Mac came into the shelter in very good condition. He hadn’t been tied to a chain, made to guard a junkyard, abused or otherwise neglected. He was given up by a sobbing owner no longer able to care for him. This was 2007, and I was looking for a racy, sleek, show-off type of dog to work in all kinds of training scenarios. Earlier that week, Michael Vick apologized for his ‘immature acts’ on national TV. These acts, as we know now, included clubbing dogs, drowning them, and hanging them from trees. I walked into the shelter with Vick’s speech still prickling the hairs on my arm and saw my new dog. No racy type he; instead he was low to the ground and built like a barrel with a head as thick and heavy as the ever-present anvil heaved over cliffs in Roadrunner cartoons. Mac was the type of dog short-sighted insurance companies like to exclude from policies.
Mac showed real class from the first day. He was paraded up and down our street with neighbor children and their dogs. Parents who nearly gasped when they looked into his half-blue, half-brown eyes were soon petting him two-handed. The grin on the dog matched those on his admirers. Back in the house, I couldn’t find him for half an hour, until soft snoring finally alerted me to his location: our cream-colored sofa in the living room, head nestled and slack lips flopping over the arm cushion. I pointed him to his brand-new dog bed on the floor.
The next seven years went by far too fast. He became a certified Therapy Dog and loved his visits to nursing homes, where he plopped his big head into the laps of wheelchair-bound residents like the 104 year-old woman everyone called Grandma. She would light up and rub him vigorously with both hands, proclaiming, “He’s wearing me out!” Mac showed special calmness when out in public at our bank (thanks, Suntrust!), in the post office, at Reading To Dogs events at the Boys and Girls Club, and on window shopping with me on Ocean Drive, where he was invited inside by shop owners unable to resist his masculine charm. We hiked in parks, lounged at the beach, and otherwise watched time pass.
In May, I was very busy with training clients. I remember thinking I needed to spend more quality time with him as he aged. It looked as if he was slowing down just a little more than normal aging would indicate, but I still believed we had lots of time left. An ultrasound showed the bad news: a fast-growing cancer in his spleen, already showing signs of moving into other organs. Just three days before this diagnosis, he fairly flew around the yard, wind inflating his jowls and paws thundering after a ten-month old golden retriever female that caught his fancy.( Mac liked them young, blonde, and pliant.) He had a weakness for young puppies, and they knew it. Their soft, squirming bodies and tiny teeth fastened onto his ears seemed to bring out the kindly grandfather in him. After play sessions the puppy-of-the-moment would often curl up with him on his soft bed.
During his last week, we took him to the beach each morning and let him stay as long as he liked, digging at the waterline and standing chest-high gazing eastward as if a swim to Africa might be just the tonic he needed. He looked quite good except for a tiredness around the eyes. His lopsided smile was still there even when the vet came to the house so we could say good-bye in his favorite sunny spot on the porch. I think of him as robust and happy, and am thankful his illness was not lingering and painful. Sometimes the owners have to take that pain on, and that’s just what we did.
Two nights after he was gone I had a dream in which Mac sped off unleashed down the street, ignoring my “No, No!” and “Come!” commands, just as he did when I first acquired him seven years previous. In the dream, he finally turned and trotted back triumphantly. I said, “jump up” and he sprang up on a large stool next to me. I kissed the top of his head, where the muscle gave him a sort-of cleavage, and smelled his wonderful, wafting hound-ness and felt the specific coarseness of his coat. I woke smiling.