Sunday, July 04, 2004

If you wanna read a funny story about an adorable, resilient dog surviving a weird accident, check out Lovisa’s tale. No, wait, first read my story as a warm-up. My golden retriever Max wasn’t quite the canine Evel Kneivel, but he was the sweetest, cutest and smartest dog ever. Or at least two out of three. Here’s a picture of him as a puppy:

The other character in this anecdote is one of my best friends growing up, who reads this blog and may want to stay anonymous. I’ll call him Brian. Not Brian from "Got a Second?" This is a different Brian.

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah. It was Max’s first summer – he was maybe eight or nine months old, not quite full grown. Brian and I were around 14, also not quite full grown. But we were now old enough to walk the mile down to our old elementary school. I thought it would be a good place to take Max – he could run around in the fenced-in field, which would be empty because school was out.

Our old elementary was now a school for kids with disabilities. So there were some wheelchair ramps and signs in Braille, but otherwise the place looked the same… only smaller. Were the monkey bars always that low? And I remembered the kickball field as being more massive... Well, the merry-go-round still looked like fun. Brian and I pushed the thing to spin clockwise and jumped on. Nothing like a few G-forces to get you exhilarated.

Up to that point, Max had been frolicking in the field, but he didn’t want to miss out on the good time. Chasing your tail is one way to get dizzy; this seemed like an entirely new experience. He jumped onto the merry-go-round, and we cheered his boldness, "Go, Max!" But of course, a dog has no opposable thumbs, so he couldn’t grip the bars and fight the centrifugal force from sending him flying off. Max did a triple back-flip and half-gainer onto the grass. I stared, alarmed – then turned 360 degrees (we were still spinning) – and continued to stare, but Max got up and gave a little prance. Hey, that was awesome!, he seemed to be saying. Brian and I cracked up. Especially when Max trotted back, looking to jump on the carousel again. This was the dog version of Super Dave Osborne. Or, today, Johnny Knoxville.

The merry-go-round was slowing down, so it seemed easier for Max to leap on, and maybe stay on, too. But nope – whoosh – he went flying again, a golden-furred Greg Louganis, and we couldn’t but help laugh at the spectacle.

Until the carousel stopped. It was like someone slammed on the brakes, which was followed by a horrible whimpering sound. Still dizzy, I swung around and saw that Max had gotten his front paw wedged between the merry-go-round and the wheelchair ramp on one side of it. The poor dog was standing on his hind legs, stuck, crying and looking terrified.

I rushed over to him to try and help ease his paw out, but as soon as I got close, I felt something that made me recoil instantly. It was like an electric shock. I looked down at my arm and there were puncture marks in my wrist which were starting to bleed.

Max had bitten me. It all happened so lightning fast, I didn’t even realize. He wasn’t mad; he was freaked out. The dog would never ever, ever bite me. This was a golden retriever, the most kind-natured breed there is. When I’d play-fight with him, give him harmless pushes and taps, he’d just swing his face and snarl, bearing his fangs at me (rolling his terrible eyes, gnashing his terrible teeth, as Maurice Sendak would say), but would never actually chomp down. Sometimes I’d kid around with my dad, wrestling the old man, and I’d yell, "Get him, Max!" What would man’s best friend do? Grab ahold of my pant leg – just the cloth, not my ankle – and start tugging and growling. "Not me, you stupid dog!" I fed and walked this pooch and what did I get in return? A closet full of scuffed Levis.

I was surprised that Max could even bite that hard. Goldens are bred to retrieve game birds, leap into the water (Max loved swimming), and return, carrying a duck in its mouth without harming it. I’ve seen Max carry an inflated balloon around all day and not pop it. But I suppose when he was this traumatized, he’d lash out in full force at anything.

Max had had his shots; I wasn’t even concerned about the bite, but how was I gonna help him? Since I couldn’t come near him in that condition, Brian suggested we try to turn the merry-go-round. So we got on the other side, and gently turned it counter-clockwise, and that did the trick. Max’s paw came loose and he fell to the ground, now just scared and silent.

He wasn’t panicking as much and I was able to come over to him. There was a cut on his paw that was bleeding a little, and it was obviously broken – he couldn’t walk on it. Brian and I had to carry him home.

Max couldn’t have been more than fifty pounds, but he soon seemed much heavier than that, especially as the mile walk home started seeming like a marathon. Fortunately, a woman in a station wagon saw us – two teenage boys carrying a hurt puppy – and gave us a lift. I wasn’t about to refuse a ride from a stranger when my poor pooch was in this condition.

The vet patched him up – gave Max a small cast on his paw for a few weeks. I gotta say it was the cutest thing, seeing the little guy hobbling around on three feet. Fortunately, he was young and healed fast. Here’s me with Max years later, both of us adults now, and his hoof good as new:

I gotta give my mom credit for taking such good care of the dog, too. She gave Max his medicine and kept his cast clean and dry by putting a new tube sock on it every day.

My parents always sent me and my sister on interesting trips each summer. Different experiences to enrich our lives -- I went to Mexico, Israel, Iowa (?!). But mostly it was to get us outta their hair for a few weeks when school was out. I wasn’t gonna go on my bike trip (from Vermont to Cape Cod) because Max was hurt, but Mom insisted. I guess she figured tending to an injured Max would be less difficult than Max + Mike underfoot.

At least that’s the angle the 'rents played when they sent me off. I suspect the truth was, they loved stunt-dog Max as much as I did.


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