Three years ago this month – that would make it February 2009 – we made one of our obligatory family trips to central Texas to visit the in-laws. We’ve made the trip often enough that we have “favorite” gas stations & truck stops – and, yes, fireworks warehouses – at which we stop regularly. It’s a long trip from NC to central TX, but we always push & do it in one rush – partly because my husband is impatient, partly because it’s an outrageous fortune to pay for five to sleep in even the cheapest motel, much less in a place where we can at least hopefully believe the bedding is clean.
It was past suppertime, the kids – who were at that time 14, 13 and 11 – were grumpy (ever noticed how kids tend to get grumpy on long car trips??), I was grumpy, our grumpiness had contrived to make Charles grumpy – shall we just say we were none of us at our best? At any rate, we were in east Texas, about two hours east of the DFW metroplex, and we still had about six hours of travel to get to Brownwood (also known as hell). My aunt & uncle, who live in Irving, were expecting us for supper; and several delays, the nature of which I have long since forgotten, had us running late. My aunt & uncle are patient folks, and genially agreed to wait supper on us in spite of my insistence that they eat & just save us the leftovers.
We didn’t have time to stop. We didn’t really NEED to stop. Everyone had used the bathroom at our last stop, and we weren’t ready for gas. (We ONLY use the bathroom when we stop for gas – the kids learned that lesson very quickly.) But for some unknown reason Charles took an exit and pulled into a truck stop.
“What are you DOING?” I demanded as the kids began to whine. (This doesn’t paint the kids in a very positive light – I promise they’re really not brats.)
“I’m getting GAS!” Charles retorted in exactly the same tones as I’d used.
“Well fine,” I snapped as he rolled to a stop at a pump. “Get out,” I snarled in the general direction of the kids. “We’re going to use the bloody bathroom here!”
“I don’t have to pee,” Bridget, the youngest, whimpered.
“I could give a damn,” I growled. “You will go to the bathroom, you will sit on a toilet, and you will PEE!”
I got out of the van and slammed the door. The kids dragged themselves out as well and just sort of meandered in aimless little circles around each other, making no moves toward the gas station door. I was already simmering but was ready to come to a boil.
(Right here I need to let everyone know that I’m not going to lie in my own blog – I could, but I’m not going to. Long car trips bring out the worst in all of us, and my parenting style tends to be a little in-your-face when things get stressed. One time when Bridget was four I threatened to stop the car and leave her on the side of the interstate in Memphis. Hey, sometimes the shock value of a threat can work wonders – especially if the kid believes you’ll follow through.)
Then Charles said the words that would change our lives forever:
“Hey, look at that puppy!”
I groaned. It looked like a German Shepherd type mix, and might have been a tawny color under the gray dirt and muck. It was really hard to tell much about it – it was across the busy access road at another truck stop, and was rushing up to cars and following the various people to and from the service station. I could see right away though that this was no young puppy, in spite of Charles’ words. Young, yes – puppy, not quite.
For some reason it decided to cross the busy access road. “Go inside,” I told the kids. “That dog’s going to get hit and we don’t want to see it.”
Only the dog wasn’t hit, and when we came back out (yes, Bridget used the bathroom) Charles was squatting on the sidewalk petting it. Him, I should say, as was fairly obvious close to. He was filthy, and when I put my hands on him I could feel his ribs, and all the ticks that were feasting away all over his body. He reeked.
“Be careful,” I warned the kids. “We know nothing about him.”
But they had to touch him as well, and he was so lonely and pitiful, and craving human affection – he almost melted right there at our feet.
“We should go,” I finally said. “Mark and Amy are holding supper for us.”
The kids trailed back to the van, casting numerous concerned looks over their shoulders as they went. I gave the dog one last pat and joined them. Charles was the last back to the van, and as he slid behind the wheel he looked at me and said words that Charles Camp had never before uttered – words that almost made me ask when the body-snatchers had arrived.
“We can’t leave that dog.”
My husband, who can take a dog or leave it. My husband, who still doesn’t believe dogs belong in the house. My husband, who never had a dog as a kid, whose mother disliked dogs to the point of disgust – My HUSBAND said this.
And in some really weird, twisted shifting of roles, I heard myself respond, “We can’t exactly bring him with us – we’re over a thousand miles from home, what will we DO with him? Good grief, we need another dog like we need a hole in the head! We’ve already got Rosie and Peaches, are you insane??”
Charles put the van in gear and rolled slowly away from the pump. The dog chased after us. Charles put the van in park and said, “Go get that dog. We’re not leaving him. He’ll follow us onto the ramp and get killed, and even if he doesn’t he’s going to get run over up here. Didn’t you see how he was running back & forth across that road?”
So I got out, and the dog came to me – Charles was right, I could tell – he was more pup than dog. I coaxed him to the van; he got scared at the last minute and ran a few feet away, then stopped and stared longingly at us. I walked to him – he ran to a truck driver who was walking back to his rig. The rig was cold, so I knew the trucker had been there awhile & knew he’d know if anyone did –
“Hey mister,” I called. “Do you know whose dog this is?”
“Lady,” the trucker responded, “that dog’s been here all day and the fact he hasn’t been killed is a miracle. You want that dog, you take him. Ain’t nobody else showed any interest in him, and from the looks of him he’s homeless.”
So I picked the dog up and carried him to the van, where I manhandled him into the back with the kids. I’ll admit, I had a very, very bad feeling – he was young, yes, but he was already big enough to do damage; he was scared witless; and I didn’t know what else to do with him – Should I put my kids in danger? Or leave the dog to a certain death? I touched the scar on my lip, then shook my head. This, I told myself very firmly, was the RIGHT thing to do. There was no other choice.
The poor guy bolted as soon as I shut the van door – but not like you’d think. No, he leaped over the luggage to the back, where Damon & Bridget were sitting, and buried his head in Damon’s lap. I took a sharp, painful breath. That was a dog who had once had a boy, and lost him, and was ready to give himself to another boy just like that – no questions, no hesitation. That was a dog who’d been looking for a boy – and found one.
We debated several names between that lonesome offramp and Irving. Charles suggested Max, and we all agreed it was a fine name.
By that point we’d lost so much time that it was nearly ten thirty at night – CST – by the time we reached Irving. I called my uncle before we arrived to let him know we’d have one more mouth to feed. Mark, who has been known to pick up strays himself on occassion, didn’t bat an eye at my news and was ready for us when we got there – not just with supper for us & a meal for our newfound friend, but with beds for everyone. We very gratefully spent that night with him.
We got to Brownwood early the next morning, which was a Sunday. Our first stop was Wal-Mart, where I bought Puppy Chow, a collar, a leash, a dish for food & another for water, and flea and tick shampoo. I don’t generally buy my dog stuff at Wal-Mart, but Brownwood’s not the sort of hole – I mean, town – that has a PetSmart or PetCo, so you work with what you’ve got, and what I had was Wal-Mart. Next we went to the motel, which thankfully allows pets even today.
Max got his first bath in that motel room. Indeed, under the filth he was a lovely tawny color, with black ears and a black mask on his face. I thought he looked more Akita than GSD – but whatever he was it was mixed with something else. Just as soon as Monday morning rolled around I took Max to a local vet for all of his shots and a quick exam – the vet estimated he was around nine months old, give or take. Max spent the entire week in the room with us – we did tie him over at Charles’ dad’s house the few times we needed to make other arrangements for him.
By the time my mom flew into Abilene to drive home with the kids & me (Charles was staying an extra couple of weeks – that’s the trip when he bought his little Geo), Max was our dog. He rode the entire trip home in the back of the van with the kids, and never gave us one bit of trouble. That’s not to say he didn’t say bad words – he said quite a few very nasty things that first week, but it wasn’t out of aggression, it was out of fear. It’s generally easy to tell the difference. Once he realized we weren’t going to hurt him he calmed right down.
There was one small issue between Max and Rosie when they met – Rosie was an alpha, and Max, young fellow that he was, wanted to be. I quickly settled the issue and Max had no trouble after that bowing to Rosie’s authority – in fact he grew to worship the ground she walked on. You didn’t find Max without Rosie, or vice versa. They were a team.
(Poor Peaches was left out – Rosie never did care much for Peaches, but she eventually grew on Max until they’re as tight now as he & Rosie were then.)
Max was our first rescue. I’ve never been sorry for letting Charles bully me into bringing him home. I still don’t know why we stopped at that truck stop, but I’m glad we did. And I’m glad we found Max. Sometimes you have to take a risk. Max was definitely worth it.