Bye Max.

Fuck shit cunt bollocks and buggeration gets the swearing out of the way. In the weeks before christmas Max started having epileptic fits again and the only solution to this was to up the dosage of his medication (£40 a month that costs). A few days before christmas we took him for a walk, but he was weak and his back legs kept giving way. He only managed a circuit of a nearby sports field and three times I had to lift him from a sitting position back onto his feet. A subsequent examination by the vet showed him to have a healthy heart and to apparently be quite fit, so the vet gave him an injection to help out with his back legs and was going to supply anti-inflammatories for the problem. However, on christmas eve he could hardly manage to get up and seeing him anxious to go for his walk yet his legs giving way on the slipper floor of the home’s front hall was heart-breaking. He went quickly downhill from then and further blood tests have revealed that his liver is failing. This is one of the penalties of his spending the best part of his life on anti-epileptics. Because of this failure the drugs are no longer as effective and giving him anti-inflammatories would only worsen his health. The vet has advised the only option remaining to him and is calling round to the old people’s home to put him down this afternoon. It’s horrible, but stepping back it’s easy to see that Max is a luckier resident of that home, since he has a final option that the others there don’t. Merry christmas and a happy new year.

Max Part Four: The Ending.

After Marjorie’s death we had to wonder what would now happen to her dog. We continued walking him on a regular basis and just made enquiries when the opportunity arose. The staff said he had become more needy since her death, but I think that might have been an illusion – he had become a lot more demonstrative over the months he’d been a resident in this old people’s home probably because there were more people fussing him. Whenever we turned up to take him for a walk, he would make a fair bit of noise and roar up and down the corridors to let everyone know the rest of his pack had arrived and the were going OUT. As a little time passed we heard that things might become a little difficult, that the only place for Max might be the incinerator beside the vet’s surgery. Who would be prepared to take on an aging Alsatian suffering from epilepsy?

Marjorie’s daughter and partner invited us to her cremation in Chelmsford. Though anything involving religion tends to bring me out in a rash of contempt, I went along with Caroline. The service was mostly secular with only a little plea near the end for anyone to join in the Lord’s Prayer if they felt the need – the guy read it out without anyone accompanying him.

We were surprised and pleased to be given a mention for all we had done for Max and Marjorie and we learnt a little more about her. Nothing hugely surprising, but you realise on such occasions that the old woman you knew hadn’t always been old homebound and ill.
Afterwards we went along to a kind of wake in a pub in Chelmsford along with a few other guests including Marjorie’s ex-husband and partner – who had come down from Scotland. We learnt that if those running the old people’s home were willing to keep Max, the ex-husband would pay the bills. Of course, there were details to be sorted out…

Upon returning to our routine of walking Max we learnt that the ex-husband had balked upon finding out just how much it cost to keep an epileptic Alsatian in food and pills. It again looked like Max would be taking that trip to the vet’s. However, further negotiations took place about which we know few details. Marjorie’s daughter and partner took on the bulk of his care costs and we continued walking him.

Maybe, those of you who have been reading this have been expecting an unhappy ending. Well, there isn’t one. We are still walking Max and he is a much loved pet and resident of Downhall old people’s home. The end? Hopefully not for some years to come. The pictures here are from this morning’s walk.

Max Part Two.

Marjorie had been deteriorating for some time, really wasn’t well, and it seemed possible she might get worse. Don’t get the impression that we were the only people seeing her. Her daughter visited when she could, but had to shlep down from Ipswitch; a district nurse visited and a couple of neighbours occasionally checked up on her; carers went round regularly to do what could be done in their limited time (after dressing her ulcerated leg), and it was one of them who finally called the nurse. Such situations are terrible, but difficult to resolve when the patient is as headstrong an individual as Marjorie. She feared being hospitalized, being moved to an old people’s home, feared the interference of social services, and this was all because of her bigger fear of losing Max. Eventually she acceded to going into hospital, quite probably because she could not even get out of her chair to feed her dog.

The first we heard of this was when Caroline received a phone call from The Cinnamon Trust at lunch time. She took the afternoon off work and we hurried over to Burnham to find Marjorie’s house locked up (the key in one of those little coded safes beside the door). The moment he saw us Max began rushing about excitedly inside, but we couldn’t get in. We knocked at her neighbour’s house and were let in to find the district nurse there having a cup of tea. We hoped she could let us in because surely by now Max would be getting desperate. She couldn’t – she didn’t have the authority to do so – so gave Caroline the number of the social worker concerned with this case. Despite Caroline having been vetting by the Cinnamon Trust he also could not let us in and put us onto Marjorie’s daughter who, knowing we had been walking Max for some time and had not yet mugged Marjorie nor stolen the family silver, gave us the code to the key safe.

So eventually we got in to find Max’s pills out on a counter and a scrawled note of instructions beside them, we then took a frantic Alsatian for his much-appreciated walk and worked out together how we were going to look after him. Luckily, being self-employed, my time is pretty much my own. In the mornings, after dropping Caroline off at work, I drove over to Burnham, took Max for a walk, gave him his breakfast, gave him his epilepsy pills, then spent some time with him before coming back home. In the evening we both went over there and went through a similar routine. At the end of it we were reluctant to depart, because Max knew we were going, would butt his head against Caroline seeking affection, and wander about morosely. We stayed longer, trying to clean up the house a bit since, with the weather turning wetter and colder, Marjorie’s back garden had become a quagmire and Max tracked plenty of it back inside. But mainly we stayed just to keep the dog company. Even so, we were there twice a day for little more than a couple of hours each time, the rest of the time he spent locked inside. No messes, none at all – that’s the kind of dog Max was.

This state of affairs continued for two weeks. It was March, but winter was hanging on and really bit in then with sub-zero temperatures and driving snow. The ground became as hard as concrete and every puddle turned into a skating rink. Max loved it. A German shepherd like him, with his thick heavy coat, I rather think not bred for the near Mediterranean warmth Essex often receives. Arctic tundra would be the perfect environment. Here’s an email I sent to Caroline during this time, reporting on the morning walk:

Well Max had a wonderful time. I took him down to the point where he did a stand up fall down slapstick routine on a frozen puddle, he was snapped at by a sheepdog, had his willy licked by a very insistent Labrador, and rolled eight times.

Of course things could not continue like this. Speaking over the phone, Marjorie’s daughter and Caroline both agreed that anything more than a couple of weeks would be unfair on Max. At the end of two week the daughter and her partner transferred Max to a local kennel, then went to tell Marjorie what they had done – she had insisted that he stay at home, again fearing that he might be taken away from her. We also learnt, during this time, that Marjorie had lied about her age to us: she had told her she was 74 when in fact she was 84 – rather selfish, I think, to buy an Alsatian puppy when in your 70s.

Max spent about five days in the kennel after which Marjorie returned home and he was returned to her, whereupon we commenced walking him again. We were now taking him out three times a week, for without too much persuasion from her we upped the frequency from twice a week (another walker from the Cinnamon Trust had visited but been rejected). Spring started to make itself felt and obviously Max felt it too, barking uproariously (all his fur standing up), at a cat in the back garden – his territory. This was the most noise we ever heard him make and seeing he like this brought home to us why sometimes people would step off the pavement to go round us when we were walking him. If he had been a vicious Alsatian, he could probably have taken someone’s arm off at the shoulder. He was a pussy (oops – sorry Max) and many other dog walkers in the park, having known him since the days when Marjorie took him there, knew this, and he always received lots of fuss from them.

Social services had provided Marjorie with a portable toilet downstairs, where she now slept, and a Zimmer frame – both of which she hated – whilst her daughter and daughter’s partner were making preparations to completely revamp her house and build a downstairs toilet. This was not to be; old-age removes dignity before everything else. Shortly after she returned from hospital, she began deteriorating again. Knowing we could access the key in its key safe, she no longer expended the energy to get up and let us in, though we always banged on the window to let her know we were there. On a couple of occasions we could not wake her – she was invariably asleep when we arrived – and we entered expecting her to be dead in her chair.
After a month Marjorie was taken back into hospital and Max moved straight to the kennels. She spent three weeks in hospital but still wasn’t well enough to return home, in fact, would never be well enough to return home. She was moved from the hospital into a ‘recovery home’. And Max? I’ll leave that for another time…

To be continued…


Since it is a good idea, I feel, to add variety to a blog (and not be too political all the time), here’s a shaggy dog story…

About two and a half years ago my wife, Caroline, decided to join the Cinnamon Trust. This is a charity that gets in people to walk and look after pets for those who are no longer capable. After she joined, a few months passed before anyone contacted her. Finally someone did, giving her the number of an old lady in Burnham (about four or five miles from us) who needed her dog walking. Caroline phoned and though the phone was answered she didn’t get much of an intelligible response, so decided to drive over. A very old lady with a hearing aid attached to an amplifier the size of a modern mobile phone answered the door – hence the problems with the telephone call.

Then there was Max.

At that point Caroline’s experience of dogs included an irascible spaniel and a small black wire-haired bitsa. Here she had been dropped in at the deep end. Max is a German shepherd and not a small one. When I first saw him I wondered where the saddle might be. After having a bit of a talk with Marjorie, and after receiving many warnings about the dangers of letting him off the lead, Caroline took Max for a short walk. Upon her return she asked if it would be okay for her husband came along with on these walks (it would have been understandable if Marjorie had said no, since old ladies living alone are prey in today’s society). Marjorie agreed and so it began.

We started off walking Max two times a week. He was a bit fat and wheezy to begin with since he had not been getting much exercise. We walked him down to the local park and marina. He was rather dismissive of us. Yes, we were taking him for a walk which he liked, but initially he gave us very little response at all. As we walked him we started to take little risks, beginning by resting the lead across his back. Gradually we got more of a response. It often took Marjorie a little while to answer the door. She was deaf and, as we discovered, her hearing aid wasn’t a great deal of help and, though she might not have realised this herself, she was actually lip-reading. After a month or so Max understood that this couple were regularly coming round to take him to his favourite place where he could sniff the sniffs – catch up on the dog news – do his little back and forth dance to urinate in his precisely chosen spot to leave a reply. When we knocked at the door he would gaze out the window at us (he didn’t have to stretch since the window ledge was at back height to him – we are talking about a big Alsatian here), then proceed to run up and down until Marjorie woke up and noticed something was occurring. I think one of the watersheds in our relationship with this dog was the moment he did his first roll. Here was an Alsatian who was cool: he did his doggy things, sniffed and urinated and dropped a dump the size of Gibraltar (which I had to pick up in a bag) but apart from that running up and down performance it was difficult to know whether he enjoyed his walk. To then see a dog of his size getting his head down, flipping down on to wet grass and wriggling about with sheer pleasure was quite wonderful. He did this more and more frequently, hitting a max(imum) of twelve rolls in one walk.
As time progressed we trusted him more and more, despite Marjorie’s assertions that he would run away and we would never being able to get him back. We never told her. We walked Max then stopped for a cup of tea afterwards with Marjorie while we told her of his various exploits and the dogs he had met. Max was never vicious with other dogs. He would meet them nose to nose, sniff, wander around, wag his tail and move on.

There were a few heart-stopping moments. He became healthier and faster with this regular walking and once I had to sprint after him to stop him running out onto a road. We learnt where it was safe to let him off. His character began to show through too. While off the lead he would disappear around side routes then reappear on the route we were walking. He was having a game with us. I remember one occasion when he disappeared down some steps in the park. I chased after him, worried we had lost him then, huffing and puffing at the bottom of the steps, I looked up and saw him gazing down at me from the other side of some bushes at the top of a slope beside the steps (precisely where we had been heading). I climbed back and rejoin Caroline, and Max headed off again, looking back, tongue hanging out of the corner of his mouth, grinning. Cheeky bastard.

Here is a good point to look back on what we had thus far learned. Max was about the sixth or seventh German shepherd Marjorie had owned. Prior to us turning up, she had spent three months in hospital having shattered her leg falling down her stairs. Max had remained in the house with someone coming in to feed him and occasionally walk him. Marjorie had reached the stage of life where she was having trouble looking after herself let alone a big dog and a house and garden. Her house and garden were average size, the latter overgrown, muddy and full of what dogs do. Mud mixed with less pleasant substances was trampled into the carpet and spattered up the furniture – you let a dog of that size outside in winter and he’s sure to bring some of the outside back in with him. Max was also epileptic, which resulted in further problems. The house temperature was right for an old woman; it wasn’t right for a long-haired Alsatian. He slept in the porch on the lino-tiled floor – the coolest place. It was a situation that could not last – one we all come to kicking and screaming.

For Max, obedience training seemed alien territory. All the usual commands had absolutely no effect on him and the only reason he walked to heel was because the lead Marjorie provided was a kind with muzzle straps that closed if he pulled. After a little while we detached that lead from the straps and attached it to his collar, then, we discovered treats.

I don’t know how the treats thing came about. I’ve just talked to Caroline about it and we can’t really decide. At some point we began bringing pockets full of biscuits along during the walks and suddenly we acquired a dog that didn’t run away from us, who came when we called and who would sit on command. We were having a great time but, most importantly, so was Max. The high point of the walk was a little peninsular that jutted by Bradwell Marina. The grass grew long there and Max loved to roll in it three or four times, quite often nearly sliding down the slope into the estuary. At the end of this peninsular we sat on the seat and fed him some treats. Then, as winter started to dig its claws in, Marjorie became ill and had to go into hospital again.

To be continued…