We lost our Boxer, Riley, in July 2019. We were still processing the grief of losing him. Our hearts were still broken. But, by November 2019, my heart was yearning for another Boxer. Having only had Boxer puppies in the past, I started looking online for Boxer puppies available near us. It wasn’t an active search, just a heart yearning. By happenstance, I followed a Boxer rescue group, Mountaineer Boxer Rescue, close to us, on Facebook. On December 14, the picture of Max in the animal shelter and the plea to find him a home was posted by Mountaineer Boxer Rescue. It took me a milli-second to look at Max and decide that we needed to help him. Up until that point, Ronnie was only half bought into the idea of another dog but I showed him the picture of Max and shared his story of being abandoned and he immediately felt the same way I did. We needed to try and help Max if we could.
I immediately sent in an application and request to foster and adopt Max. I began messaging with the owner of MBR and sharing the story of our love for Boxers and the story of the lives of our Shelby and Riley. And, how I felt we were adept at becoming a good home for Max. We messaged back and forth for days. Eventually, we were able to meet Max, who was over two hours away. And, we were chosen to give Max a second chance at life. I am forever grateful to Mountaineer Boxer Rescue, specifically Kristine, for choosing us to be Max’s parents. It was love at first sight. And, it was, wholeheartedly, meant to be.
We brought Max home on Christmas Eve, 2019. It will forever be one of my favorite Christmas Eve memories. Max was, from the very beginning, so trusting and loving. It was immediately apparent; he was well trained, and eager to please. Something neither Shelby nor Riley had ever grasped. I had read much about dogs needing time and space to adjust to a new home. And, we gave him that space, but also focused on establishing perimeters here on the farm. We wanted him to run wild and free but also know boundaries. He was quick to learn the boundaries and whenever, he was called, he responded. Our next few weeks together became a blur of constant snuggles, lots of exercise on the farm and good things to eat. Max was only 59 pounds when we got him, very underweight for a Boxer his size. It was said that he didn’t eat while he was in the animal shelter and had lost a significant amount of weight. We relished in fattening him up. Lots of good meals, snacks and lazy naps solidified our first months together. Eventually, we fattened him up to a healthy 75 pounds.
Within the first few weeks of having Max and trying to understand him, it became apparent to us that Max had been trained through fear, not by positive reinforcement. If we attempted to correct something he did, he cowered in shame. My heart broke for him. And with every interaction we had with him, we encouraged him and praised him and gave him positive reinforcement. It didn’t change things immediately, but gradually, he let go of the fear.
He was a lap dog and a snuggle bug from the very beginning. He seemingly, had never been allowed on furniture. And, we let him snuggle up any place his heart desired. Adopting a Senior Boxer, means that you adopt one with training and instinct and intuitiveness already instilled. We learned something new from him every day. He was so well potty trained; when he did his business, he went to the edge of the woods or in the woods, dug a hole and pooped in the hole. Well, nearly pooped in the hole. The effort he made digging the hole was so impressive and so when he pooped, 6 inches to the right of it, well, it didn’t bother us a bit. We were tickled by it. Shelby and Riley had consistently shit three inches off the front porch, and be damned they’d ever bother with digging a hole for it.
While we showered him with endless toys, his favorite toy was always a ball. He had endless tennis balls and he always loved opening up a new set of balls to add to his collection. There were tennis balls in every room of the house and on every acre of this farm. He loved to chase a ball. You could ask him to sit and fetch a ball. He would exuberantly fetch more times than you ever dreamed but he never gave the ball back. We learned pretty quickly to always have two balls when playing catch.
Max had an immense prey drive. He wanted to kill everything that moved on the farm. Much to my chagrin, he succeeded in killing moles and our resident Groundhog, Murray. He was fast, but the deer and squirrels always evaded him. He would have caught and killed a goat, if not for the electric fence and Great Pyrenees that protected them. It was his goat hunting and the electric and barbed wire fence that made us invest in goggles for our boy, because he fought so incessantly at that barbed wire fence, he scratched his eyes several times. He attempted and failed to kill a skunk three different times. Damn those skunks! We never completely got that awful smell out of him. Anytime he got wet, we could always smell a faint scent of his loathed arch nemesis.
Max loved spending time outdoors with us, in everything that we did. Mowing, gardening, farm projects – he was always right beside me. He loved all of his extended family but he almost immediately imprinted on me. Imprinting is an act of nature in a small animal, where they recognize someone as its parent or a trustworthy figure. In novels and movies, it’s described as when one finds their soul mate. Regardless of how you see it, Max unequivocally imprinted on me. He was my constant shadow. No matter what he was doing, if he looked up and couldn’t see me, he came in search of me. I was his comfort. I was his person. We recognized it, acknowledged it and I never took it for granted a single day that he was with us.
During 2020, we were in the process of digging a pond on our farm. It was, in essence, a project that had been going on since we brought Max home. It was a project that he oversaw from the beginning. Despite the digging and heavy equipment involved, he loved supervising over the work involved. He was there – step by step, inch by inch, mud-hole after mud-hole. From a mud-pit to a pond, it was a project that he was a part of completely and one that we were all very proud of. He loved being near the pond. We eventually stocked it with fish, a family of ducks shortly called it home and flew elsewhere. And, in between, it became one of Max’s favorite places to be.
Max joined our family when he was 10 years old. He had no silver on his face. He had no physical ailments, no arthritis. We questioned him really being a 10-year old Boxer. Maybe he was much younger, we thought? He had the energy of a 2-year old when he came home with us. He ran like a Greyhound. He had a pup-like personality. But, within a year, his muzzle had turned silver. He started to slow down gradually but the one impediment that altered his physical stamina was the diagnosis of Degenerative Myelopathy in April 2021. DM is a degenerative disorder of the spine, very common in Boxers. We had never experienced it. And unfortunately, we became all too familiar with its progressive, cruel intentions.
We first noticed something was wrong when Max began dragging his back feet, toenails scraping the floor. His back legs started to weaken and his gait was a bit wobbly. He started to lose bladder control and began wearing diapers at night. Degenerative Myelopathy causes eventual paralysis. It starts with weakness in the hind legs, gradually becoming worse. It leads to total paralysis in the back and will eventually impact the entire body. There is no cure for DM. We researched everything we could do to at least make him more comfortable. We placed rugs on every hardwood surface in the house as he lost traction on slick floors. We tried every imaginable kind of booty to protect his feet. We began using CBD oil, Cranberry supplements (preventative for bladder infections), Vitamins with glucosamine, omegas and probiotics. At night, we had to keep a fan near him as he began to struggle with temperature control and eventually, medicine to help him rest at night when nights became restless.
His symptoms were gradual but as they progressed, the worst of it came on so quickly. He walked like a drunken sailor. Surprisingly, he could run better than he could walk. It wasn’t a greyhound-esque gait anymore but a bunny hop kind of run. He started to fall more. Eventually, he fell with every step he tried to make. So, we used a sling to help him walk. Physically, his body was failing him. And I believe it took its toll on him mentally. He began to growl at us when we tried to help him up. I think he felt vulnerable and was in pain. DM is supposed to be pain-less but as any DM parent will tell you, there are signs to the contrary. When he could no longer walk on his own and when the vulnerability and inability to do what he wanted took his dignity, we made the difficult decision to let him go. Max died on October 18, 2021. We buried him in a special place by the pond . . . Max’s pond.
I don’t know what kind of life Max had before us and for obvious reasons, at times, it has bothered me. Now, I only focus on the life that I know Max had when he was with us. A life so well lived and loved; a life full of nothing but love, freedom and exuberant joy. I am so very grateful that he came into our lives. And, I am forever grateful that for his short two years with us, he felt nothing but an undying, unapologetic, all encompassing kind of love. I know that because we felt the same kind of love from our Max.