This piece is dedicated to my middle sister April.
We’re all very upset and don’t know what to do. After pleading our case to dad, my father speaks:
“Let me take her to the shore for a couple of weeks.”
“You think it’ll work, dad?”
“I raised you four kids didn’t I?”
We were all relieved. We hated the idea of giving up on the dog and also happy we were all getting break from this mad beast.
April was still sad and so was my mom. My mother always had a sweet spot in her heart for children and animals. They were the innocents. She trusted that my father could help.
He put the dog in his car that Sunday, with a bag of chow and her bowls and bedding. He had also checked a few books out of the library about training dogs. My father loved books and they built his entire modern mind. April was crying and my mother was sad as well as he loaded the car.
I watched as my father backed out of the driveway and we all waved and prayed for the best.
We didn’t see him for two weeks. Me at sixteen was relieved because it was just a more peaceful household without my dad and the dog.
My mother, sisters and I went about our normal routines.
I spoke with my father on the phone after the first week. I asked him how it was going. He said he took the dog to the beach early each morning before work. He would run her through short training exercises. He told me that when he was in the army he had a shepherd named Babe. He loved that dog.
He said he would take our dog through her paces each morning. He’d even let her run free and chase the birds on the beach. The dog loved being free on the beach by the sea each day. It must have been a little confusing for the dog initially to be transported to this foreign place with this alpha male she barely knew.
“What happens if she doesn’t come when you call her?”
“When I finally get the leash on her, I have a very tight rein on her and take her straight home. Her little nails are hardly touching the ground.”
This seemed harsh to me, but this was an animal, not a child. I always thought my dad was too hard on me, but he did teach me manners, and to be a disciplined, respectful boy. It’s no different with a dog. Discipline, love, affection and consistency.
Sounds like sound parenting to me.
Two weeks pass. It’s Friday night. Dad’s car rolls into the driveway. We’re all apprehensive. He gets out of his car. I remember how cool he looked in his brown suit and tie. He walks around to the back passenger door on the other side of his car and with leash in hand, brings forth our dog.
We don’t know what to expect.
My father stands before us with our black Lab. She is standing by his side. Her thick, rope-like tail is wagging. We hope she’s happy to see us after we banished her to a two-week stint in the hole with dad.
The dog sits down next to him.
He unhooks the leash. He walks toward my mother and hugs and kisses her. He hugs each of us.
The dog doesn’t move.
The dog comes forward and joins the family in a hug. We’re all petting her and she’s so excited to see us. Frankly I’m amazed at the transformation.
My father opens the door to our house and tells her to go in. Mom has food and fresh water waiting for her. She goes into the kitchen and digs in.
“What did you do?”
“Love, consistency, discipline, repetition and reward. Just like we raised our kids.”
He smiles and I hug him. Good to see you, dad. Thank you.”
Everyone is happy and tearing up. It was like he brought home a different dog. The dog was chill and obedient and happy. He totally fixed our dog!
But did he? No. The dog was fine. But like any child it needed to be trained. This is my biggest complaints about todays parents, but you’ve all read my laments about that in this blog. (Rob and Laura – Thanksgiving)
I took her out for a walk and she didn’t pull once. She walked peacefully next to me. I would get to the corner and she would automatically sit down. I could have crossed the street and she wouldn’t move. I would have to say a command and she would stand up and cross with me.
After that two weeks with my dad, the dog was a perfect angel. Protector of the family and loyal friend. We all loved her dearly.
A few years later…
We were at the shore house in the summer. I was older and had no curfew. I would come home late, like three in the morning. I’d put my key in the door and go in the house. The dog wouldn’t even stir.
I asked my dad about this.
“She’s great but what kind of guard dog is this?”
“I roll in at all hours and I could be any intruder and she doesn’t even wake up.”
“Son… when you quietly open the gate and come up the driveway. She awakens and hears you. She hears your footfall as you approach the house. No matter what time it is, the moment you open the door she smells your scent and knows it’s you. That’s why she doesn’t get up. You’re family and she knows it.”
I found that all hard to believe but if dogs have more acute senses than we do when it comes to everything, I get it.
One night it was put to the test.
I’m out rockin’ and rollin’ at the clubs in Wildwood as usual. I get home. It’s the middle of the night. Easily well after two in the morning.
Shit. I forgot my key. But I’m seventeen and a lean dude. I put my foot on the back railing and hoist myself up onto the roof of our shower rooms on the back of the house. (My dad built the two outdoor shower rooms so we could all clean up and get the sand off of ourselves when we would return from the beach.)
I climb up on the roof of the showers, and then reach for the railing of the back deck that is just off my bedroom. (I’m doing this drunk mind you… Oh, youth!) I pull myself over to the ledge, and holding onto the railing flip myself over onto the balcony. Genius move!
I know that sliding glass door is usually unlocked because what idiot would ever attempt that move? I grab the handle and begin to slide it open.
I’m about to go in when all I see is this black snout and bared fangs. I hear a low growl that shakes me to my core.
“Hey! It’s me!”
Then I hear the familiar thump of that thick rope-like tail wagging like crazy.
She’s a good guard dog! She heard something different and immediately awakened and went to investigate… and defend the property and it’s occupants. I never forgot that story and have told it to many dog lovers through the years.
As the dog got older, like most large dogs they get some grey whiskers and their hips aren’t what they once were. My mother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for most of her adult life. But she would take our dog out for a walk daily.
“We have to both go slowly now. We’re like a couple of old girls out for a stroll.”
Our dog was a beloved member of our family for fourteen years. A wonderful member of this family that we’ll never forget.
Oh… I never mentioned what April named the dog.
I did that on purpose.
Her name is the feminine version of the Latin name, Maximus.
April named our dog, MAXINE.
It means, the Greatest, or Bright and Noble.
Well done, April.
Maxine passed in 1991, and my parents are both gone as well.
But we hold them all in our hearts until the day we join them.
Then we’ll all be equal.
I think this sums it up.
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