The Beggar of St. Paul, Carol L. Douglas, is a parable based on Watteau’s Pierrot, 1719. A younger Max was the model for the American dog who eats better than starving Africa.
While I was in the Bahamas my elderly Jack Russell terrier, Max, stopped eating and drinking. My husband, who professes to hate this dog, spent many hours tempting him with various delicacies. Nothing worked.
Jack Russell terriers are very long-lived. Our vet says the old man is nineteen. Since we got him second-hand, I can’t say for sure, but he’s slightly younger than our college-sophomore son.
In January, I thought for sure that Max was done for. I packed him up and took him to the vet to be put down. On the way, I stopped at the North End Shipyard, where I ran into Sarah Collins and Captain John Foss of the American Eagle. Neither had met Max before, but they came out to my car and said a kindly hello and goodbye to the old thing. When I got to the vet, they announced that Max’s wound had healed nicely, and he still had a few more miles to go.
That wasn’t the first time he’d fooled me. When he was a mere lad of 17, I took him in because he was having trouble breathing and was bloated in the midsection. I was sure he had a tumor. “He’s getting awfully fat,” the vet said. Oh, the indignities of middle age!
|Max spends most of his working day in my studio.|
But now he seems to be in renal failure. My goal is to let him slip away naturally, since he isn’t in pain and still seems to enjoy our company. To that end, I called the vet’s office to ask if they can help me when the time comes. Early March is no time to dig a hole here in the Northeast. They warned me that dying at home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Jack Russell terriers are ferocious little beasts. Max has killed an African Grey Parrot, two cats and innumerable songbirds, which he could pluck out of the air in his youth. I never left him with small children until after his teeth fell out.
That ferocity made him an exceptional guard dog. I am used to traveling alone to paint, and would often bring him with me. Compact, he would sleep in a tent with me or allow me to stash him in a van overnight while I couch-surfed. He would stand guard while I worked in isolated places. Nobody ever walked up to me without him knowing.
The last time I took him along was to Boothbay Harbor last spring, which is when I realized that his judgment was impaired. “I am not going in after you,” I told him repeatedly, but he still took outrageous risks for such an old dog.
|When the model didn't show up at the Art Students League, my daughter Julia and Max volunteered. Kathy Gulrich captured his wriggling in a wonderful chalk drawing.|
On Friday, I made meatballs. I slipped a bit of raw meat to my ever-present sidekick. I watched sadly as he sniffed it, and then in considerable surprise as he ate it. Ultimately, he ate four ounces of the stuff.
Since then, he’s been eating small amounts and drinking chicken broth. I am not fooling myself into thinking that the old geezer is going to survive much longer, but he always surprises me.
If you’ve ever attended an old person, you know that death is not predictable. You can’t schedule it. Perhaps our inclination to euthanize our pets blinds us to that reality. But where there is life, there is hope. Sometimes it takes a frail old dog to remind us of that.