My Dog Gets It. Why Don’t We?

Photo by Author.

I never contemplated having another dog. My previous foray into that did not go well; I adopted two rescue dogs during my time in Puerto Rico that were completely unteachable. When it was time to move back to the continental U.S., I found good homes for both and wished their new families bueno suerte as I backed out of their driveways.

Maxwell came to us through somewhat extraordinary means. His lifelong momma was no longer able to care for him, so she asked for help on Facebook in re-homing him. I don’t know why, but something about his face moved us to act.

With no more information than his age and basic diet, allergy, and activity stuff, we set out from New Jersey to meet our new son in Virginia.

. . .

Maxwell’s original momma told us he was a beagle, but I could tell right away that he was that and then some. From the second I laid eyes on the live-action version of this guy, I knew right away that he was a brick house of a beast.

I wondered if his mom’s accounting of his disposition was accurate — everyone thinks their kids and pets are God’s gift to the world — but he broke the ice between us immediately. He sauntered over to me, sniffed me up and down, and nuzzled his head up under my dangling hand.

“Hello, human. Pet me, and we’ll be just fine.”

As we prepared to turn the car back north and drive Maxwell to his new home, his outgoing mom gave us one last piece of advice.

“He’s never spent much time in cars,” she said. “Make sure you never roll the windows down, or he’ll jump out and run away.”

We followed all advice she gave us for about a week before discovering that there were many layers to this beast that had yet to peel away. As we discovered the real Max, we began to learn about ourselves.

. . .

My wife’s surgery went fine, but it was extremely invasive and promised a long, daunting recovery period. I was only able to take a week off from work post-op, so I had to leave her each day with our new four-legged nurse.

We were still feeling out what life would be like with a 12-year-old dog who presumably was set in his ways, so I was nervous about leaving them alone at first. My wife wasn’t going to be able to get around, play with him, feed him, walk him, etc., so I called home about every hour to check on them. I knew after that first day that we had a gem on our hands.

“He’s just been nuzzling up to me and licking my hand,” she said. “He seems to be a very nurturing soul.”

Through the craziness of catching up at work and worrying about my wife’s health following her surgery, I learned — from a dog I barely knew — how easy it is to just simply be there for someone. Yes, the things I did physically for my wife mattered, but just being there for her emotionally during this time was probably more important than anything else.

. . .

We will never forget that trip to Vermont. Maxwell had more than settled in with the Vaughn family by this point, so we decided to take a little weekend trip to our home away from home. We loaded the trunk of our car with all of Max’s creature comforts — his doggy bed, his favorite dog food, his retractable walking leash — and off we went.

We were maybe 12 miles up the New Jersey turnpike when he began whimpering in the back seat. Usually, that means he needs to answer the call of nature, so I picked the best horrible place to pull off on the turnpike.

He pranced around in the grass on the side of the highway for a few minutes, and he managed to tinkle a little on a fallen branch, but nothing about this stop indicated that he was in dire straits. I ushered him back into the car and we resumed our journey.

Immediately, he began whimpering again. My wife and I looked at each other, and she suggested I roll his window down a little so he could get some air. Immediately, he rose up on his hind legs, balanced his front paws against the door in the back seat, and began frantically sniffing at the air coming in through his slightly opened window.

On a whim, I decided to roll his window down as far as it could go. He lunged forward, shot his entire head out the window, and rode like that for the next 300 miles. The one time I tried to roll his window back up (we were getting cold), he immediately started groaning, whining, and growling deep in his throat. Only a fully-opened window would silence him.

From that time forward, he begs us for car rides now every afternoon — usually around 4 p.m. He has decided he cannot live without the wind in his face, and he doesn’t care how cold, hot, wet, or dry it is outside.

Maxwell has taught us to enjoy the simplest of pleasures. He has inspired us to find that proverbial “wind in our faces” and accept no less in life. Because of this dog, we have resolved to spend a little of each day finding the little joys in life and making them a non-negotiable part of our existence.

. . .

We went a little overboard with him for a while. We never fed him table scraps or, really, any human food, but we also didn’t exercise him much. He is severely prone to allergies and he’s older than dirt for a dog, so we just let him run around the back yard a little. We figured that would suffice for activity.

A couple of months ago, I took him to the vet for his periodic allergy checkup. She weighed him, sighed deeply, and asked me to sit down.

“This pup is way too heavy,” she said. “He needs to be way less…dog…than he is.”

She suggested that we walk him more. I shared my concern about his age, but she assured me that he would be okay with regular walks. In fact, she thought it might actually prolong his life to weigh less and get his blood moving more.

We decided to not just walk him, but also to subtly adjust his diet. Rather than fill his bowl up every time it was empty, we only filled it once in the morning and once mid-afternoon.

We decided to adjust our diets as well. Between that and walking him 2.5–3 miles a day, we have all lost weight. Max is down 10 lbs. and more energetic than any 14-year-old dog should be, and my wife and I are both in the best shape we’ve been in for some time.

Maxwell taught us that taking proper care of him is important, but so is taking proper care of ourselves. As a family, we have all reaped the benefits of doing the right thing for each other.

Selfie by Author with Maxwell

We have only had Maxwell for a little over a year, but he is so deeply in our hearts that it seems he’s always been a part of us. He has brought comfort, joy, and a sense of calm to our lives through some tough situations. He is our glue.

We know that Maxwell’s remaining years are few at this point, and it will be hard when we eventually lose him. He will leave a physical void that will be tough to overcome.

Fortunately, though, he will leave us with something that could never be replaced. He will leave us with some life lessons that we will carry with us for our remaining years.

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