Last week I wrote about the final week in the life of a dog named Max, a big, loveable old guy who was 16 years old, could no longer walk and had gotten that far-away, vacant look in his eyes that made me think that either the end was near or that Congressman Joel Hefley was living in my garage.
I'd scheduled Max's final visit to the vet, but he died before we could go, in the early morning hours last Tuesday. Max died as he lived, peacefully. He was curled up on his bed, surrounded by his two companions, Moose and Jack. I set the next day aside to remember Max. I found myself laughing about how, in his final year or so, Max's mind got a bit strange and he developed this really odd habit of walking in small circles before he'd lie down, circling and circling, sometimes for a full minute, a final vestige of his wildness traced back to a day when his ancestors would tramp down the grass for a bed.
We got Max's ashes back from the vet the next day, neatly packaged in a white box with a ribbon around it. We'll scatter the ashes in the woods behind our home where he once romped, along with the ashes of our other recently deceased dog, Doc. The day we got Max's ashes back, my son, John, came home from school and lifted the box from the counter and held it for a moment. There was great sadness in his eyes. Then he began turning the box around and around in his hands, maybe five or six times, before setting it gently back down upon the counter.
John is weird.
I have no idea how he got that way.
Anyway, I write this sequel because I was overwhelmed by the response to the last week's column. I've written about a lot of subjects in our village over the years, and can now say, without any hesitation, that a lot more people care about dead dogs than they do about, say, Doug Bruce. (Footnote: This in no way implies that you should send a write-in ballot for my dead dog instead of voting for Doug in the November county commission election. Although, either way, something's going to smell awful in those commission meetings.)
Here are a few of the responses I got in the days after my column about Max.
From Becky Zettlemoyer:
"Dear Mr. Tosches: I work for the city attorney's office and usually read your article every Thursday. You have criticized and made fun of many people I know and work with, including my husband, who is the operations manager for the Street Division."
(Note: I believe I've only once in 12 years made fun of street maintenance boss Randy Zettlemoyer. I think it was something about our village's high-tech method of clearing the snow from our roadways, which involves a guy with big feet leaning out the door of the snowplow and dragging his boot along the road.)
Anyway, Becky went on: "A few years ago my husband had to put his 14-year-old black lab named Dolly to sleep. It was the hardest thing he has ever done in his whole life. The vet came to the house and put her to sleep in the driveway while Randy was petting and loving her."
It's nice to know a high-level city administrator actually has a heart. Randy's kindness and compassion probably comes from working alongside former City Manager Jim Mullen, who had the heart of a child. (He kept it in a jar on his desk.)
Here's another note:
"Yep, it hurts like hell. But if I see Lady, Blossom, Goldie and Sabine on the other side, I'll know I made it to heaven. With sympathy, Jim Bailey, Cripple Creek."
And Gwynne Stoll wrote:
"I wonder if many folks had the same problem as I did getting through your 'Ode to Max.' Salty water kept filling up my eyes and I couldn't read. On the first day of summer last year I lost my white shepherd. She was in pain. I told her 'Just go!' and obedient right to the end, she died in my arms. To Max I say, 'Good life, sweet prince.' "
Gina Abbott lost her 14-year-old West Highland terrier, Tuffy, about two months ago. Gina wrote: "It was so very difficult and sad. But knowing they've lived the best lives in our warm homes, been given good food and treated to toys helps us get through it. When the time comes to make that fateful decision, they depend on us and know we're doing the right thing. It's almost as if when they look at us they are telling us it's OK, and saying 'thank you' for a great life."
And then there was the note from Mervin Casey. It was the briefest of the 50-something notes I received from readers. And it hit the hardest.
"I recently lost a daughter," he wrote. "Your story touched my heart and I cried. Somehow I think it helped me to bear the pain I feel."
Even in his death, kind and gentle Max soothed some souls.
I think I'm going to walk over to the kitchen counter now and spin the big guy around a few times.