Max and Me

The youngest member of our family was laid to rest approximately 9:00am, Friday, August 16th, 2012.

Maxwell (“Max”) was not born into our family. He was adopted.  His first family decided to find a new home for him due to their limited financial resources and scarcity of time. They were simply unable to provide the appropriate care necessary for healthy mental, emotional and physical growth.  After some discussion with Max’s parents, in December 2011, my wife Linda and daughter Joanna made the journey to Brampton and there they found Max and adopted him.


Max was a hybrid between a Bijon-Frise and Poodle, or what some labeled as a Bijon-poo. A beautiful looking fellow with golden curly hair, long ears, tiger paws, and a flag for a tail. But he was in terrible shape. Max had not been well cared for. He had neither a haircut nor a bath for over a year. He was never brought to the veterinarian for his required vaccinations. He was not licensed. Upon first sight, Max looked awful. Even worse, his attitude and temperament were highly abnormal. When Linda approached him, Max responded with a growl and then a sharp bite to her leg. But regardless, Max made his way to our home.  We were determined to rescue Max from his terrible plight.

 Joanna was fearful of him from the beginning. So she decided to ignore Max at first so as not to aggravate him. Linda did the same. For most of the day he remained distant and hid in a corner of the house. When I returned home from “a hard day of work at the office”, Max was not accepting of me. When I placed him in his cage for the night, he responded with quick bites to both of my hands, drawing not only blood but causing extreme pain. I sat next to him in a rocking chair holding both of my hands together trying to massage each with the other attempting to provide some needed relief while asking him to share with me his fears. But he just curled up and remained quiet.

Linda has often said that I should have been a vet. My love for animals of all kinds is quite apparent. And that love for animals made me believe I’d be able to develop Max into a healthy, loving, happy and satisfied pet for us to enjoy for many years.

Through my life, I remember always having a dog in the house. As a child, the family dog was a small “mutt” with fine, black hair. He freely roamed in and outside of the house. But that freedom came with a price, because one day a car killed Skippy. Those years of having a dog present made me want to own a dog once married. So there were a few others.

The first was Taffy, a Beagle. Our neighbors didn’t like Taffy. She barked a lot! Many times I was threatened with Taffy’s elimination. I was told if I didn’t remove her somebody would for me. But Taffy remained with us to chew furniture, roll up newly sodded yards, remove clean laundry from the clothes’ line outside and even tear the side moldings off our new Mustang.

Then there was Dolly. She was a grey and white Shih-Tzu. Dolly was almost perfect. She lived for 13 years and provided our family with much happiness.

But then along came Lucy, a big, dumb but happy Golden-doodle. She was just too much to handle. Lucy would eat anything. We would bring home a whole chicken from Longo’s for dinner, and before we sat down, Lucy was licking her lips from eating the whole thing after grabbing it from the kitchen table. Desserts, bread, candies, hamburgers, they all disappeared. Once I looked into a basket near the fireplace where I collected matches from restaurants I visited over the years, and they too were gone. I guess Lucy was looking for something to “light up her life”! Lucy loved to run and when she had the opportunity (in other words got loose) she loved me running after her. The final act was when Lucy was placed in the laundry room while we did some shopping. Upon our return Lucy tried to tunnel her way to freedom. She had clawed and chewed a large hole in the wall, attempting the “Great Escape”.  We gave Lucy to another family who had acreage near Ottawa; this provided the much-required environment for Lucy to do her own thing, run, grow and be happy. She is in good hands. But we continue to miss her. She was a lovable dog.

So it wasn’t difficult to reach out to Max. For nine months we tended carefully and responsibly to Max’s care. We provided all we thought necessary for him to grow into a well-adjusted pet. We had high hopes for Max. But we remained concerned. When walking Max though the trails in Oakville, he routinely attempted to attack other dogs and people. On one occasion, his leash slipped from my hand and there was the “Battle of 16 Mile Creek”! Fortunately, I was able to contain him without too much damage being done to dog or owner. Our neighbors though considered him “vicious”. For the most part Max kept his biting to members of our family.  Many friends warned us though if Max was to get loose and bite someone else, the resulting liability would be ours and it could be steep.

Two weeks ago we had our friends, the Potters, at the cottage. We all decided to go for a boat ride. Max as well. So into the boat he jumped. He was standing on his back legs, looking out over the boat as if he was about to jump into the water. So our friend’s kids who were sitting at the bow of the boat, reached out to Max. Max responded by biting the 9-year old on the arm and the side of her torso. He didn’t do any serious damage other than scaring Sarah. Her 20-year-old sister grabbed Max only to be bitten on the hand, causing some bleeding. Linda subdued Max by throwing a towel over his head. The next few hours were spent applying ointment, bandages and hugs (to the kids, not Max). Max was sent to his room where he remained for the weekend, out of sight.

Arriving home, we consulted with both the Humane Society and our trusted veterinarian.  We were told to obtain the advice of a doggie psychologist (these do exist) and trainer. With one final attempt to save Max, we obtained their advice. Two therapists consulted with us by telephone and the trainer visited our home. She spent three hours analyzing Max, putting him through a number of tests.  Unfortunately Max went berserk and tried viciously to attack the trainer when she attempted to remove his collar. The final opinion of both trainer and psychologists was the same. Max was not able to adjust and would be an extreme risk to society. We were told we would not be able to keep him any longer. Max was immediately taken from us. We were told he would be put to rest early Friday morning.  This was a sad outcome, but in the best interests of all.

I found the assessment that drove such a decision to be very interesting.

Max’s Profile:
-he lived constantly in fear and anxiety, always on the defensive;
-he was unwilling to be helped;
-he refused to submit to anyone’s authority;
-his “nice” tendencies were a means to manipulate;
-he became vicious when he did not get his own way;
-he would not respond positively and constructively to any amount of training;
-he was a high risk to himself and to society;

I was disappointed to learn that Max “was unwilling to be helped”. Refusal robbed him of maximizing his potential and increasing his satisfaction in life.

Upon reflection, Max’s story is not unlike many people. While the outside appearance seems attractive, people’s internal fears, anxieties, and insecurities, drive them to strange and sometimes hurtful if not destructive behavior.

Many of us have been hurt by other people’s actions, sometimes with great surprise resulting in immense disappointment. But when we realize those who hurt us are dealing with many of their own personal fears, we are better able to understand their actions and offer the support needed to improve our relationships with them.

The key to success though is “willing to be helped”.

It is impossible to walk through life successfully alone. We all need the support of a friend, a colleague, a partner. But if we are unwilling to be helped, to accept another’s support, we will surely live a life below our potential.