Under the definition of "happy" in Webster's there should be a photo of Max. He was the happiest dog I have ever known, and over the years I have known more than my share. The dogs in my life have not always been collies, but the majority certainly were members of that beautiful sunny breed. Collies have long been recognized for their outgoing joyful personalities and the close relationships they form with the humans in their purview. Collies today bear little resemblance to the hardy brown or black and white dogs that tended flocks of sheep grazing the rugged Scottish landscape. I have a 19th century watercolor of a stocky square-muzzled dog with a sable and white coat, shepherding a flock of ewes through a gate held open by a young country lass. The artist captures the collie's facial expression perfectly; there is alertness in the eyes, satisfaction in having brought the flock home safely and great joy as the dog glances up at the face of its loved one.
The breed standard of the modern collie has evolved over the years to refine head shape, lengthening the muzzle, to enhance the breed's beauty. But some things have remained the same and that is especially true of the personality expected in a collie. Max's appearance was vastly different from the dog in my painting. First of all he was a tri-color, mostly black with fawn accents and a white ruff. I grew up with a tri-color named Ruff who was a wonderful companion for a kid. Mom always let Ruff out just before the end of the school day. Ruffy would run to the end of our street, watching for me and my friends to round the corner. I can still see him running to meet me, We became his flock of sheep and he would not rest until we were safely home in our own yards. If Ruff thought we were dawdling he would take my hand genlty in his mouth and hurry me along the road. Mom never had to worry about me coming home late for supper - Ruff was on guard.
Many years and a number of dogs later I had another tri-color collie come into my life. We adopted Max from the Minnesota Wisconsin Collie Rescue. He had been surrendered reluctantly by his owner due to the death of the man's wife. He had young children to raise and couldn't devote enough time to a dog as well and so Max needed a new home. I saw his photo on the MWCR website and was immediately reminded of Ruff, my childhood companion. We had adopted Astro, our dear white collie the year before. He had been terribly abused and we felt he could benefit from having another dog around. And so it was in May of 2004 that we drove to Fargo to meet Max. He had been transported in stages from Iowa to the Twin Cities, and from there to Fargo by various volunteers. One would think such a trip might cause anxiety in a dog unused to strangers. But when Max was released from the vehicle he bounded across the parking lot stright into our arms. No one was ever a stranger to Max.
Astro and Max immediately became the best of buddies. Max was a complete opposite to Astro. He was always ready to play tag, to jump in the car for a ride and was always first in line at mealtimes. Max was a stabilizing influence for Astro, making it easier for him to overcome his many fears. They were beautiful together, the big black and slender white bodies running together on the prairie was a sight to behold. Sadly, Astro left us in the summer of 2011, succumbing to cancer. By this time we also had adopted Lacey, our lovely sable and white girl. Max cushioned the loss of Astro for us all. Although he too was getting older he could still keep up with young Lacey and the cats in our househhold.
Last year Max began to slowly decline into old age. Whether it was arthritis or some other debilitating issue he began to have problems walking. So our strolls in the neighborhood became shorter. We continued a regimen of anti-arthritis meds and regular short periods of exercise. Through it all Max's enjoyment of life remained constant. As his hearing and vision diminished he spent long periods napping, waking up when he heard the clatter of his food dish. All food was a friend to Max. We really did not think he would be with us throughout the summer, but in fact he got to enjoy lying in the shade on the grass and sniffing the piles of leaves as summer faded into autumn.
The first snowfall presented a challenge for Max. He had always loved the snow but walking through even the smallest drifts proved to be impossible for him. As a pet owner we must recognize when quality of life outweighs quantity; so it was time to let Max rest. On Wednesday, November 27, Max left us in the same way he had lived his life, with dignity and happiness, surrounded by the ones he loved and who loved him in return. I can picture him now, reunited with Astro as they run through a meadow, forever young.