We said goodbye to Max this week. He was only about 12 (we rescued him ten years ago), and he spent the last decade in what must be every dog’s dreamland: acres and acres to explore, animals to chase, places to investigate, and investigate and investigate.
Max always accompanied me on my early morning ramble. Sometimes around the edges of the fields we overlook, sometimes up on the ridges behind the house, and for years, as long as the water in the river wasn’t frozen, he would have a swim.
He was a big dog, part Australian Shepard, part something else (we speculate about this, of course). He was quiet, barking only when he needed to sound an alarm. Then he turned into a raging threat: leaping half his length above the floor, flews pulled back, teeth bared, jaws open wide enough to swallow you, forepaws up and threatening . . . until you gained entry to the house. That was a sign you were okay, and he would try one of his most endearing acts: putting his head between your legs, pressing against you as you rubbed his ears and scratched his head. But if you were on the other side of the door, it was a different story.
Max often slept in front of the door to our bedroom, usually far enough away so that it could be opened, but sometimes I would have to push hard to slide him far enough to get out in the morning. He weighed, at his peak, about 98 pounds, and was all muscle and strength. Walking him on a lead was not a comfortable experience if he wanted to move. It was "Now! Let’s go!" and unless I was prepared for it, he would drag me along until I could dig in and hold him.
In has last years Max slowed down, but didn’t stop. Our early morning walks continued right up to his last day. Climbing the hill back to the house was hard, almost more than his weakened hip could manage, but he soldiered on. The end was peaceful, induced, healing for us and for him. No more pain, no more difficulty breathing, only an endless sleep.
We have many pictures of Max to help us remember: sleeping on his back with such abandon, or acting out his dreams with moving legs and noisy breaths. Max invented tobogganing, a trick he showed to the other dogs when it snowed. He would get to the top of a smooth hill, throw himself on his back, wiggle until he started sliding, and then just head on down to the bottom, pick himself up and climb back to the top, and do it again and again. I was happy that this last winter was so mild, because had we had snow, Max would have wanted to go sliding and that would not have been good for him.
If there is a dog heaven, I like to think that here on our farm is where he found it. And if heaven means being remembered for the good and wonderful things one has done, then Max is surely there.