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.