By Debra J. White
Maxine died in 2001. I miss her terribly even now. I can still remember that day
in September 1988 when I was a social worker in a crime ridden, gang infested and run-
down Bronx neighborhood. I paid $2.00 to a crack dealer for a skinny, flea infested stray
dog. Since then, I’ve rescued many unwanted dogs but Maxine will always remain
Tears swelled my eyes as I watched Maxine nearly inhale her first meal. She
licked the empty bowl as if more food would appear. I promised Maxine she’d never go
hungry as long as she lived with me.
I put out an old blanket so she had something soft and fluffy to sleep on. Instead, I
found her zonked out in the bathroom, her body wrapped around the toilet bowl. I moved
her to the blanket. A few hours later I woke up and she rested comfortably in the
bathroom. I moved her again. By morning, she was back by the toilet bowl. From that
day on, I left her blanket positioned around the bowl so she’d have some shred of
I came home from work the next day and chaos greeted me. She chewed nearly
everything I owned including leather shoes, toiletries, a Rubik’s cube, clothing, and
books. I couldn’t be mad when she slobbered on my cheek and wagged her tail.
Every October, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine commemorated the feast of
St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. People and their pets were invited. I
figured Maxine needed all the help she could get so we went.
Expecting Maxine to sit quietly was asking too much. She wanted to play with her
canine companions who seemed eager to engage in a hearty game of tag as well. After
coaxing her into some semblance of order, the service began. Every time the choir sang,
so did Maxine. She howled like she knew all the hymns. Singing with the choir didn’t
calm Maxine down. About half way through the service, she spotted a fluffy white dog
sitting a few rows in back of us that she was determined to play with. Catching me off
guard, Maxine jumped over the pew, sailed through the air and landed next to her new
friend. The two dogs licked each other and seemed ready to romp and roll. I got up and
retrieved Maxine, who wailed as if she was leaving her best friend. Church was never
that much fun as a kid. I finally left before the service was over because Maxine caused
such a ruckus. I waited outside for a pastor to bless her. I adored her but she was a
Walking Maxine was exciting as it was tiring. I never knew what to expect and I
was always exhausted when it was over. No amount of exercise wore that dog down. One
afternoon as we strolled along Central Park West, someone or something across the street
caught her attention. In a split second, she was on the hood of a parked Audi for a better
look. I tried to coax her down and she wouldn’t budge. A few people passed by, laughing.
If the pricey car’s owner showed up, I didn’t think he’d be amused to find my dog
perched on his car. Finally, I reached out and grabbed her then placed her on the ground.
As winter approached I bought Maxine a sweater. Although her fur grew thicker
and she packed on a few pounds, I worried about her tolerating the cold, brutal winters.
Every time I took out the cute red sweater, Maxine resisted as I slipped her into it. We’d
walk down Columbus Avenue and she’d stop, brushing her body against a storefront,
trying to rip the sweater off. Other times, she’d flop down in the middle of a sidewalk and
roll from side to side as if somehow the sweater would mysteriously come off. Her antics
drew lots of laughs but I wouldn’t back down. Temperatures that winter were icy cold
and I wanted her to be warm unlike her stray days when she, like the other castaways,
undoubtedly shook and shivered from lack of shelter.
I have absolutely no idea how Maxine’s name ended up on a mass marketing list
but sometime in the spring of 1991, shortly before I left Boston, a few offers trickled in.
Physician’s Mutual Insurance Company of Omaha offered Maxine a Hospital Plus
Protection Plan. It didn’t say if it applied to animal hospitals. The Award Claim Center
from Redlands, CA mailed an urgent notice confirming that my dog would receive a cash
prize. It said, you are CONFIRMED. The Craftmatic Adjustable Bed Company of
Trevose, PA said she was eligible to receive their free catalogue by calling their toll-free
number. ICS, International Correspondence Schools, sent her information about training
for a better job, one that paid more money. Great, now she could pay for her own dog
treats and vet bills. The Ford Motor Company offered a guide to Car and Truck buying.
She’d have a hard time reaching the brakes. The US Olympic Committee cordially
invited to make Olympic history. Ok, I had enough. This had to stop. I wrote back to each
and every company, explaining that Maxine D. White was my pet. I even include a photo
of her. I told the Ford Motor company that if her driving ability improved, she would
contact them. I asked the Craftmatic Adjustable Bed Company if they made canine beds.
I was sure Maxine would love one. A sweepstakes notified Maxine that she won a
contest. To receive her award, she had to send $12.75. I sent them a letter asking if they’d
take $12.75 in dog bones. No one responded.
I moved around a few times. Leaving her behind was never an option. She
adjusted to long car rides just fine and enjoyed hamburgers along the trips, minus the
pickles and special sauce. I never had a problem finding an apartment rental either that
allowed pets. OK, I had to plunk down a pet deposit but Maxine was worth it.
In Boston, Maxine became a therapy dog and cheered nursing home residents
with her spunky personality. One elderly woman saved treats for Maxine’s weekly visits,
including apple pie and bacon slices, every bite of which my dog enjoyed. Maxine trotted
through each resident’s room and brought smiles to patients whose lives had been
shattered by illness, injury or just advancing age.
At an animal shelter fundraiser, we won an award in the owner/dog look a-like
category. As an avid jogger, I dressed Maxine in running shorts and a T-shirt then draped
a bandana around her neck. We were quite the team, even if she refused to keep the
sneakers on her feet.
I now had a car and we drove out to the country to buy apples and fresh cider at a
farm. Maxine road in the front seat like my co-pilot. She was so content.
Maxine and I shared a special bond. On January 6, 1994 we took our usual
evening stroll when a car struck me. I landed in a ditch, unconscious and battered.
Neighbors said she refused to leave my side, licking blood oozing from a gash to my
head. She whimpered and whined as the ambulance sped off. Fortunately, friends and
neighbors cared for her during my long absence.
When I was no long unconscious, friends brought Maxine to visit me in the
hospital. I didn’t know my name, where I was or what happened yet I called out Maxine
by name. Medical records indicated that after each canine visit I showed slow
improvement. The human/animal bond is incredible.
When I came home from the rehab center, I almost slipped into a deep depression.
How could I, an active, vibrant 39-year-old woman, live with limited mobility and loss of
memory? My career suddenly vanished. I always paid my own way. I jogged nearly
every day. I ran in three New York City marathons, biked in the Rockies and backpacked
in Vermont. Those days were gone forever. Maxine’s warm wet nose nudging me out of
bed made the difference. I shifted my angry attitude and realized life had a purpose. She
needed me to take care of her. If I didn’t, who would? I had to recover or lose her. I
couldn’t let that happen. I just couldn’t. She meant the world to me.
In the following years, Maxine took my disability in stride. She rode on my
motorized scooter like top dog. As she aged, my scooter became as crucial for her
outdoor activity as it was for mine. We went everywhere together. Eventually, old age
took its toll on Maxine. First, it was thyroid disease. Then diabetes hobbled her. Twice
daily shots of insulin prolonged her life but kidney failure soon followed. I cooked her
favorite meals but eating soon lost its appeal. Maxine passed away in February 2001. I
cried for days. How could I live without my beloved Maxine? Other unwanted dogs have
needed me since. I’ve loved each one but Maxine will always hold a tender place in my
heart. That was the best $2.00 I ever spent.