Vol. 9, No. 33
August 16-22, 2001
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Bay Weekly’s Max
November 13, 1987–August 11, 2001
by Sandra Martin

All we could see when Max was a pup were big feet and butt-up crouches that exploded in legendary romps.

“I don’t know why kings and queens bothered with jesters, for nothing’s funnier than puppies and kittens,” said our son Nathaniel, then 16, who missed the start of his school term to start off the butter-fat yellow Lab puppy who joined our family on January 1, 1988.

Max came to us from St. Leonard. In his litter of 11 — six black and five yellow — he was the one with the tennis ball in his mouth. He was so cute that our other son, Alex, dropped out of school in England to bring up the pup.

In the fleeting, rollicking moments of puppyhood, we couldn’t foresee the big-hearted old bag of bones who would, 5,000 wakings later, drag himself up rocks and hills to stay close to the people who were the king and queen of his universe.

All we could see for many more years was a hero of a dog. Strong and tireless in his long prime, Max laughed at hills, calling encouragement over his shoulder to humans whose poor two feet couldn’t carry them so ably as his four enormous leather-podded paws. After a long, cool drink of water — lapped fresh from the garden hose or, even better, salty from the Bay or muddy from a favorable puddle — he’d sleep long and hard until you’d say, “Max, are you ready?”

Max was always ready. You want to walk in the woods in the fresh snow? Sure! He’d lead us in the track of his huge footprints, marking the white way with yellow blazes. Hey, fellows, he’d say, dig this! And he’d dive nose first and snorting into this wonderful element.

He knew the Bay even better than the woods, visiting it over 4,000 times. Into the cool liquid of its element, he’d surge after his ball, returning to us as a streaming white seal. Then as a wet dog, he’d trot up to shower us with spray before shoving a sandy glob of a ball into our hands — or dropping it on our laps.

In the water, Max was muscle and poetry. Want to go for a paddle? Sure! he’d say, and lead us in our kayak as if we were water gods and he the Naiads pulling our chariot. When his favorite season returned to freeze the Bay, pursuit of that inevitable ball would send him careening over ice.

How, in those long days, could we foresee a time when our playful companion’s steps were so numbered that his big feet could carry him no farther than the corner … the mailbox … the front stoop … no more?

How could we have imagined feeble this able creature proclaimed by his neighbor and lawyer J. Richard Ronay “the John F. Kennedy of dogs”?

His fighting weight ranged from 95 to 105 pounds, but Max tried fighting only once or twice before setting his feet on the path of peace. Among our cats, he became sheriff. For our friends, he invited return to harmony. Grown men with emotions encased in armor rolled on the floor with Max, running their fingers through his stiff, yellow hair and stroking his buff velvet ears. Strong men were vanquished in many a game of tug with Max.

No matter what their age, women couldn’t resist Max. His first girlfriend, Stephanie Linebaugh, courted him young and courted him old, calling him her best boyfriend. Many more followed — Ariel, Betsy, Christi and Christy, Emelia, Farley, Georgia, Jennifer, Linda, Liz, Sonia, Vicki — asking if Max couldn’t come out to go for a walk or take a romp in the leaves. Would he like a cheeseburger? Would he like a massage?

Max didn’t care much about other dogs, but he never met a person he didn’t like. In him, in turn, many people met a dog they couldn’t help but like. He waited with kids for the school bus, cheering the gray of the early morning. At Bay Weekly, where he worked for seven years as receptionist, fear and indifference to his species gave way to Max’s persistent advances. How dared you resist a 100-pound dog who’d dropped his heavy head in your lap? Or who looked so adorable? He looked good in pictures, too, as you’ve seen on many a Bay Weekly cover; he was also sketched and painted in oil.

Even strangers Max could reduce to tears, for in him they saw the image of their own best dog.

That’s how we saw him, too. For when the time we could never imagine came upon us, all the days of Max’s long life returned to us in a tumble of images too vivid to be mere memories. Old and feeble, he was all the dog we’d loved so long.

On the August morning when his frail body finally released his fearless spirit, it was hot as we held him, and we dreamed of lying together by the fire. Having achieved the wisdom of age, Max understood that dogs were mortal. In those last moments, he asked us to tell you that his only regret was the grief of those who loved him.

Then he was young again, and romped into the universe.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly