Wednesday I have to take my dog to the vet and have him put down.

Thirteen years ago, I traded my maiden name for the opportunity to bring this dog into our lives. It was June 1996, and Patrick and I were to be married in July. I told Pat that I wanted a dog and he said he didn’t much like dogs. I offered that if he agreed to get one, I would take his name on our wedding day. Up to this point I was ready to keep my family name. Pat didn’t like the confusion a two-last-name family, so he took the deal and I set about finding a pup. A month after we were married I went to look at a black lab puppy that was for sale and came home with “Max.”

Max loved food, toys that squeaked and me, in that order. I never took him to formal classes, but in time, he learned the usual tricks. He also learned to love Pat. Pat tried to remain aloof, but Max wouldn’t have any of that. He wasn’t much of a kisser, but he could nudge like nobody’s business. He figured out that if one of us was at the computer that meant we were seated at just the right height to scratch behind his ears. I think Pat didn’t even realize he was doing it. The man who didn’t like dogs would finish a bit of research or correspondence and look down to find that he was absently petting one.

When Max was two, we brought home Moose, a yellow lab pup who we knew would grow up to be several inches taller than Max and pounds heavier. Since we knew we would have a monster on our hands, I made sure to get Moose into obedience classes and practiced with him every day. Not to be left out, Max mastered every command that Moose learned and was quicker to perform them. My attentions stayed with Moose, and Max turned to Pat. Soon I had to ask Max to move if I wanted to sit next to my husband on our studio-sized sofa.

At age seven, Moose started to limp and within three months was gone to a brain tumor. Max, white of muzzle and a little slower on the tennis ball, seemed happy to be an only dog again. His solo status lasted twelve months. We brought home a female fox-red lab and named her Ruby. Max tolerated her and due to me being responsible for the new puppy’s house breaking and obedience classes, he became even closer to Pat.

This winter, at age four, Ruby is finally settling down and we’ve enjoyed finding both dogs stretched out on the sofa. Since she is mellowing and needs less constant attention, I’ve tried to reestablish Max and my original closeness, but he is truly Pat’s dog.

That is why last Saturday I was shocked to hear my husband’s strained voice over the cell phone asking me to come home from running errands immediately.

“Max bit off the end of my thumb,” he said.

I made him repeat that and nearly caused an accident getting back to our cottage. When I got there, I found Ruby wandering in the back yard, Max at the bottom of the short stair case leading to the main floor of our home, and Pat with his hand under the kitchen faucet.

He took it out from under the water long enough for me to see daylight where the end of his left thumb ought to have been. I got the dogs into their crates and his hand into a wrapping of gauze and tape and we sped off to the closest emergency room.

Pat spent five hours there, including one in surgery to repair a “traumatic amputation.” Between IV’s, X-rays, antibiotics and a tetanus shot, he told me how it happened. The dogs and he were out in the back yard. Pat called Max over to clean some discharge out of his eyes. We both do this on a regular basis, and Max even rubs his face on our pant legs to take care of the problem himself. Pat held Max’s collar in his right hand and reached down with his left to wipe the dog’s face. Max didn’t growl, didn’t pull away, instead he turned his head toward Pat’s left hand and snapped. In one bite, he severed tissue and bone.

For the past week, Pat has been taking some serious medication to control the pain in his hand, but they don’t make anything strong enough for the pain in his heart. Max doesn’t understand why his best buddy won’t scratch him behind the ears any more. Pat can’t bring himself to pet the first dog he ever learned to love.

Max is under a ten-day quarantine by our local health department and except for medical reasons, can’t leave the property for even a short walk. I’ve taken him to the vet to get checked and so far he has not displayed any additional aggressive behavior or any signs of serious illness. Nevertheless, he will be going to the vet for the last time on Wednesday. We have young children living on either side of our property. They love to pet Max and Ruby through the chain link fence. We don’t know what caused Max to bite his best friend and we can’t allow him to hurt anyone else. Pat has gone out of town. He had a trip with his brother scheduled and left today. He won’t get back until late Wednesday night.

So for the next few days, it’s just me and the dogs. Today, I took Ruby to the dog park for an hour and then spent another in the back yard with Max. I knelt beside him and scratched all his favorite places. I buried my face in his fur. Except when he’s wet from swimming in the river, I love his unique scent.

I don’t know how to write a good ending for this because there isn’t one. Wednesday I have to take my dog to the vet and have him put down.

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