Max’s original owner was most apologetic when she found out that my father’s name also happened to be Max. I assured her, truthfully, that my father would be delighted to have a four-legged namesake. Maxwell Henry French was renowned for his love of dogs—and for the way he kept acquiring them and sending them home during the years he was working in the USA, much to the irritation of my mother. My father was one of the citizens who spearheaded the community movement to oppose the introduction of leash laws in Lighthouse Park, and after he died, columnist, Trevor Lautens, expressed regret at the disappearance of the “erudite old gentleman in the pith helmet” from the local scene.
At one time, the French household had four dogs. The first of these was Maverick, the hell-raiser, who was all-DOG in the days when all-DOG behavior was tolerated. He chased vehicles, terrorized the mailman, dug holes for his bones halfway to China, fought the male dogs and went AWOL to court the females. Back then, the neighbours accepted his roving nature, referring to him as “The dog with the flirtatious tail” and chortling at his adventures. We lived next door to a racing driver who used to beam admiration at the way Maverick, even in his arthritic old age, could accelerate up the driveway when a motorbike went by.
Maverick’s old age was enlivened by Circe, the tiny German shepherd pup, who charmed every cargo worker at Vancouver airport when my father had her shipped up from San Francisco the day before my mother was due to leave for England. Needless to say, my mother was not impressed. However, I assured her that I could manage in her absence, even though I was serving as house manager for Theatre in the Park that summer, and finally, with a skeptical look in her eye, she left me to it and got on the plane.
Circe and Maverick enjoyed their time in Stanley Park. Circe sat in her puppy cage by the stage door and received adulation from the cast members of My Fair Lady and Oliver as they reported for duty. Maverick, I simply handed to the usher who was distributing programs, and other than the occasional lunge at a police horse, he managed to behave appropriately. For a feisty dog, he was remarkably tolerant of Circe. We put it down to their first meeting. Circe was only five weeks old and had been taken from her mother too soon. The moment we got her home from the airport, she walked underneath Maverick, mistook his private parts for the food source her mother had provided, and chowed down with misguided optimism. They were firm friends ever after.
Maverick and Circe were augmented two years later by Cerberus and Diana, shepherd pups also shipped up from San Francisco. By then we also had Lighthouse, the cat named after the park where we had found him. By now, the neighbours’ standard joke repertoire included anecdotes of how my absent father kept my mother in bondage through pet care and his burgeoning zucchini patch. My mother, bless her, smiled serenely and carried on. Therefore, it was typical that it was my mother who stepped up to the mark when, the day after I acquired Max, I needed him to be puppy-sat while I attended a dentist’s appointment. This, of course, was many years later, by which time, all four dogs in the French household had passed on, so I suspect she was quite happy to have a dog in the family that could be enjoyed and returned, rather like the grandchildren.
As I was still going to the same dentist I had attended since teenage, my appointment was in Ambleside, so my mother bussed in to meet me, took charge of Max, and walked him along the waterfront while I had my teeth cleaned. Max, affably, let my mother take the leash and trotted off with her, obviously knowing another pushover when he met one. Dr. Mielke, watching their retreating backs through his window, informed me that everything was under control. He added, “He’s a real little box, isn’t he? Sturdy little guy.”
Mum gave Max a very good report when they returned. Then we drove him out to Kensington Crescent to meet his namesake. He and Dad took to each other right away. Dad proceeded to walk him around the crescent and show him to the neighbours. When we returned to the house for lunch, Dad sat Max at his elbow and snuck him tidbits. Max accepted the treats and adulation with equanimity, and thus began a blissful relationship—a shared name and mutual admiration. The shared name was actually very appropriate, since the two also shared Max-like personality traits. They were both alpha males with a temper, both very clever, and both extremely possessive of what was theirs. Max, the dog, guarded his food ferociously, and Max, the man, was renowned for his thrift and the tight grip he held on his assets. Both were also subject to delusions of grandeur. Max, the dog, would take on opponents twice his size; my father thought nothing of challenging big corporations and government bodies. When asked what the M.H. in M.H. French stood for, he would reply, “Maximilian Hannibal.” Fittingly, my father’s gravestone carries a quote from my play, Renovations, which refers to his peripatetic nature, along with a dog and a dollar sign.
My husband loved the fact that his father-in-law shared a name with our dog. Hugh took great delight in calling, “Max, come! or Max, sit!” when my father came to visit. Dad took all this cheerfully. Anything to do with Max, the dog, was borne with good humour. My father’s birthday’s always included a card from Max with appropriate wording such as:
Unlike his namesake, Little Max does not pay any income tax,
But still we doubt if Herr Mulroney, wants chew toys laced with baloney.
Max was forgiven a multitude of sins, such as the time he chewed up the rose bush we had bought for Mother’s Day. He was always a welcome visitor in Nana and Gamma’s house, and his tail wagged ferociously whenever they came to visit us. Every trip to West Van would begin with my father and I meeting in Lighthouse Park and walking Max around the ten-minute trail. The two Maxes had a bond that was really special. I still get choked up when I remember our first visit to the house on Kensington after my father had died. Max spent the entire time looking in all the rooms, searching for his namesake. But that was at the end of the relationship. That first trip to West Vancouver was the beginning, and there were wonderful years of walks and congenial visits ahead. Max and his namesake were off to a great start.
An excerpt from Strings Attached: The Story of Max, the Ho Hum Husky