“Is that … is that a dog, Daddy?” I heard my little sister shriek.
I was 12 years old at the time, and those words stopped me dead in my tracks. I had been bugging my parents to get me a dog since I was old enough to speak.
For a brief, momentous moment in my toddlerhood, I had been the proud owner of a cocker spaniel pup named Lady. Until, that is, my father got shipped out on a stint with the Navy, and my mother learned there were few joys in single-handedly raising a tiny dog and a tiny human at the same time. One of us had to go, and Mom decided that she should probably keep me, despite the fact that I would, in all likelihood, become a middle schooler one day.
Cute little Lady found a new family to love, marking the beginning of a long line of Weeks family pets, including two cats, a lop-eared rabbit, a billion fish and their billion fish-babies, three hamsters, a shoebox of snails, and a younger sister. I loved all of the little guys, even the bipolar bowling ball-shaped cat who liked to attack me in my sleep. Short life-spans and unfortunate pet allergies would cut short our time with the various critters, and by middle school I found myself petless once again. Having discovered I was allergic to cats and rabbit food and after witnessing a somewhat traumatizing epidemic in my fish tank, I was sure that a dog really was the right pet for me. After all, I reasoned, I was almost a teenager, so that must mean I was a responsible sort of person.
My sister Amanda and I campaigned long and hard and started showing our parents pictures of different breeds on the Internet. Then, suddenly, Mom and Dad started playing along. Even without our insistence, they were doing their own research and taking us to dog shows in the region. I was sure that if we kept the pressure on, we would eventually take a trip to the local animal shelter or a pet store. What actually happened came as a complete surprise. That fateful day, Dad was really late coming home from work, and Mom vaguely mentioned that he had to pick up a friend from the airport. We ate dinner and did homework without giving his tardiness a second thought. Just as the sun was setting, we heard his voice in the yard and my sister Amanda went to investigate. I didn’t believe her when she squealed her “Is that a dog?” I still didn’t believe my eyes when I saw what was waiting for us outside.
It was a dog indeed, though first glance led me to believe that our dad had brought home some kind of bear or sheep. The latter wasn’t too far from the mark, as it turned out. We had suddenly become the owners of a 6-month-old Old English Sheepdog. In secret, Dad had been in cahoots with a breeder and arranged to have this particular dog flown all the way from Washington State. I could only gape at the two of them for a moment, but Amanda quickly brought me to my senses and led the charge outside to meet our new friend. Sheepdogs don’t have tails, but our new puppy was wiggling her whole back end as hard as she could until we finally reached her. As soon as I held my hand out to pet her soft fur, she jumped up in excitement and knocked me flat onto my back and started liberally applying saliva to my face.
We named her Maxie, and even though her first (and worst) act in our home was to take a massive bite out of the corner of our wooden piano bench, she still managed to drool and cuddle her way securely into our family. As time went on, we spent hours brushing her fluffy hair and rubbing her ears and tummy. We played fetch with her, even though there was so much hair in front of her eyes that she could never find the ball.
That long hair became the source of many mishaps over the years as she misjudged distances and, as a result, tripped and stumbled and crashed her way obliviously through life. Her sheepdog nature kicked in even as a puppy, and she spent many happy hours herding us around the yard, once even seizing Amanda’s pants leg in her mouth to drag her where she needed to go. She developed an odd and ravenous affinity for vegetables, pumpkin bread, and peanut butter, but she scorned dog food unless we bribed her by spiking it with walnuts. She also never, ever barked unless the doorbell rang. She always sensed when we were sick or sad and would dutifully lie at our feet and look after us until we were better again.
It’s hard to be sad with a sheepdog in the house — though now that she’s been with us for nine years, it’s disheartening to watch her reaching old age faster than we’d like. Like many big dogs, she has lately been plagued with joint troubles. Every trip up the stairs is an adventure in popping hip joints and weariness.
Maxie doesn’t play much anymore. Most of the time, it is easier for her to spend her hours asleep on the kitchen floor, but sometimes I still awaken to find her curled up at the foot of my bed and snoring gently into the quilt, just the way she did when she was a puppy. Our Max is a steadfast companion and a champion cuddler.
Of course, I didn’t know any of that when I first met her. Not yet. Back then, I was just a 12-year-old girl lying in her yard being slobbered all over by her new best friend. Right away, it was love.