When Clay was about six or seven, and still using speech to communicate, he came in the kitchen door one afternoon and announced that our dog, Maverick, had treed “an old cat.”
My wife dutifully headed into the backyard to check on the situation and found Maverick, a yellow labrador retriever we had adopted at the age of 1 1/2, barking at the base of a maple tree. When she looked up to see whose “old cat” he had forced up the tree, she saw, instead, a raccoon the size of a small bear, hissing and spitting and making a strange moaning sound.
She wisely got Maverick and Clay back in the house until the angry raccoon came out of the tree and waddled its way off our lawn.
We lost Maverick this week after a long bout with deteriorating hips. It was painful to watch, especially for a dog who took such pride in patrolling what he saw as his property—inside and out.
We live in an old farm house, and, from time to time have woken up to a bat circling the upstairs, usually our bedroom. It happened frequently enough that we developed a routine. (It is amazing what you can adapt to.) My wife and I would slide out of bed, staying close to the floor, crab-walk into the hallway and close the door to our bedroom—trapping the bat in the room with Maverick. Then we would listen at the door. If we heard Maverick’s nails clicking across the wooden floor, we knew the bat was in motion. If the room grew suddenly quiet, we knew it had landed somewhere. At that point, I would sneak back into the room with a plastic bowl—my heart pounding—looking for the bat on the wall or amid the ceiling beams. Maverick would be sitting under it. I’d put the bowl over the bat, slide on the lid and release the furry creature out into the night. Maverick was on the job.
Since Maverick was the dog that Clay grew up with, although we had a golden retriever in his earlier years, we were curious about Clay’s thoughts on his death. We had been keeping Clay apprised of the situation all along, and explained to him what had taken place the day we took him for his final trip to the veterinarian. What did he think?
“Sad about Maverick,” he typed on the computer keyboard he uses to communicate. “We are sorry to see Maverick in a light.”
“What do you mean?”
“We are so glad that he has seen the doctor. He is no longer in pain,” Clay typed. “Maverick is hassel free now. He is with Rusty (our golden retriever).”
“How long has Maverick been in pain?”
“Since Sunday.” The dog had refused to eat breakfast Sunday morning, a sign that he was near the end. Clay doesn’t miss much.
“How did you know that?” my wife asked.
“He told me with feelings,” Clay typed.
Since I have been working from home the past eight months or so, Maverick has been my day time buddy. His tail would thump the carpet when he heard me passing the bedroom where he spent much of his day. No matter how much his hips were hurting, he would still roll over for a vigorous belly scratching. Although it became later and later, each afternoon he managed to drag himself to his favorite spot in our backyard, up against the wire fence, where he could sniff the breezes and watch the world go by. Together, we would wait there for Clay’s bus to arrive on days when I was home.
Maverick was not perfect. Who among us is. His issues with—how do I put this delicately?—”intestinal winds” forced us many nights to run an air purifier in our bedroom. He had an inexplicable habit of barking whenever we brought out a camera. When he was still mobile, he would sit at the edge of our lawn staring down our neighbor, Frank, on his back porch until Frank came over offering a biscuit and some friendly pats on the head. And toward the end, he would bark incessantly at any conversation we had in our kitchen with friends, family, contractors, our accountant. Didn’t matter who.
But I choose to remember Maverick how I think he thought of himself. A fearsome hunter of groundhogs and the occasional raccoon, and a proud protector of his family. Rest easy, old friend. You did your job well.
Addendum: After I wrote this, my older son reminded me of one more Maverick story. I was just about to head home from work late one afternoon several years back when my wife called.
“I just don’t want you to worry. ”
“Well, there is blood all over the house. Sprayed on the walls, the floors, the door, going up the steps.”
“What happened? Is everyone alright?”
She explained that the storm door closed on Maverick’s tail as he tried to come in, clipping off the end, and creating a fountain of blood. As he ran through the house, wagging his tail, he created a scene right out of CSI. She was calling to let me know that she was taking him to the veterinarian, and to warn me about the crime scene atmosphere before I saw it for myself and imagined the worst for my family.
There were few dull times with Maverick around.