For You, A Thousand Times Over

I was in love. The minute I laid eyes on him, I knew Max and I were meant to be together. It didn’t matter that he was old or that he hated other dogs. I love old people and strongly dislike other human interaction. He was digging his nose into my palm like he knew it was my favourite body part. I will never forget that feeling of his wet nose burrowing deep with occasional licks. I would realise later that he doesn’t let just about anyone touch his face.

It was six months ago that we brought him home for Christmas 2016. Now, I know he loves me back when he lets me cuddle him. Max is definitely not a cuddler. He hates hugs, just like me. When I hug Max he stays completely still, barely breathing. He lets me do my thing for about 30 seconds. Maybe 45 seconds if I am persistent or if he is in a good mood. Just the way I let Amma brush my hair.

Since March, I’ve had to go out of station a couple of times leaving him behind. When I am away, he lies by the kitchen door where he usually loves to watch me cook. He mopes around the rooms with one of my clothes in his mouth. When I come back, he is miffed. For the first couple of days he refuses to acknowledge me. He uses my signature silent treatment against me. I need to win back his love. It drives me nuts when he favours T over me and acts like I am invisible. And he knows that. For the next couple of days, I offer him extra treats and talk him out of the mood he is in.

Usually Maxu is a dog who loves his space. Feed him, walk him and pet him when he wants and for the rest of the day he will do his own thing. But when we have guests over, it’s another story. If there are children in the midst, I shouldn’t pick them up or hold their hands. I should stay closer to him than to the rest of them. He tolerates people for the first half an hour. And then he gets restless. For the next hour or so, T and I take turns taking him into our room to talking him into calming down. And we always fail. We’ve never hosted anyone without having to take Maxiboo out in between.

When Amma calls, she now asks after Maxkuttan too. And she has never met him and doesn’t like dogs. I tell her about how I give him buttermilk when he has a tummy upset or about how he begs for food each time we eat though he has just eaten. She knows how he hates calling bells and scares delivery boys with his ferocious bark. And then when I open the door, he takes dainty steps towards the said person’s privates for a good, long sniff. Not awkward at all. I share with her how he now lets me clean out his ear properly and will do just about anything for food. When my brother visits India, he brings toys for Maxi. And on most days, T and I catch ourselves talking about Maxooti’s poop during our meals.

Since we don’t have his records, there is very little we know about him. We don’t know how much he weighs because he won’t let us weigh him. When both of us crowd around him voluntarily, he knows it means danger. Either it’s for a bath or for putting on the muzzle for a vet visit. When we got him, we hadn’t considered the logistics of giving him a bath. We had a spare room and a bathroom and we assumed he would use both. When he refused to enter his room and the bathroom, we were quite stumped. But now we bathe him in one of our balconies. Thanks to a skin condition he’s developed, and the occasional ticks and fleas we’ve ended up bathing him every week. Not that it’s difficult. Between the both of us and a mostly cooperative Maxita, it takes under 45 minutes. But he does not like his privates or extremities touched. If it were up to him, he would only wash his tummy. I used to bathe like that as a child.

His vet is a gentle person with a genuine interest in animals. But Maxibabu turns into a crazy nutcase when we enter the clinic. An otherwise well-behaved gentle dog, Maximus starts growling and refuses to let the doctor anywhere near him. So the diagnosis is mostly based on our descriptions. And since he is old, the doctor is against strong medication or anything invasive. As a result, we don’t think he can see too well. He thinks toddlers holding their parents’ hands are dogs. His hatred of dogs makes walking him around the park an anxious ordeal. But when he thinks children are dogs and lunges at them, what we see is Maximax being blind. But what those parents see is a monster dog.

He loves picking up bone scraps off the road. I’ve tried to feed him before his walks, get him bones at home, nothing works. So now I reason with him. Yes, I am the crazy lady who talks to her dog on the road. And then he bares his teeth at me, which I’ve come to believe is the dog equivalent of an antsy teenager slamming the door. Sometimes if I try to take something out of his mouth (usually a disgusting piece of ant-eaten bone) he does a biting motion without the intention of biting. This is my cue to really back off because he is saying I am a dog that can bite if I want to but since you are diligent with your food delivery I shall give you a warning. Passersby or well-wishers tell me that this is all because he is not neutered. Well, you are not neutered either, no?

Recently, when he was put under general anaesthesia for a minor polyp removal surgery is when I realised why Amma cannot watch me get an injection. And the following fateful day, I happened to watch Marley and Me. I bawled my eyes out wondering what life would be without him. Max is not the perfect dog. He is aggressive, moody, stubborn and set in his ways. But so am I.

I wrote about Max days after we brought him home. Find it here: Max

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