I once inherited something that positively terrified me — a mutt named Max. Being a dog lover all my life (Henry and I have owned and adored 25 dogs in our 35 years of marriage), I was surprised by how much Max unnerved me. Part Siberian husky, part pit bull, mixed with a slice of bird dog, Max was an unusual sight with his clear blue eyes, short white fur, and solid brown patch on one shoulder. I think the combination of his piercing eyes and confident possession of the yard prompted my intimidation.
I hate confessing that in those first weeks of owning Max after my great uncle died, I rarely petted him, although I gave lots of “good dog, Max” praise when feeding him, in truth, to make sure he wouldn’t entertain the thought of biting me. But then a cut on Max’s muzzle became infected and required treatment. Driving home from the vet, my palms sweated over the thought of prying Max’s mouth open to slide a pill down his throat.
That evening, I nonchalantly told Henry that Max needed his antibiotic for the infection. “Gosh,” I said looking down at my soapy hands as I washed the dinner dishes, “do you mind giving it to him?” Without hesitation, Henry grabbed the bottle and headed outside. With my soapy hands dripping across the floor, I bolted to the window, feeling rather guilty that I set Henry up for a possible disaster. Open went Max’s mouth and down went the pill with a wag of the tail.
That was a turning point in my getting to know Max’s true nature, one that proved over the years to be devoted, loving, brave, funny, and endearing. The first time I was pregnant, Max’s intensity of shadowing me increased in proportion with my stomach growing. One day a plumber, with his long water key in hand, rounded the house to approach me with a question. That water key was a smidge too threatening from Max’s perspective; thus, off he charged at full speed with teeth bared and his all too menacing bark. The stunned plumber started to run, but I yelled for him to simply “drop the water key!” As soon as the key kit the ground, Max stopped and sat, growling with one lip curled.
This mixed breed (I finally decided the mix was part dog, part person) took his duties as co-parent of our children quite seriously. When Margaret was 6 months old, she contracted roseola, a terrible virus that made her cry most of the time. While I was inside pacing the rooms holding my baby, Max was pacing outside, howling his little heart out by the closest window. He just couldn’t bear to hear her cry. As the girls grew and were outside playing, Max would stand guard and follow them around, barking if they ever made a move to leave our yard.
In 1994 at age 14, Max was killed chasing a car. Fiercely protective, he no doubt felt that blasted car was probably just too close to our house. We mourned losing Max with many tears and hugs. Actually, “mourned” is inaccurate in past tense. That precious mutt so touched our lives that we still miss him all these years later.
As Vona Weiss says in her article on mixed breeds (page 118), “All dogs are special, but ‘mutts’ often have an extra something that makes them unique.” Max would certainly approve of her sentiments, and so do I!