One year ago yesterday, a three-year-old tri-color Australian Shepherd, named Max, came into our home smiling, ears perked and friendly. Already well-trained by his previous family, he fell right into the routine of our household, except for one thing … the look in his eyes. Something about them seemed serious, guarded.
To anyone else he appeared perfectly normal, happy and carefree. I knew different. I lived with him throughout the days and nights. His rigid mannerisms showed nary a smile, and only a rare wag of the infamous Aussie stub-tail. His wary glances said, don’t get too close. I don’t trust you.
I’m no dog whisperer, but something didn’t feel right about Max’s demeanor. Everyone else didn’t notice and thought him to be the perfect dog. How could I argue? In many ways, he was the perfect dog. He was house-broken. I didn’t have to train him to do anything. We could leave him in the house for hours and he never got into anything … not even food left out on a table! He knew all the commands and followed them without a hitch. He walked right beside us on the leash, no pulling, no stopping to sniff, only a steady pace following our lead.
So, I questioned myself. Maybe everyone else was right. Maybe I was just used to my dog Piezon, who died in ’09. He and I were not only attached at the hip, but by our hearts as well. My heart shattered when he died, so maybe I just wanted him to be like Piezon?
No, that couldn’t be it. I waited almost two years to be sure I was ready for a dog. My heart was completely open to this new experience. Something was definitely questionable about Max’s mannerisms. His ears were upright all the time, ready for anything. And again, his eyes … they spoke to me of … I don’t know what it was … they seemed blank, cold, pensive. They’d lock onto mine and wouldn’t give, as if challenging me, with no emotion behind them.
Though Max played with the happiness of a puppy, even then he seemed to be speaking a language to me. “I’ll play with you, but only because I need to play, not because I want to give you any joy.“
Then one day, the darkness behind his eyes manifested into behavior, and my husband witnessed it. During our daily walk, he lunged viciously toward a dog passing us by. From that point forward, it continued to happen when we’d run into other dogs on the walk.
Eventually, it showed up at home too. If a neighbor dare walk out to their own driveway, or some unknown person strolled by our house, Max nearly rammed through the front window. He didn’t show aggression to any human once he got to sniff them, it was only if they were outside his window. Forget it if the doorbell rang, Max’s wild barking got out of control. Of course, we wanted him to protect his territory, but this was something beyond protection.
In those early weeks and months, I do think Max was waiting for his first family to come back and get him. Though my heart breaks for him when I think of it, I must not ever dwell on it too long. A family dog we pity, is a dog who gets disoriented, because they only know how to live in the present. His change of environment issues may turn into big problems, if we don’t live in the moment.
My point is, for anyone adopting a rescue dog, don’t give up. Today, one year later, Max knows he is home. Little by little we are falling in sync. I can tell you with confidence, that wary look has vanished. His cola-brown eyes sparkle with love, devotion and trust.
I didn’t back down when he stared at me. I attached him with a leash to my belt for long periods of time. I practice the real dog whisperer’s techniques around the house and on walks. We have three steps forward and one step back, but that forward advancement is still there. He is learning, and so are we, how to forge onward into creating our new and blessed relationship.
When Max first came here and I noticed his hesitance, I told him, “Don’t worry Max, we’re gonna be alright.” Once in a while, when we have a step backward, I remind us both … we’re gonna be all right.
I call him my Macho Max. He’s a tough guy for sure, stocky and strong. Who can forget his day at the farm with that big German Shepherd who didn’t want to share.
His back-legs seem too big for his body, and he hops around on them when he plays. I call them kangaroo-legs. He’s an expert snuggler, and presses right up against you when you give him a hug. We love our Max, and Max loves us. We (husband and I) are so blessed to have found this loving bond twice in our lives.
The photos below were taken by my husband while I threw the tennis ball for Max. The lighting is off, but these action shots are still pretty cool. They are in order of his chase and snatching of the ball. Thanks for indulging me on this one year anniversary of our second son’s arrival.