoption applications, screen families for the best home and so on.

As for this post, it's another installment of memorializing. These late days of moving prep have zinged me with more sentimentality than I saw coming! (...which is forewarning that there'll probably be more gushing at EWM.)

Posted by: Derek at July 22, 2004 7:19 AM

Things that make you go Hmmmmmm?

It's quite a coincidence that the house sold after Max moved on to Animal Haven. Was it really the St. Joe doll that led to the sale of the house?

After some serious psychic pondering and several remote viewing sessions, I've picked up on some vibes that indicate Max was an albatross in one of his past lives. At the risk of repeating myself, realty is stranger than fiction.

Long live the albatross!

Posted by: pops at July 24, 2004 10:49 AM

Maybe in some ways: It ate the food it ne'er had eat,/And round and round it flew.

But I sure hope you're wrong about the albatross, Dad.

And I had done an hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe :
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch ! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow !


Posted by: Derek at July 25, 2004 7:52 AM