My dog Max is three years, three months and three days, old but he doesn’t know it. Max still thinks he’s a puppy, so he does “puppy things” that drive me crazy. I keep thinking he’ll walk by a puddle, see his reflection and realize how old he is, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Because Max thinks he’s a puppy he doesn’t believe in walking anywhere; he’d rather run. And because I have hardwood floors the running leads to sliding which leads to crashing. This wouldn’t be a problem except Max is 77 pounds so he sends things flying, especially people.
Max won’t bring a stick if you throw it. He’ll chase after it, scoop it up in his big mouth and then play an endless game of ‘keep away’. Most dogs know enough to drop it eventually, but in his puppy mind the stick is his forever.
I’ve tried to walk Max, but he prefers to walk me and if he sees a chipmunk or cat, hold on for dear life because you’re going on a ride that rivals any at the Great Escape.
Max must like the sound of the washing machine because if you wear a clean white shirt he’ll jump up with his muddy paws to give you a kiss. We do a lot of laundry in my house, courtesy of Max.
You can’t leave him alone if there’s a sandwich sitting on a plate because he’s always hungry. And even though he knows you’ll scream and chase him like a crazy person, he’ll grab your lunch anyway and chew while he’s running away because in his mind he’s not three years, three months and three days old; he’s barely a pup.
When Max does things wrong and he’s pouting in the corner, he’ll look over his shoulder and promise me with his big brown eyes that he’ll grow up soon and start to behave, but we are three years into this relationship and it hasn’t happened yet. The funny thing is, when I complain to my friends and they offer to take him for a day or weekend (just to give me a break) I always tell them no. I find on those rare occasions when Max isn’t home the house is far too quiet. You never realize how disturbing ‘quiet’ can be until you have it. And truth be told, there’s another reason I like Max around.
At night after a long day of stealing food and traipsing mud across the floor, Max flys up the stairs and leaps into bed to lie at my feet. After the light is off, in the still of that darkness, I hear his soft breathing and smell his puppy breath as he puts his head on my leg. Then he’ll let out a big sigh which is his way of telling me he wants me to rub his fluffy ears, tell him he’s a ‘good boy’ and send him off to sleep. Then Max closes his eyes and dreams of chasing chipmunks, running with sticks and jumping on the people he loves. And sometimes when the sleep doesn’t come easily for me, when my mind tosses like a ship on the sea, I feel him there protecting me, loving me and I smile.
Still, there are other times when I get a little sad because I remember Max won’t be three years, three months and three days old forever. Someday, just like your dog or cat, his whiskers will turn grey and he won’t run across the floor anymore. If I toss a stick he’ll chase it once or twice then flop in the grass because his legs are too old for such puppy games. When I shake the leash to go for our walk he’ll look back with tired eyes that say, “I just don’t have it in me today Dad.” And he won’t even steal my food when I’m not looking. As strange as it sounds, that will make me sad, too.
I have always felt that every child should have a pet. They teach responsibility, offer unconditional love and even teach us how to say goodbye. They are a friend to talk to when you are young, confused and the world just doesn’t understand. I’m sure you can think back to a moment in your life when you were having an awful day, maybe someone broke your heart or you lost someone you love and your dog or cat, almost sensing your grief, made a point of climbing onto your lap to snuggle. It wasn’t a coincidence. They do know you, more than people, I suspect, and they seem to know just what you need when you need it the most.
When you lose a pet it’s devastating. Sometimes it hurts more than when you lose a person in your life. That’s understandable when you think of how much time they spend with you. But you risk your heart and trade that pain for the wonderful years you have with them. It’s not all perfect, and sure there are times when they chew something they shouldn’t or leave you a ‘surprise’ on the freshly cleaned carpet, but you don’t really get mad. Unlike humans, their mistakes are never intentional and everything they do is cloaked in love
Years ago when I lost a dog to a dangerous road someone sent me a poem called ‘Rainbow Bridge’. It talks of a place in heaven where pets go after they die to wait for us. As happy as they are in this perfect world, their real joy comes on the day when we arrive and they can run to us once more. I don’t know if such a place exists, but if there is a heaven I’m certain our pets will be there waiting for us. For if they weren’t there it wouldn’t be heaven, would it?
As I write these words and think of the many pets I’ve known and loved and lost, tears well up in my eyes. But the sadness is quickly chased away by the sound of Max being bold again. It’s late at night and even over the hum of the air conditioner I can hear him in the backyard barking at the dogs next door trying to get them to bark back. He wants to wake the neighbors, you see. Normally I’d stomp across the floor, bang on the window and tell him to knock it off, but tonight I think I’ll let him be. After all, the clock just struck midnight and he’s not three years, three months and three days old anymore. I know he’s changing, but for now, for this moment, Max still thinks he’s a puppy and that’s just fine by me.