My Diary entry of January 27, 1993 wasn’t quite accurate. The family who owned Max lived in Queensborough, not Delta, but given the glazed state of my brain after weeks of preparing elementary school students for a puppet marathon, it’s hardly surprising that I had no idea which part of the Lower Mainland I was in.
Max turned out to belong to a South Asian household. The lady of the house was charming, and she explained to us that although she and her son were very fond of the dog, the men of the household did not want him. I took note of a well-chewed ornate newel post at the foot of the staircase, which suggested one reason why little Max was not popular. Once Hugh and I had been introduced to the family, our hostess’s son fetched the young dog and brought him out to meet us. Max barreled over to me right away and seemed eager to make friends. Immediately, and with a tiny flutter of apprehension, I noticed his eyes—one blue and one brown—the mark of the Siberian husky. The eyes contained a hint of wildness in their eagerness, and after my experience with Lucky, I felt unsure of what lay behind them. Still, Max wiggled enthusiastically and wagged his tail a lot, both very good signs. We visited for a while, and then left, having asked our hostess to call us in a couple of days as we couldn’t proceed with an adoption until we had finished the puppet-show run.
On the drive home, I expressed my concern to Hugh about the look in Max’s eyes. Hugh’s response: “He’s fine. I did the ‘Pets and Friends’ test on him. He didn’t bat an eyelid.” Since Beanie had been a Pets and Friends volunteer at the George Derby War Veterans’ Centre, I was well familiar with the test in question. While being screened for the program at the SPCA, the interviewer had trodden on Beanie’s back paw to see whether or not she would respond with aggression. Beanie, gentle creature that she was, had simply looked at him reproachfully with her big, brown eyes. Max, also, according to Hugh, had not reacted at all, if indeed he had even noticed. In hindsight, I realize that Max, when intent on a goal, did not feel pain and was oblivious to distractions, witness the way he would cannon into trees when chasing squirrels, and only stop momentarily for the spots in front of his eyes to clear before charging forward again. I’m convinced that Max’s goal at that point in time was to be taken home by the lady with kind eyes. Even at four months, Max had assessed me as a pushover.
The next day was Thursday, set-up day for the George Derby Centre show. That evening, Max’s owner called. It was not quite the call I expected, and suddenly I realized why the owners wanted a private adoption and why Max had not simply been discarded at the shelter. I was being asked to buy the dog. The situation did not feel right, especially since the initial contact had come through the SPCA. I reiterated that I would be willing to take Max and provide him with a good home, but that I was not going to purchase him. The following morning, I called Michael Weeks. Michael was horrified, and insisted that there had been no talk of money when he had been contacted. His understanding was that Max had to be given up and needed a good home. Michael had given out my name and number as someone who might be able to provide that home. He had no intention of being a broker for a private sale.
I had little opportunity to reflect on the situation, because Friday was the day our troupe performed Babes in the Wood for the war veterans, after which, we had to dismantle everything and move the theatre to St. Alban’s Church. By Saturday, we were exhausted, but the children valiantly struggled through one last show for the church group, after which Hugh and I dismantled the set and brought everything home—everything except our daughters, that is—they were going to a sleepover at one of their friend’s houses. This was opportune, because that evening, I received another call from the lady in Queensborough. She had decided to give us Max. She told me she had a ‘good feeling’ about him coming to our home. I had mixed feelings, remembering those wild eyes, but my instincts told me that Max really did need a new home, and I resolved that we would try to provide it. Hugh and I decided to pick him up on Monday, during Hugh’s lunch break, so that his arrival would be a surprise for the girls.
Monday was busy. I went for an early walk with Hugh before he left for school. Then home for breakfast and to see the girls off for school. I rushed through the day’s chores, then headed out for my singing lesson, en route stopping at the Sun building to hand in our donation money for Canuck Place. After my lesson, I raced home to meet Hugh and we set off to pick up Max. His family was waiting and Max was ready to go. I felt sorry for the little boy who had clearly loved Max and was upset to lose him, and I tried to reassure him that Max would be loved and cared for. Max seemed happy to have a leash clipped on his collar and he trotted outside with us, hopped into the back of the wagon and settled down like the best boy in the class. He was a model of good behavior on the ride home, exhibiting the laid-back attitude that later earned him the title of Ho Hum Husky. I felt smug. Why had I been worried? This was going to be a model dog. Piece of cake. No problem at all.
As soon as we got Max home, Hugh had to leave to go back to school. Max and I went to the front door to see him off. What followed made me very thankful that Max now belonged to us. I went to take him by his collar, then realized that I could not get my fingers under it. The puppy collar had been left on and never adjusted properly as the dog grew. Max must have felt as if he was slowly strangling, a little more each day. I couldn’t begin to imagine the trauma he must have suffered. I called Hugh back to help me, and between us, we managed to get the collar off. As the rush of oxygen went to Max’s brain, his whole system seemed to go weak. His eyes rolled, and the next thing I knew, he’d deposited a big pile on the hall carpet. Poor Max. He really had needed to be rescued.
Hugh went back to school, and I spent the afternoon acclimatizing Max to me and me to Max. He seemed to be a good-natured little guy—at four months more of a knee-socks than a puppy—and very sturdy. With short legs and a barrel chest, he was almost as wide as he was tall. Even though he was young, there was a sense of watchfulness about him. Every interaction gave me the impression that he was sizing me up. He liked being patted, but I soon discovered that he had a spot on his side that was extremely tender. Later, we noticed that he was nervous when Hugh picked up a newspaper, so he had probably been beaten with a rolled up paper. When I went to put a collar or chain around his neck, he ducked and showed fear. However, when I stroked him and made him sit, he finally allowed me to loop on a chain and leash him, and once outside, he was happy again, walking beside me and sniffing at all the new smells along the way.
Our arrival at Second Street School was a great success. Caroline’s class was in a portable, so the children had direct access to the playground. Her teacher was Nancy Ebert, who I knew from my affiliation with Vagabond Players. Nancy was as wonderfully disciplined as an actress as she was as a teacher, and both my girls adored her. However, her patience was tested when Max arrived. The moment one student caught a glimpse of Max sitting patiently beside me in the playground, the buzz went round to the entire class, whereupon the portable emptied as the children rushed to meet Caroline’s new pup. Miss Ebert came to the door and called everyone back until dismissal, but I noticed she had a big smile on her face, and in time, she became great friends with Max too. Once the bell went, Max’s new fan club poured into the playground and surrounded him. He promptly ate one of the children’s sandwiches, and then attempted to steal another child’s soccer ball. When Katie’s class arrived, he kept an eye out for more treats as the second batch of children fussed around him.
On the walk home, he trotted beside the girls, perfectly happy as they traded him back and forth. Once home, he wolfed down his dinner, dutifully did his business outside in the garden, and settled down at bedtime on a blanket in the corner of our bedroom. I still could tell that he was watching me constantly, but whether he was trying to read my signals in order to be obliging, or whether he was trying to figure out what he could get away with, I was not sure. However, when I patted the blanket and said, “Head on pillow,” he obligingly flopped on his side and dropped his head. Then he slept through the night without a whiffle. No snores, no more accidents, and I was even getting used to his odd eyes. He definitely wasn’t my cuddly Beanie, but I sensed a bond forming amid our guarded truce. The strings were starting to attach.
Next week: Max meets his namesake.