Okay. It's high time I told you the story of how Max came into my life. All things considered, our fortuitous encounter could not have come at a more opportune time.
In the late summer of 2001, a little wayward dog showed up in the neighborhood. For weeks, this feisty canine was a familiar presence, enough so that many of the neighbors had given him a name, and many of us left food around for him, just in case. He became known as Shorty, Rin-Tin-Tin and Li'l Charlie. Many days, he would appear in my backyard when I would come and go, oftentimes with his trusty tennis ball in his mouth. Sometimes I'd stop to ask him who he belonged to. He looked healthy and well cared for, although he didn't have a tag or a collar. He would throw his little ball down at my feet. When I didn't respond (I didn't know what he wanted) he would keep dropping it like a gauntlet, and then look up at me with this impish grin, as if to say, "What you gonna do, lady?" I finally figured out enough to pick it up and throw it and he'd go get it and bring and back. That became our greeting ritual whenever we met outside my door.
At the time, taking on responsibility for a dog was the last thing on my mind. I had gone through a series of personal challenges during that stormy summer. A tree fell on my car, totaling it, and then lightening struck my A/C compressor which had to be replaced. All of this after I had stopped smoking just weeks before. I felt like Lloyd Bridges' character in the Airplane movie; it was just a bad time to give up smoking. They say tragedy comes in threes. When terrorists struck the country in a series of air strikes on 9/11, I was sure the world, if not my own little piece of it, was coming to an end.
The little dog disappeared for a few weeks, and I found myself worrying about him. Was he safe, where was he sleeping, had he been hit by a car? He walked the streets of the Old Fourth Ward like a bull fighter, daring anybody or anything to mess with him. I must confess I liked that bad boy quality. But still, I was concerned. And I missed seeing him. When he finally did show up again at my door, on October 15th, I decided to take him in. I took him to the vet that day, got a clean bill of health, and we began a tentative journey.
He was no more sure than I was that we were a good match. He liked his vagrant lifestyle and tried to hang on to it with all his might. But he kept coming back, or I would go out on search missions to retrieve him, or neighbors would return him when they sighted him. He hated the leash and fought every effort to control him. I was having second thoughts about the whole thing. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I was, at best, a reluctant caretaker. Just when I was ready to give up and just let him go back to the streets, we finally forged a bond. We had an unusually long fall that year; days on end of beautiful, mild weather. By the time those ideal days gave way to winter and the country began the process of healing, me and Max had become inseparable. He came to trust me and I succumbed to his wet nosed charm.
Our early routine called for two-a-day workouts. His high energy level demanded extreme measures. We set out every morning and then again in the evening for an hour long power walk. That's when he began to calm down and accept discipline.
That was more than eight years ago. It's Spring in Atlanta, the perfect time of year for our two-a-days. I thought about that when I stopped at one of his favorite neighborhood parks for a late workout with the ball this evening. When Max begins to tire out, he does this Pop-eye thing. He powers up on grass. You know how Pop-eye needs his spinach. Well Max furiously eats grass in an effort to buy him more energy. And it works. With the cool spring evening air and a soft cushion of green clovers under his feet, Max pushed himself to the limits of his capacity. He'll sleep like a baby tonight.