Shane Nickerson is a father of three and a TV producer. He occasionally writes at Nickerblog.
At night, my dog slinks into the living room and jumps up on the couch with me. He’s a whippet mix that we adopted from a rescue fair in 2005. Max. He came with the name.
He’s a gentle dog, eternally happy that we saved him from a lonely life lived, abandoned and sleeping underneath parked cars in South Central Los Angeles. He showed no signs of abuse, but he was found with no tags and covered in dirt and oil stains. When we met him, we immediately liked him. My two year old ran up to him before we could stop her, and he licked her face gently. In the hectic hot sun of a park filled with excited dogs waiting for new humans to please take them home, he was panting and scattered; flitting back and forth on his leash, desperately trying to make sense of the unusual crowded mixture of people and animals around him. We struggled for a moment, still grieving the loss of our previous whippet mix, but his gentle spirit and perpetual smile won us over. After some discussion, we took home our new friend.
It’s become more difficult for him lately. He has arthritis in his right hind leg, and the boundless energy we used to curse has become a casualty of his age. He still gets after the squirrels every morning, but in the same way an old man tries to keep up with the grandkids. The desire is still there, but the pep is waning.
He liked me best, almost right away. We lived in a two bedroom rented beach cottage in the South Bay, and he’d lay with his head on my lap every night as I fell asleep watching TV in our tiny living room. The back yard was an exceptionally large one for Manhattan Beach, and there was nothing he loved more than chasing the tennis ball on a rope that I’d throw endlessly across the yard. When I ran out of energy, he’d stay outside and race around in the overgrown thicketed lot until panting exhaustion. A single abrasive bark was my cue to come let him back inside. It’s one of those barks that’s impossible to ignore. Grating. Unpleasant. It’s incredibly effective at getting me off of the couch.
These days, he goes outside to sniff the air and do a quick patrol around our much smaller yard in the Valley, but within a few minutes, he’s at the back door firing off that same annoying bark. Old man Max.
My kids want a puppy.
(All kids want a puppy.)
They put together a presentation for us on why we should get a brand new puppy. It was cute, but I had to pass on their proposal.
“Max is our dog,” I told them, “and if he could talk, he’d tell you he’s not interested in a new puppy roommate.”
“But puppies are so cute,” they persisted, “and Max is old and stinky!”
A fair point.
“We can talk about a puppy after Max dies,” I mistakenly told them.
“So we can get a puppy after he’s dead?” they asked eagerly.
“We can TALK about it,” I said.
“Yay! As soon as Max dies, we can get a puppy! As soon as Max dies, we can get a puppy!” they sang.
I’ve inadvertently made my children excited for the death of our family dog. Great work, me. Pretty glad Max can’t speak English.
He’s old and stinky, it’s true. But he’s the most loyal, gentle, patient dog I’ve ever lived with. He’s endured three children in all stages of their mayhem. He’s been colored on, had his hair pulled and eyes poked, had his tail yanked and ears gouged, and he’s never so much as nipped at them. He still sleeps with me on the couch for as long as he can endure the discomfort of his arthritic leg. When I come home from work, he’s still as excited as the first day we brought him home.
So yes, maybe someday we’ll get another dog.
But for now, this old stinky one is the only one we need.