Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Empty collar, silent toys and a hole in my heart.

The Last Battle
If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this -- the last battle -- can't be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don't let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.
We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn't want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they'll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.
I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don't grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We've been so close -- we two -- these years,
Don't let your heart hold any tears.
~ Unknown

I wasn't looking for another dog. After losing two old dogs in a six week span, I wanted time to recover, but three months later, he found me. He was a matted mess of hair, hard to tell which end was which, except for that swishing tail. He had been lost or more likely, dumped and had been on his own for some time. He had the art of begging for food perfected and with a college campus, had quite a few sympathetic sources for his meals. But he limped a little and smelled awful. Nyssa knew, so did the dog... I have the word "sucker" written on my forehead. He followed us to the van on that last trip with the dorm debris and when I offered him a seat, he graciously accepted. The dog was friendly enough, as long as you didn't try to comb out his matted fur or touch his paws. He had a collar, but no tag.

(Clockwise from upper left) Max, the day he "found" me;
After the first trip to the vet; Max with his first toy; Lounging in luxury.

At the vet he had to be sedated to be examined, and for good reason. His nails had grown into his paw pads and they had to be cut out and the infection irrigated. His coat was hopelessly matted and shaved off in large chunks. The wet fur left him with several patches of raw and infected skin and he had heart worms; but he was neutered and most likely dumped by some thoughtless human. After his treatment for the heart worms, he came home...home to his air conditioned dog house, padded lounge chairs and regular meals.. along with the obligatory biscuit treats, head rubs and squeaking toys. "How old is this fellow?" One vet thought he was about five and later on another thought he might be a bit older. It didn't matter. In a matter of two days, he became ours... he became Max. (short for Maxwell)

For a long time, Max had nightmares and would cry and wail and yelp as if some horrible creature were after him. Sometimes there was no trigger, but most often it was a siren in the distance. Had he been in a fire? Could that be how he got lost? Finally, these last three months, his nightmares stopped and sirens no longer made him cry.

Max loved his toys and his chew bones, but most of all he loved his basketball.

Max loved to play fetch, except he never wanted to give you the ball back. He wanted you to take it but would pretend he was fierce and growled if you tried. But if you were quick and grabbed it from his grip, he would jump and prance with joy, waiting for that next toss. I always tired out first, so Max would sit and entertain... growling at his ball, then tossing it up in the air or nudging it with his nose, then running to grab it as it rolled away. Yes, he loved those basketballs.

Max never dug in the yard, he never chewed shoes or tore up plants or chased the cats. Max never met a dog he didn't like, but he was a staunch protector of his humans and always kept himself between us and anyone who invaded his yard. He was a connoisseur of comfort in his heated doghouse with the linoleum floor and covered porch. He had a fan for the summer heat but preferred to be with his kitties in the air conditioned sunroom. Max was an expert at getting what he wanted, even figs.

Max and his ever present basketball.

We had only been together for two and a half years when Max first started getting his large skin nodules; on his chest and sides and back.... all over. They were malignant, high grade, poorly differentiated... lymphoma... of the skin. We were referred to Dr. Brewer and Max started on a long road of chemotherapy. No IV's, just a pill in a big lump of dog food... right up Max's alley. He always did his hoot owl impression all the way there and was quietly happy all the way home. I think he conned the girls out of a lot of doggy biscuits. He took the chemo like a champ, never had a low platelet count and, wonder of wonders, his nodules went away... all of them... within four days of the first treatment. This was his life for almost 16 months... a chemo pill every three or four weeks, then a CBC, then one or two weeks off. He was happy, he was fat, he played and ran and talked to his dog friends next door, he barked at the lawn man and stole figs from the tree... no one would ever suspect he had cancer.

Then in June the nodules started coming back, but they didn't look the same or feel the same. So around the first of July, he had two taken off and they were malignant, but now, a different, second type of cancer. This time they were high grade, poorly differentiated mast cell tumors. It took longer for his incisions to heal but he was as bouncy as ever. Now, Dr. Brewer added another agent, an IV shot for two weeks and then his regular pill and a rest for two weeks. The one remaining nodule finally went away on this new plan, but more slowly than the lymphoma. Max did well in July and August and most of September, but his appetite would sometimes be off and he tired out more quickly playing fetch. He preferred his waterbed inside in the cool sunroom.

The last week of September, Max didn't want his biscuit and I knew something was wrong. We tried to give him Pepcid AC as the mast cell tumors can cause stomach ulcers. It became harder to get him to eat and he simply wanted to lay on the ground and sleep. He started limping and yelping as if his leg hurt. On October 1st, I spent most of the day trying to get him to eat a few bites of food, but this dog who would dance for his supper and inhale it within two minutes just a few weeks before, sat with six different offerings off food and even chunks of steak and just looked at it.

Our last day with Max. Saying good-bye.

Max was to get another round of chemotherapy on October 2nd but I knew it was time. Max loved to eat and he couldn't. He was uncomfortable and couldn't run and play and another tumor nodule had appeared in just the four days. It was time, before he was in so much pain he couldn't move, before he became too weak from not eating.

The staff at Dr. Brewer's office were kind and gentle. They placed an IV in his paw and wrapped it so Max and I could have time together; as much time as I wanted. We sat on the floor on a blanket and I rubbed his head and his ears.... he kept a firm grip on his basketball the whole time. I called them in after a half an hour because my resolve was weakening, though I knew this was the best and kindest thing I could do for Max. I held him close in my arms and told him I was sorry I couldn't fix this and that he was loved so very much and he didn't cry or shake, but just relaxed, fell gently asleep and was gone before his ball fell from his mouth and hit the floor. I sat and held him for a long time afterwards; he was so soft and still and I didn't want to leave him. The tech came and gently gathered his body with the blanket, his pillow toy and his old favorite basketball. Max was cremated with his favorite things and we will scatter his ashes in the woods behind the house along with a few biscuits... his favorite kind.

I was... and still am, a basket case when I see the empty dog house or his leash or carrier or just a picture, the tears come and I can't stop them. He may have been just a dog to some but he was a friend to me. Max made me laugh when I was down, he would sit and nudge his nose under my hand and look up with those big eyes and just seemed to know how you felt. Knowing how neglected and abused he was in his former life, I wanted to give him a life free from care and with abundant love. Four and a half years was just not long enough to make up for all the misery he suffered. He deserved so much more.

Dr. Brewer's office sent a bouquet of lovely flowers, so beautiful and thoughtful. They will miss him too ... the big goofball...Max!

Max (birthdate unkown - 10/2/2007)
A big-hearted, free spirit... gone too soon.
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"Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"
~ Horatio (William Shakespeare's Hamlet)

(end of post)