Maxton arrived at Homeward Bound in the middle of July. Of course, I noticed him right away because he was a big, red boy. That always gets my attention. I took him out for photos not long after he showed up that and spent a little time with him. I soon realized that he had a hole in his soul — there was something missing. This isn’t unusual in rescue. Most of the dogs we get are reasonably happy and balanced given that their lives have just been turned upside down. But for some, like Maxton, there is a deeper wound. I was powerfully drawn to him from the beginning. But it wasn’t a comfortable feeling.
I ended up taking him home to my own kennels because the HB was temporarily full. I didn’t exactly pick Maxton. He just happened to be outside in a yard when I was leaving for home. I liked him though, so I was happy to have him.
One of the first things you noticed about Maxton was his coat. Flea dermatitis had done a number on him. He actually looked much worse when he arrived than in these photos. I brushed him out, eliminating many of the mats snarling his coat. Lori and Carolyn U., HB volunteers, did the hard work under his ears. The next day I gave him a bath because he smelled so bad. Only the bath didn’t seem to wipe out all the odor so I made a mental note to repeat the bath in a few days.
I looked at Maxton’s file and saw that he was dropped off at a shelter in SoCal. That means we know almost nothing about him. Our vet estimated his age at eight years. I suspect he was an outdoor dog, at least for the last few years. He obviously hadn’t been groomed in a long time, and was left to fend for himself against the fleas. He like people well enough but he also seemed a little awkward about interacting with me.
Maxton was an easy dog to have in the kennels. He trotted out to the yard on his own. Didn’t bark or argue. When I sat outside with him, he was content to place himself in front of me facing out. Presumably to see what might be going on. He’d sit quietly and let me pet him. After a couple days he started to lean against one of my legs. After another day or two he began to tilt his head back to glance at me. Perhaps he wanted to make sure I was still there even though he was already leaning against me. The glances grew longer. Finally he started touching my face with his nose and letting go with the occasional ninja kiss. My heart jumped at this because that is what my first Golden would do. I suppose these are the ways we mark the progress of of our rescue relationships. I’ve learned to be patient and let the dogs go at their own pace . . . even though patience is not typically counted among my virtues.
One evening I had collected a few balls in the corner of the yard where we sat. Suddenly intrigued by one of the balls Maxton began to play with it. By himself. He’d pick the ball up and toss it a few feet. Or nudge it with his paw. Then roll around with it while scratching his back on the grass. Now and then he would stop and stare at the ball for long seconds or just grin at it, seemingly quite pleased with his clever self. These were the times he seemed the most content.
I was delighted to see Maxton enjoying himself but I wondered if he would let me play with him. I recalled that previously I had tossed the ball for him and he would sometimes fetch it and sometimes not. So I approached with another ball and tried to engage him . . . mostly without success. He still played with one of the balls but didn’t seem to get how we might play together. I was pierced by a sudden sadness to think he might have always played ball alone.
I mentioned above that Maxton somehow drew me to him but that I wasn’t quite comfortable about it. I felt somehow that Maxton needed something but couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I watched him carefully and made some mental notes. His vision wasn’t great (I was administering meds for “dry eye”). He walked funny at times and his back legs occasionally looked unstable. He had a little trouble getting up and usually needed help getting into the van. I determined to keep an eye on all these items to make sure there was nothing serious that needed attention.
Then one evening I noticed blood coming out of the side of his mouth. I was concerned but once he rinsed his mouth the blood didn’t return. A couple evenings later there was some blood in his water dish. I thought maybe I was squeezing his tongue between his teeth when I gave him his eye meds. He struggled some so I had to hold his still. The bleeding returned a day or two later when I knew I hadn’t been near his mouth. It was Judy K. who suggested that I check his mouth for any suspicious growths. It turned out that the smell I thought might still be in his coat was really in his mouth.
I’ll spare you the final details. You may have noticed that I wrote about Maxton in the past tense. He is no longer with us on the physical plane but for me he lives on in my memories and my photos. I had hoped to play a part in making up for a crappy life. We don’t know for sure what his pre-HB life was like so I’m hoping that most of it was good. But just in case I intended to get him started on the right path as best I could. I bought him a bag of Orijen dog food and ordered some salmon oil. I’ve used both to good effect for skin and coat before. And they were working. I had such hope for him.
Losing Maxton was not like losing a long-time pet. I know that pain and it runs much deeper. But I think dogs like Maxton tap a different emotional vein. For me he represents all the dogs that slip away — the ones we couldn’t help. But there’s nothing for it but to mourn the loss and move on. It’s crucial to keep a good focus on the successes. I choose to remember Maxton in his happier moments knowing that I did give him something.