The Default Dog

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We said goodbye to our sweet dog, Max, a week ago.

I feel the ache most in the morning when I drink my coffee, alone, without him snuggled up beside me. Or when I come home in the afternoons, expecting to see his sweet face, but being disappointed. But watching my son grieve – that is the hardest.

For two years we watched Max deteriorate – he lost his fur, lost his energy. We kept waiting for his personality to turn. For him to snap or get mean.

But maybe that’s my weak human nature.

This dog was a saint. No matter how bad he felt, he still tried to follow our wishes. Even when he couldn’t. And I could tell how much it upset him that he couldn’t control his bladder or his bowel.

Sometimes he didn’t even have the effort to walk outside. He would just lay there or stand there and we would physically pick him up and place him on the grass where he would dutifully do his business.

Sometimes I got impatient. When I would leave the room for five minutes and come back to find an accident.

Or look down from my place in the kitchen to see an accident. And realize he had been standing there trying to get my attention, but I was so distracted. I wasn’t in tune with him, giving him what he needed. So then he felt even worse.

But Max encompasses the experiences that we never saw coming. The ones we didn’t plan, but they ended up being some of the best experiences of our life.

See – Max was a default dog. He was abandoned.

At our church, there is a kitchen that provides a free meal every weekday to anyone who needs it. Nine years ago, there were some patrons who found themselves homeless and in need of some assistance. So the director of the kitchen at the time worked with our church and put them up in a hotel for a few days. Well, they couldn’t have their dog with them. A beautiful, purebred seven- month- old Boston terrier. So the director told them he would keep him at his house in the yard. The couple went back to their hometown to get some things situated. When days turned into weeks turned into months, he called us. The number to get in touch with them didn’t work. But he knew we already had a Boston terrier. He thought we might be interested. See if they would get along. We would just be keeping him until the couple came back to town.

They never did.

They left a bag with his belongings. A special nail file. A leash. And purebred papers.

And so, that is how we came to be foster parents for Max.

And that is how he became our default dog. We adopted him because he had been abandoned.

But really, he adopted us. And he became one of the best things to ever happen to our family.

He became my son’s best friend. There to entertain. There to comfort. A little different from our other dog.

It’s hard to compare. But our Boston terriers are as different as can be.

They both snore, although our female shakes the rafters, while Max you could barely hear. And neither one of them barked hardly if at all.

But that’s where the similarities end.

Scully is stubborn and more independent.

Max was always needy. Insecure which we attributed to him being abandoned. His owners had obviously loved him. He was housebroken. He had been cared for. And then they left him. He seemed to never be able to get enough attention. He had to be right where we were as if to make sure we wouldn’t leave him. He was a cuddler. A sweet dog who just wanted to please while Scully was going to do as she pleased.

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When we brought Max to the house, Scully was a year old. They fell in love instantly after she established that she ruled the roost.

We’d find them cuddled up together on the couch. And when Max started getting sick two years ago, she nurtured him a little more.

Now Max is gone and it’s left a hole in our hearts. I find myself on the one hand wanting another dog immediately —– but it would have to be just like Max. But then I think realistically and realize – no other dog is going to be just like Max. He was a one of a kind.

But what do we do for Scully? She’s had a daily and nightly companion for nine years. How do we help her?

My husband has answered the call by giving her her favorite dog food – the one with the gravy – the one she eats clean and licks the bowl. Then spends the next few minutes banging the bowl, demanding more. Probably not the best way to show our love – feeding her until she’s fat and giving her heart disease… So we’re in the middle. We’re in the middle where we grieve. The middle isn’t pleasant. We want to get out of it as soon as possible. But there is a time for everything. And there’s a time to grieve.

It’s a sad lesson to be reminded of. No one is around forever. Even our pets.

It’s a reminder to appreciate each day, each moment with the ones we love.

Live with the end in mind because in the end, none of us get to stay here.

Thankfully, we get to go to a much better place. Like Max – who I like to think has his muscle tone back and is prancing around showing off his five foot vertical leap. Hopefully, he’s getting to chase a football as it’s thrown through the air by a father and son. Or chase a laser light without showing any sign of getting tired anytime soon. Because that’s how I want to remember Max. A dog full of life, energy, and love. Because I’m thankful for the lessons he taught me.

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