This family’s inn was full “ish”. Zeb, our newly-minted-adult son had recently jumped from the nest and landed in a rental house ten minutes away. He still swooped by now and then to eat and to hang out. Kylee, our semi-sweet daughter was everything sixteen can be: brash, bold, bashful, beautiful, belligerent, and brainy. She was an enigma and we exercised caution. Twelve- year-old Bill was quiet and content doing his own thing. He liked solitary activities like chopping wood, building campfires, shooting hoops and collecting stuff.
Then there was Sammie, who was crazy. I’m not sure it’s okay to call a small black dog crazy; but her scared, slinky, and wild-eyed approach to life, justified the label. Sammie had been with us for over eight years and we loved her, except my husband who couldn’t get near her. Sammie returned our love in her own weird ways.
That day in June, there was an abundance of precious sunshine and we were parked in it. Lazily lounging on the wooden deck, we traded laughs and stories while the music droned in the background. It was green and warm outside and the family was content.
As usual, Zeb made a big entrance. We looked up to where he stood on the stairs and stared. Zeb was packing a black, wiggly ball of something. He held out a puppy with its pink tongue sticking out and white teeth smiling. It was just like that scene in The Lion King where the monkey lifted Simba up to display him to the masses below. We were full of questions and Zeb explained that he had gotten this energetic new friend because he needed a dog to ride around in the box of his truck.
Zeb set the football shaped bundle down and we moved in to examine the little critter. The puppy charmed us with his wobbly antics, his soft fur, and the way he nibbled at our hands with his needle-like teeth. We called Grandma and Grandpa to come over and look, because this baby was something to see. They lived a block away and soon we all were part of a canine love fest on the deck. Except Sammie, who refused to participate and instead skulked in the shadows. Occasionally she approached Grandma. Sammie adored Grandma, who was an animal whisperer that could communicate with even the most skittish creature.
Our puppy experience didn’t end there. Zeb requested assistance to watch the puppy at our house the next day, the day after that, and the day after that. Bill was enthusiastic to pitch in and look after the puppy; caring for its every need. It was fun to have the little dog for the weekend and even the following week. With puncture marks on our hands, we started sharing puppy pics on our phones with anyone who would look. Eventually Zeb stopped taking the puppy home with him and no one said much about it. There was a tentative shift as we made space in our lives for the lab-retriever named Max. Sammie protested by running to Grandma’s house whenever she got the chance.
Max called Sammie his step-mother. He wanted to play with her and be close to her. Sammie had zero motherly instincts and rejected little Max. Rejection got harder for her as Max grew bigger and became more forceful about having a relationship with her. Sammie became a nervous wreck, hiding from Max, her hair falling out in clumps. It became apparent that the house wasn’t big enough for the two of them.
We called a family meeting. Tears flowing, we talked about how Sammie had more family rights than Max. How it would be unfair to replace her with Max who was younger, cuter, and less crazy. We were heartbroken coming to the shared realization that Max had to go.
Being the mom, I had to be strong and do the right thing. What I really wanted to do was keep both dogs. In anguish, I called my mom, the Grandma who lived a block away, and she listened. As we talked, she suggested that maybe her and my dad could help. She said that she would call me back after she had a conversation with my dad. I wasn’t overly optimistic. I knew my dad was a practical man when it came to pets. Recently their furry friend Snap had passed away, and jumping into another long-term pet relationship probably wasn’t part of their plan.
The phone rang and I grabbed it. Holding my breath, I waited. “We will take Sammie,” my mom said. I started whooping and hollering, yelling for everyone to come upstairs to hear the news. It was a win-win solution. Max was staying and Sammie was going to live with Grandma and Grandpa. We were so excited and thankful that we didn’t have to say goodbye to either furry friend.
So, it happened. Sammie went up the hill to live at Grandma and Grandpa’s for the next eleven years and Max stayed with us. Sammie was thrilled to go to a quieter home with her favorite person and Max seemed happy not to face daily rejection; constantly flashing his signature pink-tongued, and white-toothed grin.
Now that Max’s position in the family was official, my husband shared his expectations. Because Max was going to be a big dog, he had to live outside. After almost having to get rid of Max, we outwardly agreed and inwardly protested. We purchased an igloo dog house. Insulated and durable, it was made for Alberta weather and would keep our precious friend safe at night.
In the igloo, our precious friend got lonesome and bored. So, he chewed the door off. We got another door. He chewed that one off too. In fact, he shredded a lot of stuff. The corner of the wooden deck, electrical cords still plugged in, plastic garbage cans and the outdoor twinkle lights. The destruction was rampant and costly. If Max felt bored or lonesome, he chewed. (not unlike most humans) This became a problem.
There was another problem. Max enjoyed digging and his giant paws were shovels that could produce large holes in short periods of time. On hot days he would dig holes and lay in them to cool his black fur and find solace from the sun. On one side of the yard he dug a hole to go see his next-door girlfriend Teaka. On the other side of the yard, he dug a hole to go run around with the neighbour children who were terrified of him. That was a scene! The neighbour was angry, my husband was angry, and the yard looked like a war zone.
Then, the grape juice incident happened. One day when I was downstairs doing laundry, Max grabbed an almost-full, grape juice box that one of the kids had left sitting by the couch. What proceeded in his mind was a fun game of chase. Reality was mayhem as he ran in circles with purple juice squirting all over the white Berber carpet. The more I screamed and ran after him, the faster he went. Afterwards, my husband found me crying on my hands and knees, scrubbing the carpet.
My husband believed that dogs should not be treated like people and it was unreasonable to let a big black dog run the show. My husband grew up on a farm and I grew up with an animal-whispering mother. We had a problem. Another family meeting was called and everyone agreed to step up our game and help with walks, scooping, training and supervising the mischievous bugger. If we didn’t do this, Max had to go live on a farm.
Max avoided being shipped to a farm during the four years it took for him to grow up. During this time, he fully developed his personality. The igloo abandoned, Max lived inside and he slept happily in his kennel at night. Bedtime was important to him and he would put himself to bed after stopping for hugs and pets. Max demanded daily walks, and enthusiastically reminded us of walk time, every day after the supper dishes were done and lunches were made. He was passionate about people food. Seafood was his favorite which made sense given his Labrador roots. The only way we could get him to eat his dog food was to mince a small portion of meat, cheese, etc. and stir it into his kibble. This was called “`a la mode” and turned into a family verb. “Did you `a la mode Max?” we would ask one another. Over time it became clear that Max was a great conversationalist, despite his inability to pronounce R’s. We had many conversations with him, chuckling at his witty responses.
Zeb, Kylee and Bill also grew up. They graduated high school and came and went from our home. Through it all, Max remained a steadfast companion. Whatever Bill did, his big black buddy was there: in the shop, in the living room, and in the yard. Kylee enjoyed visits with her furry friend and after the initial excitement when she arrived; they fell into a relaxed, chill vibe together. Every time Zeb stopped by it was like the prodigal son returning. Max would lick his face, sit on him, and welcome him with a big grin. Zeb was a superstar to Max, his first person. New people joined our family. Kylee married Tim and Zeb married Marly. Max welcomed them, with the understanding that he was the number one dog in their hearts.
At the age of ten, Max started slowing down. Walks took a little longer, and so did naps. He was stiff when he got up but none of this bothered him. He still grinned, expected walks and `a la mode. On a moderate winter day in February, Max went on a walk with Bill and then had supper. He laid at my feet while I chatted on the phone and then he went out in the yard. After realizing he hadn’t knocked on the door like usual, we went outside and found Max collapsed in the snow. My husband carried him into the house and I phoned for help. Max wagged his tail when Zeb, Marly and Grandpa came over to load him into the car. We rushed to the vet hospital to learn that Max would not be coming home.
Kylee arrived at the hospital and we all laid on the floor with Max and had a canine love fest. We told Max what a good dog he was and how much we loved him. Together we said a prayer and then goodbye. I didn’t want him to be scared so I stared into his eyes and smiled. He was tired and his eyes were droopy. Just before his light went out, Max told me that it was his time to go.
Our family remained. Stronger, because of our dog and our time.