May 1, 2022
Maximus Gary Kingsbury was born in Bangor Maine- Friday, May 16, 2008. We had to put him down on Saturday, March 12, 2022 just before noon. He was dying of kidney failure. He was almost 15 years old. He was in more pain than we could bear.
He was an enormous part of Liana and me. As much as Liana and I are parts of each other.
Coal and Buddy’s deaths were hard to endure and worse to come to terms with. But over a month after Max’s death, I still can’t separate him from the minutia of my day-to-day life. I see and remember him everywhere. Max and I spent fifteen very close years together and I wrote about him all the time. I also wrote from his point of view. You’d think it would be easy for me to come to terms with his life with us. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’m not ashamed to tell you that I was clinically depressed after his death. Food tasted like lukewarm, wet insulation. Shaving my face and brushing my teeth were incomprehensible and unendurable acts. Why change my clothes or open the shades or play with the other dogs? There was no point to it. I couldn’t see the humor in anything. I closed the shop for two days. I drank a lot just so I wouldn’t think about him and I could get some sleep.
And that’s the hardest thing for me to do- to grieve enough. A human being has to grieve as much grief as they have. Even if that means selfishly snatching bits of it here and there. Even if you have to go through the unbearable motions of an ordinary day in the midst of those who have no idea you are grieving.
We all have to grieve as much as it takes. Otherwise, we’ll be permanently pissed off. Or weepy. Or jumpy. Or the worst- just some ordinary Biped tragedy tiredly rattling through its tedious emotional wreck script for the rest of its short life.
Welcome to my grieving process. It’s not fun and I’m not a great writer, but I need to come to terms with my grief by writing. You can step off this crazy carousel whenever you want and I won’t think any worse about you.
This is between Max and me.
It’s strange, but in all my familiarity with Max I could never picture myself saying goodbye to him. I thought in some weird way he would outlast me. He was a truly singular dog and he meant everything to us. He was so much a part of Liana and me we couldn’t let him go until we had no choice.
And that was not fair to him.
Liana and I got Max when we moved to Dedham Maine from Seattle so I could work on a Civil Engineering PhD at The University of Maine at Orono. I quit the PhD only weeks into it and was looking for work. It wasn’t going great in Dedham with the job search and Liana and I weren’t going great either.
Bizarrely, we kept daring each other to get a dog. That went on for over a month. Then we handed over a bunch of money to a couple in Bangor we found through Uncle Henry’s and scooped up the terrified Max from his whelping box.
Puppy Max howled bloody murder the whole 30 minutes home. And when I put him down on our lawn, he ran a safe distance away and regarded us. I tried to scoop him up and get him inside but he’d just run another safe distance away. This went on for a huge chunk of the afternoon. Finally, Liana and I went inside and watched him through a living room window. I think he figured out fairly quickly that it was dangerous for a fat little 8-week old puppy all alone on the side of a mountain in the middle of The Lake Philips Wilderness.
So he waddled his big butt through the front door we left open.
He turned the corner and saw Liana and me sitting patiently on the couch in the living room. He panicked and squeezed himself between the giant soapstone stove and fieldstone hearth so our evil clutches couldn’t possibly reach him. He continued to regard us suspiciously from the shadows.
We played this game for a couple days by letting him use the hearth as a crate and feeding him in front of it. Then it got tiring. Once he gained enough confidence to venture a ways out of his little fortress, Liana and I swooped in and blocked all its entrances.
Out of options, Max reluctantly joined the family.
His reluctance and suspicion continued for the next fifteen years.
Dedham was a terrible place to work on a PhD, but it was the perfect place to raise a puppy. There were no neighbors. There were small, mossy outcrops of boulders and access to snowmobile trails right outside our front door that hooked onto others and went 100’s of miles into Canada and western Maine. Dedham is close to Bangor and Acadia National Park. There were dozens of small local trails and beaches for Max to discover. Liana and I brought him to the Rockland Lobster Festival, Sand Beach in Acadia, Tunk Lake, Bald Mountain, the UMO campus, Schoodic Point, and a zillion other places to socialize that little brat. As a side note, he only ever had problems with Weimeraners. We have no idea why.
I didn’t really mind being unemployed in Dedham. Max and I traveled farther and farther on those snowmobile trails for our adventure fix. I would pack a lunch, water, and snacks for both of us. We’d eat in the middle of nowhere. As a rule, I always tossed Max the last tiny corner of my sandwich like the farmer in the movie “Babe.” That seemed to bond us together more than anything.
One day we were miles and miles in the woods and Max ran off. He came back with a squeaky football dog toy. He put it at my feet and looked up at me very proud of himself. I was astounded. How the hell did that dog find it in the middle of nowhere? The nearest house was literally a dozen miles away. I smiled back at him and put it in my backpack. He’d get excited whenever we brought it out of The Forbidden Closet, and fourteen years later we cremated him with it.
And that’s how Max and I got to know each other– on those beautiful unemployed walkies- those endless snowmobile trails to nowhere.
I taught Max to think through problems. The experts said I was doing the right thing. All I did was make him a much smarter and well-seasoned adversary.
To hell with the experts.
When he was a tiny pup, I walked over a huge blown down tree in our back yard and enticed him with a treat. He tried and tried to get over the tree. He ran away and tried to get me to chase after him. He stared at me with baleful, calculating eyes. I said “COME” in my most commanding voice, turned my back, and began walking away. He barked at me. He tried to dig under the tree. Then he started running back and forth, trying to find a way around the tree.
BINGO. He got around the tree. I gave him the treat and heaped praise on him like he just split the atom. He was so very proud of himself, and I admit it was addictive to give Max problems to solve.
That would prove my ruin.
Max wouldn’t cross “The Heinous Gap” between the wharf and the gangway to our boat at Newagen. Long story short- once we got to the landing, Max would run away. Liana / I / both of us / guests in tow / helpful bystanders would chase him down or trick him into a leash. Then we’d drag his unwilling butt across The Heinous Gap. Once across the gap, he would happily run down the gangway and hop into the boat.
Again, this went on for longer than Liana and I would care to admit.
So we got Max a life jacket with a handle on top to lift him over The Heinous Gap. The usually sedate Max would bolt for the tree line before we could even get the life jacket out of the car. We would retrieve him, angrily put it on and drag his big butt to the Heinous Gap. I’d lift him over and he’d run straight down the gangway and hop happily into the boat.
Then we tried putting the life jacket on him at Chez Salty. This time, Liana and I discussed a strategy like we were in charge of the Normandy Landings. When we thought we had everything set, we got to Southport Landing and opened the doors.
Max lackadaisically got out of the car, sniffed the air, walked slowly to the gangway, and walked over the gap like it was a piffle. He strode on down the gangway to the boat with no prodding whatsoever.
In future trips, Max would hop over the Formerly-Heinous Gap like it wasn’t even there and run right down to the boat.
He was entertaining himself. He was training us.
We taught Max to fetch. Once he learned to fetch flawlessly, he wouldn’t fetch anymore.
Until one day after 10 years of Max not fetching, Rusty Court asked him to retrieve a free-floating lobster buoy off Horn Cove. Max became Superdog. He responded to Rusty’s voice and arm gestures. He was the perfect retrieving dog and delivered the buoy to Rusty’s waiting feet with a giant smile.
We were astounded. Max thrived for months off the praise he got that day. Of course, he wouldn’t fetch anything for Liana or me after that. Why? It was pretty simple- if we didn’t offer Max THE perfect fetch in front of an enthusiastic, cheering audience, he wasn’t interested.
Every time we said “Come!” and he didn’t come, Liana and / or I would go hunt him down. Even if we had to charge through thorns, swamps, out-of-stater-owned property, in-stater-gun-owner-property, and puckerbrush to bring him back to the place we originally told him to come. Little did we know that Max was also training us not to give him needless commands. Unless we were prepared to commit a sizable amount of our free time to extract him from some horrible place, we wouldn’t issue the command.
Max was figuring things out like some schmaltzy movie about AI. He was training us.
I had no idea we were nursing a viper at the heart of Chez Salty.
I admit. Max completely, thoroughly and utterly outwitted me to ruin a large wedding. Thankfully, I was not beaten up by drunken thugs in the parking lot. Nor was I sued by lawyerly thugs in court.
Liana and I were getting lunch at the wedding-prone Lucerne Inn one afternoon. I was a chain-smoker at the time and I would go out and check on Max repeatedly whilst simultaneously ruining the gorgeous scenery with my deadly tobacco smoke.
I let him out of the car. On that day, we walked- leashless, onto that gorgeous, green, spreading lawn. Safely away from the hyper-fast traffic on Route 1A and the drizzle drapes of the wedding tent.
On that endless lawn, Max leaped and frolicked. He whimsically chased blowing leaves and got thoroughly soaked in the wet grass. He chased after an errant seagull and looked up at me lovingly. He was everything I always wanted in a puppy. Yet the fact that he came when called should have warned me of treachery.
Our adventure over, we made our way back. When we were almost back to the car, Max squatted for a poop. I pulled out the bags in my jacket, bent over to pick it up…. and… BOOM!
Max bolted like greased lightning for the slit in the wedding tent. I stood watching him run as fast as he could away from me, completely stunned. I gathered my senses and ran after him with the warm bag of his poop and a cigarette still in my hands. I helplessly watched him weasel his way under the flaps of the tent and run full-bore up the aisle to the where the loving couple were literally saying their vows. He didn’t slow in the slightest before slamming his sopping wet anvil-like-head into the bride’s crotch.
And there I was- on the other side of the drizzle drapes completely defeated- set up and knocked down by my insanely cute puppy. But what could I do?
The fact that I could just get in my truck and drive away from Dedham forever burned hot in my mind. I could scream outside the tent and probably get tackled or tazed. Or I could simply charge through drip drapes and run screaming like some unintelligible muddy lunatic after Max. The downside to that scheme was that I could get shot.
I did the only thing a sane person could do. I ran back into the bar with Max’s warm poop bag in one hand and my smoldering cigarette butt in the other and screamed, “MAX IS IN THE WEDDING TENT!!! MAX IS IN THE WEDDING TENT!!!”
After a moment of trout-mouth, Liana and the bartender ran out to take situation in hand.
Max was enthusiastically regarded as a fantastically lucky omen and the official “big hit” of the wedding. The entire tent good-naturedly booed me when I took him back. Then one of the flower girls started to cry. The others looked at me reproachfully and begged me to let him stay.
There was no doubt in my mind that Max planned the entire escapade. From the second he saw that gap in those drizzle drapes, he knew. He knew the only way my guard would be let down was his frolicking compliance. He knew the only thing that would distract me for the instant he needed was me picking up his poop. And he knew I had no recourse once he made it into the tent.
And finally, he knew he would be the hit of the wedding whilst making me a hapless foil.
Yes. On that day, the master reluctantly yielded to the student.
Excelsior, Max. Well played.
Like every dog, Max had his delicious little quirks. Some were maddening and some were endearing. These are some short, quirky stories about Max that hopefully you will find amusing without the use of inhalants or cough syrup.
Max ate an entire wheel of Brie during a large party WITHOUT disturbing the surrounding chips or bread or silverware. Nor did he wake up the sleeping Scott in the adjacent chair. Max could reason so well at this point he knew to go after the Brie when everyone (except Scott) was downstairs for Karaoke. AND he knew enough not to move the dish in the slightest or disturb the chips, crackers and silverware around the Brie if he was going to get away “Scott” free. Heh-heh. The only way we knew Max was the culprit were the wide tongue marks on the plate you could only make out if you held it in the proper lighting and the fact that he didn’t poop for two days.
When we went to pick up Buddy from his previous owners, Max ran directly into Buddy’s house and started perusing the big pile of Buddy-stuff on the floor. A frantic Buddy ran in after him and I heard Max BARK! BARK! BARK!
Buddy came running out of his own house terrified, tail between his legs, and ran straight for his owner. After a bit, Max stuck his head out the doorway, looked around and smiled.
Alpha dog at Chez Salty had been established.
Max had a room upstairs all to himself. He took it over. It had a queen-sized futon.
When we were all watching TV in the living room, Max would hop up from his dog bed and make his way upstairs. When he got halfway up the stairs, he was in perfect view of the rest of us, and he would hard stare us. Sometimes for 15 seconds, sometimes for over 2 minutes.
If we didn’t do anything, Max continued upstairs to his futon after giving us all a particularly baleful look. At first Liana and I had no idea what he was doing.
Then Liana hit on it. Max wanted to be tucked into into the blankets of his futon.
That became Liana’s job.
Max “buried” his dog bones and favorite toys on the minimally-used second floor of our house. He’d put them under beds, in closets, in corners, the bathtub, and in all kinds of other secret places. Liana and I called them “Hidey Holes” after his little winter retreat under the pine tree out back.
Later in his life, I’d give all the dogs a bone and Max would go out and immediately bury his when all the other dogs were distracted with their bounty. Then, in 2-3 days, when the other dogs had no treats, Max would dig up his fantastically filthy and disgusting dog bone and parade it in front of the other dogs triumphantly.
The experts say dogs have no sense of time.
To hell with the experts.
He understood Christmas. He understood we all got presents and the dogs got canned food on that day. It was a special day. He left the presents under the tree alone even if they contained treats and he would growl at the other dogs if they got too close.
Max could reason and wait. He knew on Christmas morning we’d open the presents together. Max wanted to wait until all of us were together. He wanted the excitement of Christmas like a small child.
He loved opening his own presents. We specially wrapped them in tissue paper so he could discern them and get them from under the tree. He’d open the present and wave the toy/treats around, showing it off. Then Liana or I would open the treats and give everyone a bit, or cut the packaging from the toy and give it to whichever dog it “belonged” to.
Max took a lot of pleasure in bringing the other dogs their Christmas presents.
I guess that counts as fetching.
We were very thankful Max wasn’t afraid of guns, fireworks, or thunder. In fact, if he heard any one of them, he would run directly outside hoping for a downpour. Max LOVED downpours because it meant he could get toweled off afterwards without suffering the indignity of a bath.
Sometimes he would run out into pouring rain over and over so he could get toweled off repeatedly for the entire afternoon.
Liana and I never minded.
Max and pup Auggie would play a game Liana and I called “Car Chase.” They would chase each other around one of our parked cars in the driveway. Max figured out that he could see exactly what Auggie was doing if he dropped his head and looked under the car.
He ambushed the poor, unsuspecting Aug Dog over and over until I had to put a stop to it.
Max was a true older Brother to Auggie.
Max was never one to share his love with me overtly, but every once and a while we would play “The Breathing Game.”
When the house was perfectly silent, he would come up into the big bed. He snuggled up next to me until he was spooning me. I put my arm around his chest. We’d snuggle close to each other. Once I knew he was serious, I put my book down and turned out the light. When we were both settled, the game would begin.
Max would start to breathe deeply. I matched my breathing rhythm to his. Once I got it down, he would change it again. Then I would match it again.
When he was satisfied I was paying attention, it was my turn. I breathed in slowly and deeply- he would match. Next I would breathe rapidly and shallowly- he would match it.
On his next turn, he’d do a double-take on the second breath. I waited until I got the rhythm and matched it. If I got the difficult ones, Max would wag his tail. We went back and forth until he got bored.
Then, like I was a one night stand, he made his way up to his futon and left me alone with my book.
Saturday, March 12th, 2022 was just about the worst day you could imagine. Not a surprise snowstorm, not thunderstorms, nothing interesting like that. Just 36-degree rain coming down in 40mph sheets. The mud, the ice, the sloggy corn snow, the wind and the thin wisps of fog… Everything was destined to be coated in a frozen layer of ice later that night… It was the most perfect backdrop for something awful to happen.
The day before, on Friday morning, the Maine Veterinary Medical Center (MVMC) said he was close to “that time” and wanted to keep him on IVs at the hospital. Thank Dog we took him home that afternoon. Despite everything that subsequently happened, I never could have forgiven myself if Max had perished without us, or in a place he wasn’t familiar.
To hell with the experts.
Max was at the MVMC without us for 2 days. They were giving him IV saline, trying to flush the toxins from his body that his kidneys couldn’t. We couldn’t stand him being sick and without us.
He was looking good that morning when I visited him. The vets said he wasn’t eating. He ate a bunch of boiled chicken from me as we lay down on the floor. We went on a short walk around the grounds. He stopped at the head of a couple deer trails heading into the woods. He looked at me and started down them. I nudged him back because I didn’t think he could get back up the steep grade. I didn’t understand what he was telling me then.
Liana visited him later in the afternoon. She thought the same thing- he should be good for another couple days. We scheduled Max to be put down on Monday evening at our Southport Cabin that Max loved so much. Coal and Buddy had been released there. We were grateful we had the weekend with him.
That evening, Max was back with us in Pownal. He ate a little chicken and steak. He did a short walk around the house with us and the other dogs. He wasn’t panting and he was in good enough spirits to play a little “Bitey Face” with Auggie and me.
I left him asleep on Liana’s lap in the living room.
To hell with the experts.
I woke up and saw Liana trying to feed the other dogs and crying. Max hadn’t come back after she let them out to pee. She was snatching looks out the back window at Max. He was thoroughly soaked and miserable. The wind tore his ears back and his eyes were slits. He was panting heavily and looked confused and alone by the treeline. He turned and moved towards the woods. He stumbled. Now I knew why Liana was crying.
Max was finding a place to die.
I ran out the back door in pajamas and old laceless boots I kept for dog emergencies. I tried to stop him from going any deeper into the woods, but he didn’t have a collar and he kept slipping away. I thought miserably- “Thwarting me now, too?” then, “Why should it be any different at his death?” Max fell down in a thicket. He looked up at me ashamedly. Then he looked away.
I was soaked. My shins were bleeding freely from the brambles. My fingers were blue and numb. I was crying. The hot streaks of the tears on my cheeks were the only things that cut through the cold. I couldn’t see. The only thing I could think about was getting that damn dog back to where it was warm and where he could die with us.
Liana came out with his lifting harness and we put it on him with a lot of difficulty. We got his reluctant ass up into the house. Liana dried him off in the living room and kept the other dogs off him. For once in his life Max didn’t like getting toweled off.
When he got settled inside he was making little yelps with every breath he took. His eyes were wide and terrified. He obviously couldn’t wait until Monday for us to put him down.
It was Saturday. It was shitty. We were out of options.
I called around frantically looking for someone who could come over and put him down at our house in Pownal. Yes, there is a network of qualified people who will do this.
There was no way I could get Max in a car and drive him anywhere without torturing him. It had to be in Pownal.
I kept frantically striking out and leaving messages to anyone’s number I was given or anyone I could think of who could help us. With each fail, the horrible realization that I was going to have to break out the shotgun and release Max from his pain rang louder and louder.
I didn’t know if I could do it. The only thing I did know was that Liana and I couldn’t bear to hear Max make that noise for much longer. It would most certainly drive us stark, staring, mad.
Thank Dog Ruth from Holistic Healing for Animals called me back. She treated Max before and agreed to put him down as soon as she could- around 1pm.
You can’t imagine our joy and gratefulness when she showed up more than an hour ahead of schedule.
By that time, Max was making the most horrible noises with each shallow breath. We laid him on his Purple Blankie with that stupid football he found in the middle of nowhere and his puppy-toy; Blue Bear. Ruth put the IV into his leg.
Teddy was asleep in the bedroom. Puppy Marz bounced around the living room until he hit Max and caused a terrible cry. I grabbed Marz angrily by his neck with my free hand and held him to the carpet until he gained a more solemn attitude.
Auggie was the dog who understood what was going on. He’d seen it with Coal and Buddy. He tried to get as close to Max’s head as he could. I was by Max’s head and Liana was by his stomach.
Ruth released the sedative and Max’s breathing slowed. I had brief, irrational, hopeful thoughts like, “He’s all better now!” and, “Let’s just keep him on that sedative!”
I was grasping at burning straws in a whirlwind.
Ruth asked if we were OK going to the next step with Max. Liana and I nodded our rational heads.
It is incredibly hard to describe how long we were there with him, or what happened after. Was Liana crying? I assumed so. I was. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t raise my head. I assumed she was crying.
It wasn’t until Marz stuck his cold, wet nose on the back of my neck that I realized Ruth might have been waiting patiently there for hours. Or days. I had no way of knowing.
I looked up. The light in Max’s brown eyes was lost. Ruth tried to close them. Liana tried to close them, and I tried to close them. But his big brown eyes remained lifeless and open.
He was too big for Ruth to handle alone, so we all had to roll him up and position him such that his back was in the middle of it. Then the three of us hauled him to the back of Ruth’s car and squeezed him in.
That was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do. I’ve held Max in love and anger. I’d wished we’d never got him. I’ve proudly shown him off. I’ve dragged him off to places he was terrified of. I lovingly played “The Breathing Game” with him. I shoved his big butt harshly with my foot. I yelled at him like I’ve never yelled at another living being. I explored bumps and cuts on ears and paws and even his butthole and weenie. But nothing could prepare me for hauling his limp, lifeless, eyes-open body off in his favorite fleece to leave him in the back of a car to be cremated.
We said goodbye to Ruth, then.
For the first time in fifteen years, Liana and I were Maxless.
(Not a Dog)
None of you are going to find any of the following interesting. I’m just putting it here so I can remember him when I need to.
And this one.