The Clarks’ Crazy Dog

On Friday evening, Mom called to tell us that the family dog, Max, was going off to a better place this weekend. The whole family was taking it hard and Dad expected I might take it hard, too. I suppose I did, but in a different way. On the day that we got Max all those years ago, Mom and Dad asked John and me if we wanted a dog. John did, but I did not, and so the dog became my brother’s responsibility. And I’ve always felt a little bit guilty that I got all the affection I ever wanted from Max without ever having to pick up his poop. But the truth is that I think, even as a little kid, there was a part of me that understood dogs don’t last forever, a part of me that knew I would never be ready for a day like this. So, I loved the dog from a distance. And while I mourn his loss, I’ll never be able to cry for the dog like my family has. For better or worse.

What I can do for the dog, and for my family, is write a little something to remember him by. So, here it is.

Max was insane. He was a dog who would not be caged or tied to a leash unless he wanted to be. Sure, we thought we had control over the dog. But he knew better. I’m sure that the family can’t even count how many chains he broke, how many times he went running off into the woods or out into town. Max did what he wanted to do, but the most important thing was that he always came back home.

I remember bringing him home that first night, in fact. He was the runt of a litter mothered by Auntie Lil and Uncle Bill’s dog, Brandi. A mix of springer spaniel and black lab, he’d been set in a small cardboard box in the backseat of Mom’s Ford Tempo between John and me. And he spent the entire ride from Townsend to Chelmsford trying to climb his way out of the box.

When he grew older, he became famous among my friends for his ability to nearly leap over the cage he was kept in during the day. Max could jump so high, with such energy, that you just figured he’d keep on doing it forever. And on those couple of occasions that I took him for a walk, I remember it took all the strength in me to hold him back. I guess it was another example of how I thought I was in control, but the dog knew better.

Like his father before him, Max proved to be the thorn in the side of neighbors who’d hoped to keep their female dogs pure. Who knows how many pups he might have sired while off on his adventures away from the house? All we know for sure is that one neighbor was constantly complaining about how our dog kept knocking up their dog, refusing to believe that it was their dog that was always wandering into our yard, shaking her tail, and not the other way around.

Max was nuts and, to me, at least, he seemed invincible. One of my favorite memories is from back in the summer between my junior and senior years of college. Stacey, Stephanie, Prok, and me were eating at the Friendly’s in Chelmsford Center when:

Either Stacey, or Stephanie, or Jason pointed out a black coated dog dragging a broken chain behind him and I think Stephanie said, “That looks like your dog.” And then I said, “That is my dog.” They asked if I was going to do anything about it and I said, “No. He?ll find his way home eventually.”

I didn’t ignore him because I didn’t care. I ignored him because I knew there was no way I was going to be able to get my hands on him, even if I tried, and I knew he would get home just fine without my help anyway.

It was in these last few years, as Max began to be less the spry young pup and more the grumpy old man, that I think I began to appreciate him even more. It was sad to see him in decline, to see the effects of a life lived crazily finally catching up with him. But this past Easter, just about a month ago, when I helped him get untangled from his chain, I thought to myself: he may be slogging around now, but in that head of his, he’s got a lifetime of craziness to look back on. No one will ever be able to say that our dog didn’t live his life to the fullest.

So, while I won’t allow myself to believe in an afterlife for people just yet, I do find myself subscribing to that old adage that “all dogs go to heaven.” Letting go of a family pet is the hardest thing I think any family can do, but we have to imagine the spirit of our crazy dog set free from the bonds of a body that was failing him. We have to imagine Max running around with his mother, chasing after birds, or his tail. We have to realize, all of us, that you can’t keep hold of a dog’s leash forever. One day, you just have to let him go.

Goodbye, Maxi-pooch, Max-a-millions… I’m finally crying, you crazy old mutt. But don’t pay me any mind—You just go and run, and jump, and play.