Two weeks ago I traveled back east to Philadelphia to visit friends, have a few cheese steaks, enjoy a Phillies game at their brand-new stadium, and hang with the family. Those were my intentions, nothing too exciting or dramatic — just a nice, calm stay in the house and city where I grew up.
Little did I know that the puppy that I had picked out after a sweaty seventh-grade summer of working as a supermarket clerk to save enough money to buy would die during this trip home.
I wasn’t prepared to see Max go, he was my dog in a house of five, with my two brothers, one younger, one older.
I had saved the money to get Max, and I can still remember handing my father the 300-plus dollars nearly 14 years ago on the way to the Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Max was born.
I’m told 14 is well past the life expectancy for a Labrador retriever, but of course I thought he would live forever.
The past few years Max’s hips became severely arthritic and he could not run or walk around the block without enduring significant pain, which of course neither I nor my parents — whom Max lived with — wanted to subject him to.
In addition to the arthritis, Max had a nervous stomach and towards the end of his days, he couldn’t hold any food down. This resulted in a severely slender frame and overall weakness due to lack of nutrition.
I arrived in Philadelphia on a Wednesday and when I made it back to my parents’ house, Max was there to greet me, with his tail wagging, head raised high and a smile that stretched from floppy ear to floppy ear.
I had two days with him. Those days were filled with the usual comforting moments of using Max as a pillow for my head as we lay in the den watching TV or enjoying an afternoon siesta together in the sun.
Max was my dog, who I trained when I was 12 and he was a year old.
Max was my dog, who sprinted across South Ardmore Park as if a platter of beef Wellington were awaiting him on the other side.
Max was my dog, who knew when I was down and gave me a lick to brighten my spirit.
Max was my dog, who could sniff out a Pupperoni in the most concealed crevice.
Max was my dog, who made coming home the most joyous of times.
Max was my dog, and now he is gone.
Early Friday morning, Max suffered what we thought must have been a stroke. His back legs were now useless and he lay on my parents’ hardwood floor, breathing heavily and whimpering in pain.
Knowing this was the end, family members and I gathered around Max, savoring the last kisses, cuddles, and loving moments we had with this remarkable animal.
Before driving Max to the vet to put him to sleep, we laid him on the backyard lawn. This incredible animal rose to his feet and with his front legs ran across the lawn, wagging his tail as we watched in amazement.
I held Max in the back of my younger brother’s car as we hurried to the vet. His breathing was becoming sparse, his eyes beginning to close.
As Max lay on the animal hospital examining table we kissed him goodbye, scratched his ears and before the veterinarian could inject him, Max went out on his own terms. He died before receiving the injection.
I didn’t think I would cry when Max died, just because I have rarely cried in my life, but I found my self weeping heavily with the rest of my family as Max lay motionless on the examining table.
Max was remarkable. He had such a human side to him that all could see.
I considered him my brother, my son, my best friend. He was always there for me and never gave me any lip. Sure, a few nips here and there, but he was the most loving creature I have ever encountered.
My family treated him as he treated us, with love, respect, and gratitude.
Max wasn’t a mean dog. And he was an intelligent dog — in fact on one occasion when I approached him with some trigonometry homework that had me stumped, Max responded with two short barks when I placed the homework under his nose. The answer wasn’t “2,” but there’s no doubt Max knew the answer.
He knew the answer to all my problems, to the questions of life. He instinctively loved and intuitively cared for me, my brothers, my parents, and my grandparents. He’ll always be in our hearts. No pet can ever replace Max.