Oso, our previous poodle, came to us in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks. We’d always talked about getting a dog, but the need for an old soul in the house became critical in the closing days of 2001. We adopted him from a rescue. He was three-years-old and he was with us for almost thirteen years. Oso died, at home, in 2014.
The loss and the gap…I don’t have to describe them to anyone who ever took a dog into their life and home. And the gap remained for four years. We talked about getting another dog, doing the right thing for another beast in need of a home. But we just couldn’t pull it off. Oso was our first dog (my second, Beverly’s first) and we just weren’t able to do it again.
Then, last year, the same needful tug that brought us to Oso started to pull at us. We looked for another poodle.
We were starting to consider a breeder when I went on line one more time to check out the rescues. What I found was a year-and-a-half old Labradoodle in Orange County. His name was Max.
And I admit the thing that made us both gasp was how much he looked like Oso in the one picture of him on-line. We never wanted to duplicate Oso, it’s just the standard poodle was such a great match with us.
So, we took the plunge. We filled out an application, had a meet-and-greet with the very energetic Max, passed the interview and home inspection, and brought Max home in February, 2018.
Max is not Oso. Oh, you might mistake them if you had to identify one of them in a line-up…but if that situation ever presented itself I think you might have more pressing problems.
Max…also now known as Sunshine Max, Eight-track Max, Mad Max, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Maxwell Smart, Maximillian…is ostensibly a labradoodle. Ostensibly because he looks like one and acts like one, but his DNA test came make mostly poodle with a garnish of English Springer Spaniel.
Max’s interests include: barking at delivery people, trying to get up to your level so he can look you in the eye before he tries to “retrieve” you by taking relatively soft hold of your arm, running, jumping around in the pond in the backyard and coming immediately into the house, more running, getting one of your shoes or a piece of mail then finding you and indicating there might be a chance of your retrieving same if you chased him. He is still a puppy and won’t let you forget it.
He also curls up under whatever table you’re working at and guards you while you write.
He is bigger than Oso, stockier. But that doesn’t slow him down. On a straight run, I believe Max can match the speed of the steam catapults on a Kitty Hawk class aircraft carrier. His snout is a little shorter, more Lab. His bark is more baritone to Oso’s tenor.
We train with him and he is very smart. The smart can be a problem since, as the trainer puts it, he wants to know what he can get away with and therefore tests us. Also, he has a serious issue with motorcycles; their sound, their motion, their existence. Max’s dislike for motorcycles borders on pathological resentment.
He has limitless energy. And by limitless, I mean limitless. If there’s no one to chase him or play with, he will tear around the backyard, scattering gravel like buckshot in his wake. He runs because he runs and you let him go because you wish you could run that fast, that focused. You wish you could do anything with the clean, pure, unconditional commitment that he has when he runs.
Part of me wishes he’d hurry up and calm down. Part of me knows he should run as fast as he can right now for as long he can.
Oso slowed down. Max will slow down. We all slow down.
Max has not replaced Oso, because Max is not Oso. I suppose, to be honest, part of me thought of Max as a replacement for Oso, and I think people take a look at the superficial similarity of the two dogs and figure that’s what we were doing…some people have come up to us and told us how amazingly good Oso is looking for a dog his age.
There was also the period during which we accidentally called him Oso. He didn’t mind, and that doesn’t happen much anymore.
He’s not Oso, he’s Max. He doesn’t supplant any previous canine in the house. But when he takes a break from running and shares the sofa with me, he reminds me of other afternoons and I can almost feel my blood pressure stabilizing.
Max offers what every dog offers which is the continuity of dogs. The infinite variations on the themes of play, trust, affection, forbearance, forgiveness, and life without grievances (except for the motorcycles).
They offer that elusive connection to the rhythm of the universe you get when you feel the warm breath on the back of your hand when a dog falls asleep next to you.
Breath that is the metronome that clocks the music of the spheres, right there with you. On the sofa.
All dogs do this. No two dogs do it exactly the same way, but it is their shared legacy.
Max does not replace Oso. He simply, kindly, and without ego or prompting, continues Oso’s work.
Joseph Dougherty is a writer living in California.
Max found his way to us thanks to the good people at