Relax, Max

Although this used to shock my young Triopia students, I’ve never owned a dog. I grew up on a farm where animals were purely utilitarian. You ate what you raised and dog was never on Mom’s menu. Oh, I actually did own a dog for one night. A fellow teacher gave me a wiener dog named Charlie, who when you went to pick him up you had to keep picking him up as he just sort of kept rolling over in your hands like a Slinky toy. But on the one night I owned him I was visited by a very proper Methodist lady and Charlie took an attraction to her left leg that disgusted me. The next morning I passed the demented dachshund to someone else.

But my brother Keith, the Dad to two boys, made a housedog a part of the family beginning with a German Shepherd, surely one of the smartest breeds afoot, followed by an Australian dingo which was a complete waste of fur, then another German Shepherd. After his second Helga passed away he went looking for something smaller and searched the Internet for dogs that would neither bark nor shed fur. The answer was a Schnoodle, a Poodle/Schnauzer concoction, and one cute little gray ball of fuzz. I immediately taught Max to bark, and I’m working on the shedding.

But it was a shock to go from the noble, refined and polite German Shepherds to the spastic hybrid dog that now runs circles around my brother’s living room. Hey, I love Max, but brains ain’t his forte. Love and affection? You betcha. Any sense of decorum? Forget it. Max is a Schnoodle brain.

An uncle like me has the luxury of being indulgent with both my brother’s sons and his dogs, so when Uncle Ken comes around Max knows that any sense of propriety flies out the window. He’s a smart dog in that he knows enough to steer clear of my non-doggie Father, but he doesn’t think twice about taking a six-foot leap into my lap. And occasionally I take Max for a walk on his leash. I’m sure he’s better behaved when being guided around the neighborhood by the regular family members, but even after several years of trying it’s a circus when Max and I become joined by his red leash.

We don’t just inspect fire hydrants and road signs, we wrap ourselves around them several times and when Max is left on the ground gasping at his choke he has absolutely no idea how he got there and looks up at me as if it were my fault. Which leads to great embarrassment. Jacksonville is the home to about six million or so well trained dogs who obediently walk beside their masters much like a tea party at Downton Abby. Just poke your head out the door on any summer morning and you’ll a see a scene from the Lady and the Tramp, well-bred beagles, loquacious Labradors, even mild-mannered mongrels walking at a stately pace beside their proud owners. When Max and I go to a walk it’s like the opening scene from The Wizard of Oz when Auntie Em is trying to gather her chickens into the storm cellar as the tornado approaches the MGM studio. For a solid 30 minutes Max will strain at the leash, his tiny paws tossing turf up behind him in an effort to go anywhere, just so it’s faster and preferably without me.

I once took Max on a ride in my car, just to show him how other dogs behave.

“Look, Maxy. See that lady with the two white Pomeranians? See how they just sort of waddle along in front of her? No one is straining at the leash and the lady isn’t running to keep up.” Max looks at me then barks through the window at the offending Poms.

We pull into Duncan Park. “Hey boy! Would you take a look at that? That tiny girl has four dogs on a leash and two of them are bigger than she is! See the way they’re just walking beside her, everyone getting along, like an episode of the Westminster Dog show. Doesn’t that look like fun?” Max barks at all four dogs. “And look! No one is falling down, Max! Not a single dog has wrapped himself around tree!” Max barks again and paws at the window, angry with me for not letting him run amok in the former Governor’s lawn.

There’s a prevalent theory that hybrid dogs lose a few brain cells every time one breed is crossed with another. Maybe. I think Max just needs some drugs.

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