Mad Max Ratbone
I immediately set off for the shelter. I was shown to the kennel in the farthest corner of the shelter. Back in the corner, behind an impressive set of fangs, crouched a lovely male Rat Terrier. He was large, adult and well muscled. I kept talking to him from outside his run. He would snarl and show his teeth. I kept talking. Slowly, I let myself into the kennel. He lunged at me, but he didn’t bite me. I took a good look at this impressive, lovely animal. The hair on his neck had been worn off as if he had been chained. There was also a deep gouge, as if a tight wire had cut into his throat. His nose had been broken. I looked into those wary eyes and realized that someone had taught this beautiful dog to fear and hate humans. We sat there, the two of us, barely two feet apart. The dog could have attacked me at any time but he never did. He snarled, he showed impressive teeth at me, he even lunged at me. I reached out slowly. He grabbed my arm, it hurt, but he did not tear into me. He snarled like he was about to rip my arm off, but he didn’t. Slowly I managed to get a harness on him, upside down, but it held and together we left that shelter. I never even slowed down to sign the paperwork, just hollered out that I was taking him into rescue. Then I called my husband and told him to get our other dogs outside as I was bringing in a wild one.
Mad Max as we named him, lived in the laundry room behind two baby gates, one on top of each other, for two weeks. We fed him, gave him water and talked lovingly to him. We couldn’t pet him but he quit lunging and he loved the food. He would accept juicy little treats from us through the baby gate and then growl at us.
One day I came home and my husband had Max on his leash and was sitting in the living room feeding Max Spanish peanuts. I was amazed. Max snarled at me, and Robert said “Now Max, we don’t do that anymore.” That was the turning point for Max. It took months, but slowly Max learned that we would not hurt him. He seemed to have a special relationship with my husband. My husband was also what I considered a “wounded warrior” after two very difficult tours in Viet Nam. These two damaged males recognized something in each other.
Slowly Max began to exercise his demons. He would have horrible dreams, crying out as if in pain, flinching as if he was being beaten. We wanted to touch him and cuddle him but learned that it was not wise to disturb Max when he was having these dreams. He would awake snarling ferociously if we touched him. Gradually, we learned that he was all sound and fury but would not actually hurt us. Then we began touching him, rubbing him, comforting him and slowly, he responded.
In spite of Max’s aggressive stance toward other dogs, he accepted and was accepted by our other Rat Terriers almost from the beginning. As a foster home for Ratbone Rescues, our two dogs had seen a lot of injured, scared and ill treated dogs come to foster with us, get better and go on to new homes. They knew the drill. But, Max became one of the family. We almost put him up for adoption at one point, but he and my husband had forged a strong bond and I knew somehow that we were the first people Max had ever loved. If we let Max love us and then we gave him away, we would break something inside of him forever. So Mad Max became the third forever dog in our home and was allowed into the sacred family bed that was off limits to foster dogs.
One night, I was working into the late hours. Everyone had gone to bed but me and Max, who never went to bed until everyone was where they were supposed to be. I suddenly remembered that I had not deposited a rather large check and that my bank account would bounce if I didn’t. So at 2 am, I quietly slipped Max’s lead on and we crept out the door and drove to the automated banking machine. I left Max in the car with the window open a few inches. As I was trying to fit the deposit envelope into the poorly lit slot, a man came at me from around the corner of the building. I panicked. I sensed that I was in trouble. Suddenly, there was Mad Max in all of his old ferociousness, snarling and lunging at the man. I have no idea how Max squeezed out of that barely open window but both Max and the intruder disappeared around the corner of the building. Max came back almost immediately, running up to me and jumping all over me. We just hugged each other and got the heck out of there.
Max has been with us for some time now. He is still not a dog that trusts strangers. No one walks into our home without an invitation. He will never feel safe in this world. Only within our little family circle does Max relax and allow the playful, loving clown he was born to be emerge.
I like to think that Max’s story is just beginning. As I write this, Max is laying at my feet. I am once again burning the midnight oil and Max will not retire for the night until all of his people are where they belong.
I wrote Max’s story a couple of years ago. Max is no longer with us. During a terrible snow storm, Max became very ill. Fearing that he had pneumonia, I called our vet and talked him into opening the vet clinic for us. My husband drove us to the vet clinic in the snow and ice in his four wheel drive pickup. Max sat quietly between us, struggling to breathe. Max was diagnosed with pneumonia which was curable. But he was also in heart failure. At best, we could keep Max with us for just a few more months with proper care and medication.. We treasured every day with our aging old warrior. Apparently Max was now 13 or 14 years old. He had always been such a powerful presence in our home that we had thought he was ageless.
We took Max to the beach one last time. Max had always loved the freedom of running free on the beach, peeing on all of the logs and dashing around with a goofy grin on his face. If strangers got too close to me, he always ran to my side, keeping a close eye out until he felt that the danger had passed. But this time, Max simply trotted quietly at my side. My husband and I decided to take Max back to the vet to see if there was anything else that could be done to prolong Max’s quality of life. Unfortunately, there was not. So Max died quietly in my arms. I didn’t let anyone else hold him as I cuddled him close and told him how much I loved him as his life slipped away.
There is not a day that goes by that Robert and I do not mention Max. He was such a huge presence in our lives. He was the pack alpha and he ruled firmly. Every dog that tried to usurp him was calmly and immediately dealt with. Max never drew blood but he was never challenged twice.
The other dogs in our home understood that something had happened. When I came home without Max, I placed his harness on the floor. All the dogs checked it out. Ashley quit eating for two days. Tibbs kept an eye on the door but slowly, they accepted the fact that the pack leader had moved on.
We will always love our old warrior and are grateful for the wonderful things that he brought into our lives. Fare thee well Max. You were loved.