Saturday, May 29, 2010

What I Learned from Max

Rest in peace, Max Decaney.

I found Max in a newspaper ad in Atlanta, Georgia.  In 2000 I had been kicking around the idea of adopting a dog.  But what kind?  On a visit to New York I discovered that my friend had just adopted a pitbull.  I was scared to meet Portia, but she quickly turned all the negativity I heard about pitbulls around.  I found out first hand that pitbulls were funny, smart, athletic and very loving.  In the media they were the underdogs.  With their families they were the champions of joy and happiness.

I got home to Atlanta and started looking.  When I called about Max the woman who answered told me that they would really like me to come and meet him.  They were desperately trying to find a home for him because they couldn't keep him.  When I walked into their home, Max slowly came out of the dining room, walked straight to me, and sat on my foot.  "I guess he chose you," his foster mom said.

I spent a day thinking about it.  His foster parents told me that they were going to put him to sleep if they couldn't find a proper home for him, because out of the 28 calls they received, 27 of the people who called asked what kind of fighting dog he was.  I was the only one who wanted him as a family pet.

Needless to say, the girl who wanted to be a vet, who could never have a dog because her mother was allergic, took a huge step and adopted a dog in the spring of 2000.

The first years were rough.  Per the suggestion of his foster home, I tried crating him to keep him calm but Max HATED crates.  I eventually thought it was because he was claustrophobic.  Even if he was in the same place that I left him in when I came back, he would much rather have the option of being free to roam when he wanted rather than be confined to one small place.  This was probably the first of many similarities between us that I realized over time.

Max didn't know that I was his forever home.  He had terrible separation anxiety.  I would leave for five minutes to go to the laundry room and when I came back an entire comforter would be shredded on the floor.  Max destroyed entire pairs of shoes, clothing, towels, and - once - a purple winter jacket I bought for him.  (I gave him that, though.  I figured he didn't want to look girly.)  It was a huge adjustment for me to come home every day at lunch and be home every night right after work.  The first year was the hardest adjustment for both of us.  I considered giving him away.  But where would he go?  I felt very protective of a dog who others just wanted for sport.

Over time our relationship got better.  We started to understand each other and his separation anxiety got better.  We spent many wonderful evenings in Atlanta walking to Piedmont Park, meeting friends like Randall and Barney (Randall was human, Barney was the first good pitbill ambassador that Max got to learn from), and meeting other dogs in the neighborhood and our building.

We lived in about four apartments and a house in Atlanta.  Then it was on to New York.  Max was a dog built for a busy neighborhood.  He loved meeting other people and other dogs.  There was always someone to meet when we stepped out the door.  Over time we had two wonderful roommates, an excellent dog walker and a marvelous pet sitter.

Max was known for his sense of humor and his ability to change people's minds about pitbulls.  There was never a time I saw him aggressive or in a bad mood.  He never barked.  Ever.  Not inside, not on the street.  We got broken into three times in Brooklyn, and each time we were home.  He never even left the bed.  He was the epitome of what my friend said about pitbulls as watchdogs.  What, you're here to steal the china?  Let me help you pack it.  Do you have a treat, maybe? 

Each person he met he treated like an old friend.  When he took food, he wasn't like his friend Hiram the lab, who would take your arm off if you gave him a treat.  He was always a gentleman.  A 2 year old could give him a piece of bacon and he would take it with the best of table manners.    Once, when we were on a walk in Brooklyn, an entire gang of three year olds jumped out of a van and surrounded him while we walked down the street, most barely as tall as his head.  He walked down the street with them, surrounded, three to each side, while their arms were around his neck and on his back, the pied piper of 15th Street.

By the time we moved to Boise Max was getting older.  He didn't jump as much.  He had definitely calmed down with age, but he never lost his sense of adventure or his gentle demeanor.  Even when staying on a farm in Indiana!  (He didn't understand what horses were, though.)  He still loved belly rubs and cheese, and most of all, he loved being around people.

When we recently found out he had a very aggressive form of cancer, the decision to euthanize him was a quick one.  He was in a lot of pain and I knew he wouldn't want to live a life so altered by pain meds that he wouldn't be able to walk, run, or interact with the people he loved.  The only thing harder that I ever had to do in my life was sit with my grandmother when I knew it would be the last time I would see her alive.

Max was my only family for years.  When I lived in Atlanta and New York and all my family was on the west coast, he was who I came home to, always had a smile for me, snuggled up to me if I was feeling blue.  Every decision I made in my life over the last ten years was with Max in mind first.  Everything I did, and the many things I didn't do, was because he was at home waiting for me. 

I hope he knows that.  I hope he knows that he taught me responsibility, selflessness, positivity, forgiveness, the power of unconditional love.  He changed my life for the better, and now my life won't be the same without him.

I love you, Max.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
                                      ee cummings


Patricia Dacanay said...

I learned that a dog can teach an old human new tricks. Take Aunti Debbie, afraid of all four legged creatures after being bitten in the arse by Cefs dog in Snohomish. When I heard that you and Max were moving in I couldn't believe it. What a glorious adventure that turned out to be. Thank you Max for teaching us all how loving you were. We were blessed to know you. I will miss the "Max-isms" from Caldwell... Woof.