Could her canine campanion really teach her to have faith? The inspirational story of Max.
- Posted on Apr 2, 2009
Let me begin by introducing you to Mighty Maximus Slattery—better known as Max. Max is not like most dogs. Pointers, for example, point. Retrievers retrieve. Hounds hunt.
These highly talented and useful breeds behave this way because they are all, as my husband Tom likes to say, real dogs.
Max is a pug. A roly-poly, fawn-colored pug that excels at sleeping, eating and making us laugh. When we first brought Max home as a 10-week-old ball of fluff, we knew from the dog book that pugs were classified as having “fair intelligence” and being only “moderately trainable.”
But over time we were delighted to discover that Max would do practically anything for a treat. He quickly acquired a repertoire of tricks, including “Roll Over,” “Spin Around,” “Bow” and “Dancey-Dancey.”
Max has other talents, too. We call them his “special abilities,” like the characters have on the TV show Heroes. For some inexplicable (and delicious) reason, Max smells like Fritos corn chips. He also possesses the uncanny power, at will, to utterly undo us—like Antonio Banderas’s “Puss in Boots” character in the Shrek cartoons—when he cocks his head and makes his bottomless black eyes go all big and sad.
Apparently Max was born with an over-abundance of something zoologists actually call the “cute factor.” With his large round head, flat face, floppy ears, and big front-facing eyes, Max ranks right up there in animal kingdom cuteness with pandas, koala bears and baby seals. But other than being irresistibly cute, what good is a pug?
Keep that thought in mind as I tell you my story…
It hadn’t been a good week. A freakish tropical storm in Connecticut where we live had caused the gutters on our old house to overflow, which in turn caused a flood in our basement, including the carpeted rec room.
I was also anxiously awaiting—okay, worrying obsessively about—test results for a recent CT Scan of Tom’s lungs. A month earlier, he had briefly been hospitalized with what was originally diagnosed as pneumonia. Now the doctor said he wasn’t sure. Maybe it was something else. Something serious.
Then I lost my keys. Well I didn’t actually “lose” my keys. They vanished. One minute they were on the kitchen table next to my grocery list, securely attached to a brown braided-leather key chain. And when I looked again, after a veritable swarm of gutter and carpet cleaners arrived all at the same time, Poof! the keys were gone.
For the next two hours, I turned the house upside down and inside out looking for my keys. First, I got down on my hands and knees and scanned the kitchen floor. Nothing.
Then I dumped and scrutinized the contents of my purse. Twice. Yes, I checked my pockets. And yes, I checked the car. And although I knew it made no sense, I also checked the refrigerator, freezer, pantry and oven.
I called my friend Sara, and told her what had happened and asked her if she would please say a little prayer—for the missing keys, and for Tom’s test results. Which she did, right there over the phone. Praying helped me feel a bit less anxious about Tom—but did nothing for my state of mind about the keys.
As I hung up the phone, I was seized by an unpleasant thought: What if one of the workers took the keys?
Frantic, I phoned Tom at work, and in a rush of words told him what had happened.
“You’d better call a locksmith,” he said calmly.
So I did. At least now we didn’t have to worry about being robbed.
Days passed. But I couldn’t stop wondering about the missing keys. In my mind’s eye, I could picture the brown braided-leather key chain so clearly—feel its supple softness, worn smooth as a pebble after years of being tumbled around my purse.
The keys were the first thing I thought of in the morning, and the last thing I thought of before going to sleep. Where could they have gone?
A week later on Saturday afternoon, Tom was standing in the kitchen doorway with dog leash in hand.
“Can you believe the way those keys never turned up?” I asked him.
“Good thing we had the locks changed,” he said. “Max and I are going for a walk. Wanna come?”
On this particular walk, Max assumed his usual pokey pace, meandering along the sidewalk, stopping to sniff (endlessly) every tree trunk, utility pole and fire hydrant along the way.
We strolled past our neighbors’ homes, and then crossed the street, where an empty house was undergoing a renovation. The yard was overgrown and unkempt, littered with lumber and bricks.
Abruptly, Max veered off the sidewalk, and onto the overgrown lot, tugging fiercely on his leash.
“No, no, Max,” I said. “Stay on the sidewalk.”
He regarded me imploringly with his Antonio Banderas eyes, and pulled harder, suddenly lurching forward onto the lawn, and flopping down on his belly, with his legs splayed out. Panting, he closed his eyes and luxuriated in the cool softness of the tall grass and weeds.
“C’mon, Max,” I pleaded, pulling his leash.
Stubbornly he resisted, and became 20 unmovable pounds of dead weight as he pressed his black velvet chin even more firmly into the ground.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into him,” said Tom. “I guess we’d better pick him up and go home.”
As I bent down to pick Max up, I glimpsed something buried deep in the weeds next to Max’s head, something that looked very much like a bit of brown braided-leather.
No, I thought. This can’t be possible.
I tugged gently, as though pulling a small carrot out of the ground, and there they were, covered with dirt. My keys.
“Oh, my gosh!” I yelped. “I can’t believe it!”
I screamed so loudly that pedestrians across the street looked over with alarm. “No problem!” I called to them, grinning ecstatically, dangling the keys in the air. “Our dog found my keys!”
They must have thought I was crazy. And for a moment, I wondered if I was. How in the world did Max, a dog who barely had a nose, let alone a sense of smell, manage to lead us precisely to this tiny patch of weeds and grass?
“Good dog!” I picked Max up and buried my face in his soft fur.
He waggled his cinnamon-bun tail and snorted happily.
As the three of us turned and headed toward home, Tom speculated that perhaps the keys had, indeed, been taken by one of the workers.
“It would have been nice,” Tom smiled wryly, “if Max could have found the keys before we changed the locks.”
Later that afternoon, the phone rang. It was the doctor with good news. The CT Scan had revealed that Tom was healing nicely after all. Not to worry, the doctor said. Tom would be fine.
That night, as I lay in bed, I thought back over the week and remembered my prayer over the telephone with my friend, Sara.
Oh, Kitty, I heard God’s whisper. When will you learn to stop worrying and trust me? You know I always hear you when you pray. And you know I always answer. In my own time. In my own way. Sometimes in the most unlikely and surprising ways…
Sometimes even with a pug.
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