Max Versagi

written by Connie Versagi

I never thought that Rescue was about sound.  Oh, but it certainly is that for me now.  My favorite sound now, the sound of Rescue for me, is pat-pat-scuff, pat-pat-scuff. 

On the day before Mother’s Day, I adopted my second ATRA Rescue dog.  His name is Max.  You may have read his story on Spotlight on Rescue, which I write.  If not, please go to the archives of Spotlight to get filled in on his story.  It is an amazing one.

As I wrote Max’s story, talking several times a week with his foster Mom, Debbie Butler, a very slow but very distinct thing began to happen.  I began to bond with a dog 1300 miles away, that I had never seen except in pictures.  Debbie sensed it, and took every opportunity to include me in on what was happening as Max underwent an evaluation for a hind leg that didn’t work, and ultimately the heartbreaking decision and surgery to remove his leg.  Debbie knew.  She told me from the start she thought Max belonged with me.  Cindi Mysyk then became involved, telling me via e-mail that she had a message for me from Annette Hall, that Max needed to be with me.  Okay, who am I to fight city hall?  Then it was up to the amazing Bob McArthur to figure out a way to get Max from Liberal, KS to Cleveland, OH.  No small feat.

I was so nervous going to meet the last transport volunteers who would bring Max to within 40 miles of my home.  I was so worried about the fact that I already had a male Airedale in residence.  I admit it, he is my spoiled boy, had him since he was 8 weeks old, and I did not know how he would react to another male on his turf.  Bob McArthur set it up so that the transport volunteers were checking in via phone with me as Max passed from one loving set of ATRA volunteer hands to the next.  The transport took two full days, after he had already been moved earlier in the week the Kansas City.  I felt like a weatherman, tracking one of the big Nor’easters that ramble through Cleveland in the winter, all of us glued to the TV to see when it will get here.  I had out maps, I was tracking and highlighting with each phone call.  A big storm called Max was bearing down on Cleveland.

The transport – what can I tell you about that except amazing.  If you’ve never been involved in one – you should be.  I had been a volunteer who took a dog for a trip for an hour or so in my car, passing them to the next volunteer.  A great feeling as you waved goodbye to your traveling buddy that moved closer to its destination – home.  Oh, but being in the receiving end was a little different ball game.  Okay, a really different ball game.  I was so nervous I might as well have been a first time adopter!  There was an e-mail from Kathy Shaw, who dubbed him Max the Thief of Hearts.  Yes, Kathy, he is definitely that.  Then came a phone call from Fran Ault as he passed through Iowa.  She stopped my heart in its tracks when she called me and said, “There has been a change in plans.”  My voice barely worked as I asked what.  “I’ve decided to keep him – he’s too cute.”  After the paramedics restarted my heart, I laughed.  I’ll get you Fran, just you wait. 

So there I was, in the parking lot of a book store nervously waiting.  In drove Renee Klein and her family to bring me Max.  I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on Max.  I didn’t want to cry in front of the Kleins.  This is what I do, help with dogs in need.  But, oh, Max.  He was so rail thin, and it broke my heart when he got out of their SUV and I really saw what it meant to be an amputee dog.  His amputation was only a month earlier and his walking was not very stable yet.  He hopped with a great deep knee bend on each step.  It looked like it took so much effort and he looked so frail.  I loaded him up into my SUV and all I could think was, what have I let myself in for.  I don’t know how to care for this boy who needs so much.  Then my thoughts turned back to the big brute boy at home.  Would he overwhelm this brave little waif and all this transport would be for nothing?  This was a lot to take in.

Well, the resident spoiled boy, Valentino, took one look at Max and instinctively knew there was something different, and reacted accordingly.  These are Airedales after all, and he had this situation assessed and under control in his smart little head in about 30 seconds.  All that worrying for nothing.  They were quickly to become best friends.

Now it was my turn to rise to the occasion.  There was more going on with this boy than his amputation.  He was very head shy.  I don’t know everything his first year of life taught him, but some of it was clearly not good.  Quickly the dog door was modified to place no stress on the back leg as Max traversed it, nonskid floor mats were placed on the bare floors to prevent slipping. Most of all, the process of teaching trust began in earnest.  I felt the need to do right by all the amazing volunteers who brought this boy across country to me, to Debbie who had nursed him through his devastating operation and trusted me to care for him.  Most of all I had to do right by that look in those beautiful brown eyes of Max’s that told me he needed a chance for things to go right, for life to be good.  He wanted to be a happy puppy.    

It has been five months since Max arrived.  I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot.  Max has learned a lot.  It has been a real growing experience for us.  Max and I go weekly to obedience class, where at first things were so frustrating for Max when we had to step out and rest and all the other dogs continued on, to now I can sense when Max needs a break and we don’t have frustration.  We work on our quiet down stay while others carry on.  No time to feel frustrated, we keep learning, even when we can’t physically keep up. We practice control.  We have graduated first level obedience and are continuing on, with our eyes firmly set on Max receiving his Therapy Dog certification.  Max has learned that being groomed is not the most horrible thing in the world, and that a three-legged Airedale can in fact dominate over a four-legged one on occasion.  It is universal no matter how many legs you have, nothing is better than a soft bed and a big old chew bone. 

In order to make sense of the tragic accident that happened so early in Max’s life, we have a game plan.  Without our plan, his every day struggle when he can’t scratch his left side, when it takes every ounce of his effort to launch himself up onto the couch for a nap, when he will never be the first one to get a ball that is thrown, will never go for jaunty walks around the neighborhood would seem sad.  But they’re not.  We do have a plan.  Max and I work hard for the day he has his Therapy certification, and will go to visit amputee patients at the Veteran’s hospital.  He has a message of hope, a message of survival to tell.  The story of a dog who had to learn how to balance to pee, how to get up again every time he fell that first couple months and was in such obvious pain.  A story about not giving up, not feeling sorry for yourself.  We firmly believe there is a reason this happened, and that reason is this Airedale will go on to inspire people to be their best, even when the odds are against them.

So the other evening, as I was laying on the living room floor with my eyes closed, I found my favorite sound.  The sound of Rescue for me.  It was unmistakably Max coming to me.  I didn’t need to look to see which dog it was.  I heard his signature;   pat-pat-scuff, pat-pat-scuff.  It is the sound of a three-legged Airedale.  It sounds like all heart to me.


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