Max joined our family as a puppy in the summer of 2001, a little less than a year after our first cherished Golden companion, Biff, died suddenly and prematurely from splenic torsion. From nippy rambunctious puppyhood to the mature calm and comforting companion that he became, Max was a major joy in our lives, an integral part of the rhythm of our days. Max had his share of bouts with hot spots; he was no stranger to the Elizabethan collar. He had a successful surgery in early adulthood to remove a hemangiopericytoma. But he was, for the most part, a very healthy dog and on those rare occasions when he wasn’t well, his sparkling personality always showed through.
Max was an urban dog, mostly a house dog. But he loved our walks through the neighborhood and the many friends he made. He learned to sit when young children approached him and did so without having to be told. He loved the snow, bounding through deep drifts and burying his face to search for some hidden treasure. Max never “retrieved” a bird but one of his greatest joys was finding a stick, sometimes a large branch, on our walks and proudly carrying it home to add to his pile of “firewood” on our front porch. Though he rarely barked, if a truck or car had parked blocking the sidewalk in his path, he would bark his indignation. Max invented the game of “stepball.” One of us would stand at the bottom of the stairway in our home and toss tennis balls to Max who stood at the top. He would collect three balls and then push them back down with his paw to start over. Max had two large dog beds, one in our bedroom and one in the living room. He had three pillows from an old sofa that he would carry back and forth from one bed to the other, sometimes just arranging them neatly on the living room floor. Max always made us smile.
Max was first diagnosed with lymphoma in December of 2009 when we brought him in to his veterinarian for a routine checkup. He had no symptoms but his blood work indicated a problem. We cancelled our holiday travel plans and proceeded with further tests. The diagnosis was confirmed and, on Christmas Eve, we started therapy at Long Island Veterinary Specialists. Within a couple of months of starting the initial treatment protocol, we were told that it was not working effectively to control the disease, that Max would have to be switched to an alternative protocol, and that that he probably had only 6 to 8 months to live. Shortly after that we were told that they were having trouble getting one of the drugs for Max’s treatment and we were referred to the BrightHeart Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center, now the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center of Westbury (VREC). At the time, we thought it strange that we were being referred elsewhere but for us, and especially for Max, it was the best thing that could have possibly happened.
From May of 2010 to June of 2012 Max was under the expert care of Dr. Gerry Post, Dr. Trina Hazzah, and the other doctors and staff at VREC. Without exception, the professional and support staff at VREC provided Max with even more than the most advanced and effective treatment. They provided him and his human companions with loving care, genuine concern and a sense of optimism. Max’s regimen for most of that time involved both regular IV treatments and daily doses of powerful oral medications. Throughout his long history of treatments – for the original lymphoma, the development of a second lymphoma, the removal of a melanoma that developed on his lip – Max remained a happy dog, almost entirely symptom-free. We like to say that Max never “knew” he was sick.
That changed in the late spring of 2012 when Max began to bleed from one of his nostrils and was diagnosed with a malignant growth in his nasal cavity. Dr. Post carefully and fully explained all of the possible options for Max but none, other than palliative treatment, seemed to us to be in Max’s best interest. As the episodes of snorting and bleeding became more frequent and harder to control, it seemed to us that Max was increasingly uncomfortable, perplexed and perhaps frightened by his symptoms. Finally, on the morning of June 30, with the bleeding as bad as it had ever been, with our inability to control it, and with no real hope of providing Max with the quality of life that we would want for him, we made the hardest decision of our lives.
Shortly after we had to say goodbye to Max, we wrote to Dr. Post to thank him for all he had done. We wanted him to know that, while Max was always a central part of our lives and deeply cherished, those final two years that he made possible, provided us with not only extra time for play, hugs and cuddles, but with an even greater appreciation of the gift that was Max. In the letter to Dr. Post we had said that despite our deep sense of grief “we expect that, with time, we will be left predominantly with the joyful memories of the wonderful times we shared with Max.” It has been almost eight months since we had to say goodbye to Max. The pain of his absence has become intermittent now, but no less powerful. We will always miss Max. But, mostly, we will always be grateful for his presence in our lives and the wonderful times we shared.