When I met Max, he was still a puppy. He might've been nine or ten months old, with those perfect white adult teeth that hadn't seen any wear, except where one was exposed to the roots, where his gums had been stripped away.
The Erstwhile Hub saw him on his way to work and called me, saying, "There's a dog trying to die in the empty lot two doors down." My response was, "Not on my watch."
I went and lured him to our front yard and tried to feed and water him, but he didn't eat or drink much. He was emaciated, his eyes and cheeks sunken, and he looked exhausted. I loaded him into the Honda hatchback I had at the time and drove him to a vet I'd not been to before because my usual vet was closed on Wednesdays.
They told me he was probably very old and probably wouldn't make it, and showed me the X-ray of his gut, full of rocks and sticks. For some reason, I said "do what you have to do to save him." They ran two liters of fluid into him over a couple of days, keeping him sedated so he wouldn't chew the IV out of his arm. I went to see him both days, kneeling down by his cage and saying, "You must not die, you must not die."
He had a cracked hip and two cracked ribs and heartworms from hell and torn-up pads. The vets figured he must've been thrown or fallen from the back of a pickup, and walked all the way from the highway to my neighborhood.
When El Erstwhilo and I divorced, I left Max behind. I was moving into a 600-square-foot apartment and working sixteen hour days, and I couldn't take him. Later, when Erstwhilo thought he might be moving to Ireland and couldn't handle the thought of quarantine, I took Max back. I had just bought a house. Having him made everything better; he was the only thing I missed from my marriage.
Max died Saturday. I was out of town, visiting The Boy in Kansas City. My neighbor called to say that he'd gotten up and boofed around the yard that morning, then had lain down to have a nap and had simply not woken up. I got home this afternoon and found him lying where they'd tucked a sheet over him, looking exactly as though he'd just gone to sleep with his head between his front paws.
There were no signs of distress. He'd gone to sleep in his own back yard and woke up on the other side of the Bridge, where there are dozens of mail carriers on crutches and an ice-cream truck with a flat tire.
This is what I'd been praying for. Whatever Thing is there, out there in the Universe, watching over deserving dogs, gave Max a death in keeping with his life: quiet, gentle, without fuss or pain.
He was my Zoater-Bloater Max-Nose Spoon-Hound, and I'll miss him. I'm thankful, though, that his last days didn't involve vets and needles and fear.