My Month With Max
By Lee Gouthro
Max, a 1.5 year old black stray, became my first LRR foster dog on December 14, 1996. I had just signed up as a foster home volunteer with LRR, and I was eager for my first dog, so when Mary Clark, LRR Foster Home Coordinator, told me about “Mr. Max” I jumped at the chance to foster him. She described him as loveable but immature and in need of training. Since obedience training had changed my “Blue” from the “puppy from Hell” to a reasonably well-behaved adult, I thought that maybe I could help Max become more adoptable.
Kit, who was fostering Max at the time, told me what a sweet guy he was but that he tended to get a little excited at times. The next thing I knew, we were in the car on the way home. Max and Blue made themselves comfortable in the back seat of my station wagon, and I breathed a sigh of relief to see that Max behaved himself in the car.
Max was a bundle of enthusiasm and affection! Compared to Blue’s “I am the center of the Universe” attitude, Max’s happiness at being safe and secure and in a good home was refreshing. It was only a matter of minutes after our arrival home that I fell in love with him. After he checked out the house and introduced himself to Sass, our calico cat, he settled down right by my feet. I thought, “Okay, fostering, no problem.”
You would think that having reached my 40s, I would have learned not to make rash assumptions! First, I had to get used to the fact that Max “dogged” my every step. If I so much as twitched a muscle, he was alert and ready to go wherever I went. That first weekend he was with me, I was reorganizing my basement, and I made what seemed like a hundred trips up and down the stairs from the basement to the third floor. Max was with me every single step of the way while Blue watched all this activity from the comfort of her bed in the living room. When dinnertime rolled around, Max spent more time in the air than on the ground. He knew he had to sit before he could eat (thanks to previous foster homes) but he would only sit for a tenth of a second before he was airborne again.
The next few days with Max were difficult for someone who had almost forgotten what it is like to live with a young dog. Luckily, Mary called me regularly and offered lots of support and encouragement. Although Max was sweet tempered and loving, he also demanded a lot of time, attention and, most of all, patience. His saving grace was his winning personality. Max was easily the most charming dog I had ever met. When he looked at you with those sweet eyes, his look said that you were the most wonderful person in the world. He was also very smart and wanted very much to please. I could tell that the other members of the “I Fostered Max Club” had given him the basics, but that they needed some reinforcement. After that first night, we began intensive training in “four paws on the ground” and walking on a leash.
Our first walk was a learning experience. It seemed that Max had a problem when he was on a leash, and other dogs on leash approached. I knew he got along well with other dogs, but for some reason when he was on leash and saw other dogs in the distance, he barked and jumped and generally acted like a fool. It was all I could do to control him while Blue tried to figure out what Max was so excited about. Luckily, the dog we met on that first walk was Blue’s sister, Lucy, and her owner believed me when I told her that Max was actually very friendly with other dogs. Once Lucy was close to us, Max greeted her warmly and wanted to play!
I decided to contact Blue’s trainer for help. Larry suggested that the only way to cure Max of his aggressive behavior on leash was by correcting him as the behavior occurred. So, I began to comb the neighborhood for people walking their dogs. Friends were understanding when I tracked them down so I could work with Max on leash, but I think some people in the neighborhood thought I was a little strange. If I spotted a dog in the distance heading away from us, I would increase our pace until we got close enough for Max to start his little temper tantrum. I would then correct him as we passed by and promptly turn around and walk by again and, sometimes, again. It took time, patience, understanding neighbors, and some hard work, but Max finally seemed to get the point.
Around the house, Max was improving in leaps and bounds, so to speak. Once he realized that I wasn’t going to desert him, he gained enough confidence to actually let me leave the room unaccompanied once in awhile. He learned that he had to keep “four paws on the ground” in order to be fed or to receive treats, and that barking at the neighbors was not allowed. In the meantime, Mary stayed in touch and reminded me that, if I wanted to go away for a weekend or just take a break, she could move Max to another foster home. However, I just couldn’t let Max go. I felt that, given his history of being a stray and living in a number of foster homes, the longer he spent in one place, the better he would be. Besides, he had become my buddy. When I came down with the flu, Max seemed to understand that he needed to be especially well-behaved. He made do with the yard instead of our usual two walks a day, and he was always there when I needed to be cheered up.
During the next weeks, “My Maxie” continued to improve (with just a little backsliding - I did have to have a pair of prescription glasses repaired after Max “liberated” them from my purse). Soon Mary called to ask me if I thought he was ready for adoption. I gave her a glowing report and confirmed that, yes, Max was ready. At the same time, I realized that I would have to get used to the idea that Max would be leaving us. I knew that it was going to be hard to let Max go but I also knew myself well enough to know that two dogs is one too many for me.
Then, one Saturday evening in January, Mary left a message to say that I would probably be hearing from Casey and Martha who had just been approved for adoption. They were interested in adopting two dogs. Sure enough, Martha called that night. I told her about Max and we made arrangements for Martha and Casey to drop by the next day to meet him.
I was a mix of emotions: Hope that these would be the right people for “My Maxie,” and sadness that he might be leaving us. Blue had become very attached to him and Sass often curled up next to him to sleep. However, hope won out. I wanted very much for Max to find a happy home and I knew that if he did, that would be my reward.
Martha and Casey arrived late Sunday afternoon. Max, of course, was thrilled to meet them and, although he wasn’t on his very best behavior, they appeared to be quite taken with him. I could tell after spending an hour or so watching them interact with Max that they would make an excellent family for him. They had already met a number of dogs at other foster homes and had decided they definitely wanted “Sarah.” Now it was a matter of deciding on their second choice. They asked me a lot of questions about Max. I described his good and bad points and showed them Max’s LRR folder so they could read the comments written by members of the “I Fostered Max Club.” Because they had already decided on Sarah, I described how well Blue and Max (and Sass) got along and how good Max was with other dogs. Of course, I also told them about the problem with other dogs on leash and his tendency to jump when he is excited.
After an hour or so, Martha and Casey decided to think about their choice over a late lunch. I watched the clock after they left thinking that if they called in an hour or less, it would be a positive answer. Sure enough, the telephone rang almost exactly an hour after they left. It was Martha saying that they wanted Max!
That was it, my month with Max. He left that night with Martha and Casey and I was surprised at how happy I felt. LRR volunteers handled the follow up calls and, along with Mary and Susan, kept me informed on his progress. I hear that he is up to his old tricks but that Martha and Casey just love him and are prepared to be patient with him until he settles in.
I am taking a break right now from fostering while I help out with other LRR volunteer work, but I took forward to fostering again soon. Fostering Max was really a rewarding experience. Although it was a lot of work, it was well worth it to help him find a good home.