Monday, March 26, 2012

A One-Day-One-Eye-Hacking Dog

With my bride at work but armed with her permission, I drove to the LA animal control facility where thousands of dogs waited for adoption. This would be our first pet as a married couple, and my first dog ever. Growing up, my parents only let me have pets small enough to flush down the toilet when they died. Try as I would, I couldn’t convince them it was possible to flush a dead German Shepherd.

As I walked past an endless assortment of cute and needy dogs, I kept reminding myself that I was there for the sole purpose of achieving a lifelong goal—avenging my dog-deprived childhood. As it turned out, they only had one German Shepherd eligible for adoption, a purebred male.

Half a dozen other hopeful adopters were waiting to slip a leash on him. The highest bidder would get to take him home. Before writing down my bid, I took one last look at the dog’s enormous caramel-colored eyes and knew I was taking him home, no matter what the cost.

Those conducting the auction seemed surprised at my bid, an astonishing one thousand dollars. I’d refused to consider that I could have this dog for anything less. It was a lot of money, all that Mrs. C. and I had.

The paperwork was lengthy; importing a mail-order bride would have involved less red tape. I’d named him Max before I’d even written out the check, after the character from my favorite children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. I hadn’t thought to bring a leash, and since the shelter didn’t sell them I used my belt to get Max into my Beetle. As we drove home to our tiny one bedroom apartment just off busy Pico Boulevard in West L.A., Max started making hacking sounds.

My afternoon shift at a hardware store in Santa Monica was approaching, but I was too excited to work. I called in sick. For several hours, Max and I stared at each other, with the poor dog wheezing and coughing like he had a three-pack-a-day habit. In addition to the kennel cough, he didn’t smell good. I opened the windows to let in fresh air. Moving to a new home must have been an ordeal for Max. He finally stopped coughing, lowered his head to the floor and dozed off.

When a truck drove by, Max bolted to his feet and charged the front door, missing it. Pictures rattled when his big head hit the wall. When I finished calming him down, I noticed my stomach was growling. I went to the kitchen and made a salami sandwich. Max padded after me. We had nothing else to feed him so he got a sandwich too. Unlike me, he ate his sandwich in two bites and licked my shoe until I put down a bowl of water for him. Max lapped the bowl dry, even after I refilled it, and then he went to the back door. While he attempted to nudge it with his head, he bumped into the waste can beside the door.

Assuming he wanted to go out, I fashioned a leash from the cord of an electric knife, a wedding present we had yet to use, and led Max outside. I guided Max to the grass and expected him to drop a turd or two, but instead poor Max squatted down and unleashed a torrent of foul-smelling diarrhea, no doubt the result of his incarceration at the shelter. Perhaps giving the dog salami wasn’t a good move.

It was time to pick up Mrs. Chatterbox. With Max in the backseat, I headed over to Wilshire Boulevard. Dumb luck prevented me from getting into an accident; I was completely distracted by the reflection in my rearview mirror—a smiling wolf in the backseat.

When Mrs. C. slid into the car, Max greeted her with a big kiss. “Aren’t you a sweet


Max answered by coughing in her face.

She ignored it and patted him on the head. “Gosh he’s big. My folks always had small dogs like dachshunds and Manchester terriers.”

“Yep, he’s big alright,” I responded proudly.

“What’s wrong with his eye?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, alarmed.

“His right eye, it’s all red. Didn’t you notice?”

Truth was, I hadn’t.

When we got home, I pulled Max over to a light and saw what I’d been too foolish to notice before; one of Max’s eyes was filled with what looked like blood. I remembered Max bumping the front door when the truck rattled past, and how he banged the waste can beside the door in the kitchen.

“It’s probably nothing,” Mrs. C. said. “Maybe it’s just an infection. Dogs catch all sorts of things at animal shelters. We’ll take him to the vet tomorrow.”

And we did. The vet said Max’s cough would certainly go away, but the eye injury was probably the result of being hit by a car. The damage would most likely not get better. The eye needed to be removed. The cost for surgery—$800.00. The vet assured us that living with one eye wasn’t a problem for most dogs and Max would do just fine, provided we had a fair piece of acreage, or a large fenced yard where he could run around without bumping into things.

We drove home from the vet’s in silence. When I pulled to the curb and parked in front of our apartment Mrs. C. said, “I know you’re worried about the money, but we can take it from the thousand your folks gave us as a wedding present.”

I swallowed hard, and confessed. “I used that money to buy Max.”

Instead of the explosion I expected, she said, “I never should have let you go alone. Might as well send a starving kid into a candy shop.”

“So you’re not mad?”

“Of course I’m mad! You should have discussed it with me first. The money came from your parents, but it was given to both of us.” We fell into an uncomfortable silence, which ended when she said, “I’m angry, but I’ll get over it.”

Even with an operation, which we couldn’t afford, I knew we couldn’t keep Max locked up in our tiny apartment. I realized just how ridiculous it was to think a large active animal could be happy in so small a space. I called the shelter and explained the situation. A refund was out of the question, but they were willing to offer the dog to one of the other bidders—one of whom had a large fenced backyard and was willing to pay for Max’s eye surgery. At least he would be going to a good home.

I was depressed after returning Max to the shelter. No dog, and I’d flushed a thousand bucks. We’d had Max for less than twenty-four hours but now the apartment seemed empty without him. Max was my very first unflushable pet. It took a long time to get over my expensive one-day-one-eye-hacking-dog.

The picture above is how I choose to remember Max.


  1. Aw, poor Max. I remember my dog Homer who was a mutt though he looked kind of like a German Shepherd because he had a lot of tan and black. And a puple-ish tongue. I always felt bad we had to keep him in a homemade kennel most of the time so he wouldn't go running through all the neighborhood. He really should have been on a farm or somewhere with lots of room to run. But maybe if there's a Doggie Heaven that's where they are.

  2. Pets are an expensive proposition! We've had dogs and cats in the past, but no more. The vet bills are just too much at this point in time. I hope you were able to get another dog eventually, if you really wanted one.

  3. Oh, what a bittersweet ending. At least he ended up in a good home. Your first paragraph is priceless! Great post-

  4. Great post- reminded me of when we thought we could adopt a 7 year old not neutered Standard Poodle. He came to us with no boundaries. I could control him but he had my husbands number and didn't behave for him. We got him neutered, nails done, groomed, teeth cleaned and then after 10 days admitted defeat and returned him to the foster care home - they had a waiting list for "Red" thank goodness! We refer to that experience as "Red going to Kathe and Russell's Doggie Spa"

  5. Beautiful picture and a pitty you couldn't keep him

  6. You were a wise man to know your lovely wife was a keeper. To show such restraint and not have a tantrum showed a lot about her. Very admirable.

    A thousand dollars is a lot of money. You really, really wanted that dog. Have you had dogs since then?

  7. Ah, I know how you feel.
    Have a Max of my own, even though he's called Sasha.
    He's not blind, but he's a deaf as a doorknob.
    Turning 12 this year, my old man.
    Still, he's the one that sat with me and let me cry, just being there.

    PS - and you found a spectacular bride ;-)

  8. Wonderful story as always, Stephen. I hope that you did get another dog and also hope that the shelter used your money to help a bunch of animals!

  9. Oh what a sad story! It is bad that the shelter sold you have a dog which was injured. Very least hey should have paid for the operation.

  10. Great story, well-told, but I think the shelter should have kicked back some of your dough.

  11. What where you thinking? A thousand dollars for a pound dog? Did it have papers? No I'm sure Max didn't. I'm hoping Max had a long and happy life. I'm sure he did.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  12. you should have taken your wife in the first place.

  13. A costly lesson, indeed. You did need your wife with you. LOL!
    I'm surprised they didn't ask you any questions about where you lived when you were adopting a big dog and didn't mentioned any of his health problems. Geez!
    I'm glad he went to a good hoe, though.

  14. What a sad ending for you not to end up with a dog. Max was a German Shepherd??? I can see where you would get all "taken over" with want. Good for Mrs. Chatterbox to handle it so well. I don't know how long ago that was but $1000 is still a whole bunch of loot for a dog. We paid 600 for our last dog and kept her 17 years. The animal shelter should have provided about 20 years of dogs of your choosing for that amount of cash.

  15. That's a sad story. The shelter sound pretty horrible. Like they didn't bother about the dog's welfare or yours. I'm glad he went somewhere he'd be loved. Did you get another job?

  16. This is a amusing and a sad post both at the same time. This is the reason that even though I don't have much money I always make sure my pets insurance is paid. That shelter doesn't sound very competent.

  17. When I was a kid, my uncle had a German shepherd named Max. Except he had it for much, much longer than 24 hours.

  18. If you could have kept him, he would have been one lucky dog.

  19. Poor Max.. poor you. The shelter was really wrong not to refund at least a decent portion of what you spent. No doubt the other bidder still paid out for him.

  20. What a bummer ending!! I was hoping for a new Terminator Glass eye and some probiotics for his trots. What a sad tail. Get a Yorkie..those are by far the cutest little dogs...and I don't even like dogs...

  21. Ah you did the right thing probably..... Big dogs need room to run. Great writing as always. Did you end up getting a smaller dog shortly after?

  22. That sucks. I think I would have kept him and just took out a loan to fix the eye rather than flush the money down the toilet.

  23. OMG. That is such a sad story. The important thing is Max got a good home. Hopefully you have a wonderful dog now. I have always had a dog. But I didn't stop there.

  24. I did the exact same thing with a german shepherd in my youth when I had an apt. I still feel horrible about giving him away. Fortunately he was in good health.

  25. Poor Max- I'm sorry you didn't get a dog but glad he got the veterinary care he needed. So many are euthanised every day- ones that are fine and strong and healthy just because they are the wrong color or the worng breed or they are not a puppy...SHAME SHAME on the shelter for giving a dog to the highest bidder- especially since they no doubt were aware of his injury.
    Yuck- what an awful story, for all of you.

  26. i once returned a cat to a shelter after 24 hrs, but at least she was able to be exchanged. for one that didn't try to destroy my face.
    sometimes it's better to admit defeat than to keep a pet you can't handle.