Max cheated Death so many times that when it finally came for him, I was unprepared.
|In his element (water), as he would like to be remembered.|
Max, my ancient, wheezy Jack Russell Terrier, finally passed away yesterday. Requiescat in pace, you old reprobate. I hate to admit it, but I’ll miss you.
Max was atrociously old—balding, bedsores, few working teeth, and unable to fully control either bladder or bowels. I said I would never be a nursemaid to a dog, but he was saved by his good humor. He’s not unhappy, we would tell ourselves, and we’d get out the mop and bucket and clean up after him again.
Max was the Great Houdini at escaping death. At nineteen, he was frail but not sick. I thought that he might outlive me. Or, since he frequently caused me to trip over him, we might die together. His very kind vet, Dr. Carissa A. Bielamowicz, told me that this is true of the breed. They tend to die of simple old age, not illness.
|It wasn't until his late teens that he started to act like a normal dog.|
He was constitutionally unable to walk on a leash. People were just too slow and incurious for him. He was an inappropriate hunter. His victims included several cats and an African Grey Parrot. He could catch songbirds in mid-flight. And, of course, he chased cars whenever he could slip out. He was fractious with the mailman and with other dogs, but his worst ire was for a neighbor’s Jack Russell Terrier. He and Lucy snapped and feinted at each other whenever they met, which was often. “Just like they’re married,” we said.
|In his killing days, when he still had teeth.|
Like many small dogs, he was fearless. He loved to pester Canada Geese and gulls, swimming out and snapping at them, unaware that he wasn’t a water dog. Once he tried that with a Mute Swan. It didn’t go well, but he was undeterred.
His fearlessness made him a great plein air buddy. Many times I camped and painted with him as my only companion. He would have died defending me. His last painting trip with me was last fall. “Don’t fall in,” I kept telling him, as he tore up and down the rock cliff chasing the tide. “I’m not coming in after you.”
|My studio will seem empty without his muddleheaded presence.|
I’ve had dogs all my life, but he will be the last. There are fewer places where dogs and people can roam unfettered. Dogs are great instructors when they can snuffle and burrow and show you the world through their eyes. I’ve learned much about natural history from them. But leashed and fenced, they become a management issue.
|Dog and boy, much younger then.|
Max started failing again on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, he could no longer stand. His boy—my youngest child—sat with him for most of the day, quietly chattering with him. I took refuge in housework. “Cleanliness is next to dogginess,” I told Max. He was in too much pain to laugh.
As he relaxed into his final rest, I realized just how much effort he had been putting into merely surviving. But he was a dog, and dogs never complain.