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Maxi helped heal my broken heart but now we have to say goodbye

This column is being written much earlier than normal. I’m afraid I won’t be able to write it later. There are only a few hours left before something terrible happens and my psychological state oscillates between disbelief and desolation.

At 6:30 p.m. we will arrive as a family at the vet with our 16-year-old dog Maxi. He is being shot down. I can’t believe this is happening, but I know it’s the right decision.

Maxi has given us so much for so long. Now we must do what is right for him.

After insanely good health for so long, even though he’s been on heart meds, he’s not a totally miracle dog, you know, he got worse about two weeks ago. We were hoping it was a canine insect that has been hanging around. But it’s just time to catch up with him.

It’s been a weekend of tears and trying to make a few more memories with a little boy full of personality who has been the center of our family for so long. As the children have continued to remind us in recent days, they have never known a life without him. The wait is just horrible, but there is a gift in having the opportunity to say goodbye, to go back to the old days and let it all go when it comes to how sad we all feel.

I barely remember life without him. We grew up with dogs but after moving to Dublin for years the comfort of canines had to be reserved for home visits. But then I experienced a traumatic late pregnancy loss and felt pain and grief like I had never experienced before.

One morning shortly after, I woke up and decided we needed a dog. I called our wonderful vet Dick who I already knew and told him my story and within 72 hours he came back to say that a puppy had been abandoned in a local park and we wanted to go see him. Without obligation.

That first moment I saw Maxi is etched in my brain.

He ran across the floor, a ball of black fluff with a white patch on his chest. She fit into the palm of my hand. On the way there, my husband had been giving her the “we’ll look at it and talk about it later” vibe. But he knew, he says—seeing that moment of connection—that the decision had already been made.

The puppy was eight weeks old. He started out as Max, but later that afternoon, without any input from me, he had been given the name Maxi López, after an Argentine soccer player. There was a World Cup at the time.

The healing power of a good dog

At the time, I was in the early stages of a high-risk pregnancy that required a really tedious amount of lying in place and continuing to deal with the raw pain that often brought me down. Having Maxi to take care of, hug and have fun with is what helped me. She helped heal my broken heart.

“Over the years, when there was an upset or a fight, the kids would turn to Maxi for comfort.” stock image

So the arrival of a newborn baby after so much pampering and individual attention could have been a recipe for disaster. But Maxi was a hero. However, we make sure to pay attention to it. I can’t understand people who throw the dog out in the cold once a child arrives. Ultimately, it shows a great lack of wisdom, because the connection between dogs and children is a magical thing to observe.

He tolerated all the mistreatment of small children.

However, with the passage of time, it turned out well. There were all the walks to and from kindergarten, a total of 11 years of first days back to elementary school, and all the middle school runs over the years.

If I had the space, I would go into the moment he was kidnapped years ago by a local drifter who held him hostage overnight. The guards had warned me not to get close to the man because he was violent. But after returning home after another frantic search, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Maxi being led up the driveway outside. I ran out barefoot, grabbed this man’s leash saying “thanks a million for finding my dog”, pushed Maxi inside and slammed the front door.

Over the years, when there was an upset or a fight, the children turned to Maxi for comfort. It was always amazing to see how this helped calm them down. As of late, since they are old enough to walk home from school on their own, Maxi is always there to greet them at the front door.

But it’s not just the kids. I could write my own academic study on the relaxing qualities of having a cuddle with your dog: Oxytocin seeps through your system as the hormone works to calm those taut nerves.

A few months ago, a very dear aunt of mine died. She had been in a nursing home and she had become very frail. She adored Maxi. I’ll never forget the last time we brought him for a visit, not long before she died. We sat him on her lap. She smiled and began to pet him, even though she had sworn beforehand that she wouldn’t have been physically capable of doing so given her condition.

As someone who has worked from home for many years, we were a double act in my office. Maxi lay on the floor, well never the actual floor, he has high standards when it comes to comfort. There should always be something soft, preferably wool, under it.

As my husband likes to say, the dog may have been abandoned, but in all likelihood it was 10 minutes of abandonment in a city park followed by 16 years of luxury and love.

Now, lest you think he had no flaws, he wasn’t. Maxi was always mean to the pups, charming and enthusiastic creatures who would jump up to say hello and get a grumpy ‘ra ra ra’ at his trouble.

In the kitchen we have the ‘Maxi Armchair’. As he has grown, he has determinedly claimed it and our caretaker, who adores him as much as we do, wraps him in a fleece blanket, after which he tucks his little head in to snuggle up and sleep. Honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to look at that chair after today.

Maxi never won the first prize

He saw us through the pandemic. He saw us during a recent episode of Covid. We were hoping he would survive to the first in-person Harold’s Cross Community Festival in three years. He has come second twice in the dog show. We had high hopes of taking the first prize in the geriatric category this year, probably only for reasons of age.

But it is not to be.

The time is drawing near now. The beach was always Max’s happy place, especially the West Cork beaches. We can’t deliver that today but there is a beach near the vet. We’re drifting to that stretch of sand on the trail. Beforehand.

He’ll be gone a few days before you read this. No more the familiar tap tap of little terrier paws around the house. I have a feeling it will still be hard to believe then.

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