We had to say goodbye to Max III today. For the past few weeks, he had been having difficulty getting up and down. His rear legs just didn’t seem to have enough strength to lift him. When we went to bed, he needed 4 or 5 running starts before he could get up the stairs.
4 days ago, he stopped eating. Since then, his breathing has been labored. Then this morning, he couldn’t get up at all. He seemed to be having panic attacks. His back legs had stopped functioning altogether.
Max was our third Golden Retriever. Max I came from a local rescue shelter and was already named Max when he came to live with us. Max II came to us from the Golden Retriever Rescue League; he also was named Max by his prior owners. When it came time to get another dog, we decided to adopt a puppy from a local breeder.
He was only about as big as a fist when he came home with us. He didn’t even have a nose yet. We had a very cold winter that year and Carolyn would take him outside snuggled inside her parka to protect him. He is registered with the American Kennel Club as Maximillion Aloysius Xavier de la Pointe, the 3rd. Max III for short.
That first summer, we took him with us to Nova Scotia on the ferry from Bar Harbor. We stayed in an old farmhouse surrounded by high grass. He loved it there and spent the day exploring all the new sights and smells. Sometimes, all we could see of him was his tall Golden Retriever tail cutting a swathe through the fields around us. He even helped us carry wood for the fireplace home in his mouth.
He was a good dog, gentle and kind with other dogs and tolerant of cats, rabbits and other wildlife. Oh, he would chase the cat or a bunny around the yard, but his heart wasn’t really in it. It was just a game of hide and seek for him and the other animals seemed to understand that and played along.
He understood pretty quickly that our island was his home and he seldom strayed away from it. His favorite thing to do was to wade in the lake, looking for fish. Back and forth, back and forth he would go, patiently waiting for some silly fish to come close enough, but none ever did. He didn’t seem to mind.
We made a cut in the screen door leading out to the deck so he could come and go as he wished when the weather was nice. On hot summer nights, he would go outside and sleep on the deck, catching any random breeze that might stir.
The grandkids are just getting to the age where they are not afraid of animals. Max always slept on the floor at the end of Lillian’s bed when she was here. It made her feel safe that he was on guard. It comforted her to hear him breathing in the night.
As we lifted him into the car to go the vet this morning, we knew he wasn’t coming home. The vet was kind and listed all the tests and medications that might give him some comfort and extend his life for a week or maybe a month. She mentioned that the problem seemed to be in his brain – probably a stroke.
We watched him try to drag himself up off the floor and panic when he couldn’t. We knew what our answer would be. Neither one of us wants to be kept alive by heroic measures when our time comes and we didn’t want to see him continue to flounder about with no control over his body.
We told the vet that we wanted him put to sleep. She gave him a strong sedative and let us spend some time with him alone. He began to quiet down as the sedative took effect. Carolyn lay with him for a while and said her goodbyes.
Then I lay next to him and scratched his ears the way he always liked me to. He turned to look at me. Something in his eyes seemed to be telling me he understood what was happening to him and was at peace with it. Then he licked me before putting his head on his paws for the final time. I think he was saying goodbye.
He was a very good dog.
My dog Chelsea looked me in the eyes when it was time to say goodbye. She had surrendered and was ready. I wasn’t, but I understood her goodbye. I thanked her for being a sweet friend and let her go.
Thank you, Ellen. I was actually bowled over by the message in Max’s eyes at the end. It was like we actually communicated one being to another. We know he is at peace and are grateful for that. But we miss him terribly.
Beautiful story. My condolences.