By Jim Colombo
(This story has been accepted for
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
I never wanted a dog, especially a small dog, but somehow Max found me five days after the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay Area on October 17, 1989.
It was a few minutes after 5:00PM, October 17th, 1989. My parents were leaving
for dinner to celebrate their forty-eighth wedding anniversary when suddenly the ground
shook and twisted for twenty seconds. The Loma Prieta earthquake rolled in from Santa
Cruz fifty miles away. It registered 7.1 on the Richter scale at Berkeley. Sixty-two
people were killed, cities were isolated for days without electricity, highways and the
Bay Bridge were damaged, and the World Series was postponed. The Marina district in
San Francisco burned for two days. With all of the chaos, somehow Max found me and
changed my life.
The earthquake shook Tuesday and by Saturday most of the cities were getting
electricity again. Sunday was the first normal day after the earthquake, so I went
grocery shopping. When I returned there was a dirty towel, or maybe it was a piece of
rug, rolled up on our doormat. I drove into the garage and brought the groceries in the
kitchen. I opened the front door and the beige rug wagged its tail, and paced back and
forth, limping on its rear right leg. It was dirty and had a red elastic collar with a jingle
bell attached. I never thought about having a dog, especially a small dog. I thought that
it most likely belonged to a neighbor, and that I would keep it outside in the back porch.
In a couple of weeks someone would claim it and we would go on with our lives. It was
a male dog. "Okay, come on in, Max," and as if he knew that he would stay for seven
years, he hobbled in, wagged his curly tail, and danced for joy. He looked like he was
Two weeks passed and no one claimed Max. I had looked in the lost and found
section of the newspaper to see if there was a notice for a small dog lost in our
neighborhood. I bought a leash so I could take Max for a walk in the park. Maybe
someone would recognize him. If he had a dog tag, I could have found his owner, but
he came to me wearing a red elastic collar with a jingle bell. Maybe the owner was a
little old lady. I took Max to the SPCA to list him as a found dog so they could match
him with their lost dogs report. No match was found, so I took Max to the vet for a
check up. The vet said that Max was a Lhasa Apso from Tibet, about a year old by
looking at his teeth, and if Max had papers, he’d be worth about $750. I had given Max
a bath with Ivory soap the day he found me. Now that I knew that I had a dog of status I
gave Max a bath with Alberto VO5 shampoo with conditioner. Boy, did he shine. He
looked like a $750 dog now.
Max slept on one of my old flannel shirts with a blanket underneath. He was an
intelligent dog. I put newspapers in the far corner of the porch and I took him to the
newspaper and said, “PAPER, PAPER,” and touched his backside. My wife laughed
and reminded me that cats go on newspaper, not dogs. She continued, ”Anyway, dogs
don't know what you’re saying. To them it is all bla bla bla.”
After dinner I checked Max, and not only had he peed on the paper, he had
pooped on the paper as well. "Good boy, Max,” I said and petted his head. Max
danced around my legs. I showed my wife how smart Max was. "He got lucky," she
Max had an enlarged right eye that looked like it was going to pop out. He got
confused and lost all of the time because he could never understand direction. He
couldn’t remember how to get back to the porch where his food was if he wandered to
the back of the yard. Eventually, he would find his spot by trial and error. I thought that
Max had a problem, so I took him to the vet to have his right eye examined. He was
blind in his right eye and by the way he seemed disoriented, possibly retarded. One
month had passed and I was getting attached to Max. I asked the vet to give Max a
complete physical and all the necessary shots. No one had claimed him, so he was
mine now. I registered him with the SPCA and got a dog tag. Max got lost twice and
we got phone calls about a lost dog named Max. We kept Max in the backyard after the
second time. I bought a doghouse for $10 at a garage sale. Max liked it and spent
many comfortable afternoons watching the birds eat his food and drink his water.
Max was very affectionate and followed me everywhere I went. When I drove my
car, Max sat on the passenger’s seat. I would start the ignition, then turn to pet Max on
the head, and then grab the steering wheel. Sometimes Max would stand on his hind
legs with his front paws bracing himself on the dash. When I would start to step on the
brakes, he sat back on the seat. When he saw children, he would bark and lose his
balance. Most of the time he looked out of the window and enjoyed the breeze. A few
times I had to slam on the brakes and he lost his balance, falling on the floor. Max
always look surprised, like how did I get here?
When I watched television and sat on my favorite chair Max would find a tiny
corner to wedge into. Then he gradually worked his way onto my lap. Sometimes he
curled up in my arm and lay on his back with his paws hanging at his side. During the
day when I was at work, he slept on my chair.
Max loved Halloween. Every time the doorbell rang, he barked and ran to the
door. The little children thought Max was a puppy because of his size. I think Max was
just as happy to see them as they were to see him. He ran around the children and
smelled them. They laughed and Max danced sideways, then in circles.
During the day Max and the local dogs had a network that they used to exchange
gossip. The dog four houses down barked, next the neighbor’s dog, then Max, and
finally the dog across the creek barked. It would be silent for a while, then began again
with the dog four houses down. When Max barked, he put everything he had into it.
His rear legs bounced off the ground and his tail pointed straight up. One year Max
sent a Christmas card to the next door neighbor's dog and signed it with his front right
paw. I thought that Max was right handed.
Every night Max and I went for a walk. He stopped at the same light poles,
hedges, and trees each night and sniffed, circled, and retrieved e-mail. He was a small
dog and by half way he would run out of signatures when he raised his leg. When we
went camping, Max slept in between my wife and me in sleeping bags. Some nights
Max had dreams and barked in his sleep; maybe a big dog was chasing him. He
twisted back and forth, and mumble-barked. Fortunately, my wife is a sound sleeper,
and never heard Max mumble in his sleep.
I began to realize the gift I had with Max the next time I went to the vet for Max's
yearly shots. There was a blind man with his Seeing Eye dog having a distemper shot.
The blind man’s balance was $50. He told the nurse that he only had $20. When the
blind man went inside with his dog to greet the vet, I gave the nurse $50.00 and told
her not to say who had paid his bill. I gave the nurse my business card, and asked that
when this blind gentleman's dog needed veterinary care, to bill me at the address on the
business card. I wanted to leave before the blind man returned, but a little girl liked Max
and was petting him. The blind man returned to the nurse with his dog and was
concerned about his bill. I was standing alongside of him with Max. When the nurse
told him the bill was paid, he looked surprised.
"How can that be?" he asked.
"Someone has paid the bill,” said the nurse.
"Who? Where are they? I want to...."
I shook my head, no. The nurse told him that the man had gone. I didn’t plan on
being there when the blind man returned. The look of joy, the emotion of happiness and
relief that the bill was paid that he displayed was priceless. I had never planned on
helping the blind man. It was an impulse. We sometimes walk into a situation and hope
that we do what is right.
Six years passed and I noticed that Max missed going on the newspaper once in
a while. He no longer pranced when I shook his leash. Max spent most of his time
sleeping and eating. He had difficulty jumping onto the couch and sitting with me, so I
picked him up and he slept by my side. I took Max to the vet and he told me that Max
was degenerating fast. I asked if he was suffering. The vet said, “No, he’s not. Dogs
like Max do not live a long time like other dogs. He might live one more year.”
Sunday morning October 20th, 1996 was almost seven years to the day. I went
to greet Max as I had every day for seven years, and tell him how happy I was that he
found me. Max just lay peacefully on his side with his tongue hanging out his mouth.
His eyes had a blank stare. I sat alongside him and began to recall all of the fun we had
and the joy he gave me. I had lost a very special friend. I sat with Max for about an
hour. I just couldn’t say good-bye. Finally, I wrapped him in the flannel shirt he liked so
much and took him to the SPCA. When I arrived, the attendant knew by the look on my
face that I had lost a friend. He removed Max’s dog tag, took my buddy, and walked
away. As I walked out my eyes were moist. There was a void in my life. I sat in the car,
turned on the ignition, and I turned to pet Max as I always have. He wasn’t there. Then
it sunk in. He was really gone. I began to cry. I don’t know how long I sat in the car and
stared at the dog tag in my hand. I recalled each Halloween and how excited Max got
when I opened the door and he saw the children.
His memory lives on and the birds still drink water from his bowl by the
doghouse. I miss you Max.