August 14th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 33
Looking Back - John Kinnear
What Lies Beneath Us- Part II
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
Why I never worried when I left for work

What Lies Beneath Us- Part One

So let’s pick up the story where l left off in my column a couple weeks ago about a special dog that came into my life 40 years ago. Part One is available on line and set the stage for the decade in which Max the bull mastiff was in my life. Let’s return to the breeder’s acreage where things took an unexpected twist.

When I gazed down into Josephine the bull mastiff’s enclosure I was truly smitten. One of the litter, a beautiful apricot colored male pup took me over. The moment was almost magical and it seemed like this gangly young dog coming into my life was meant to be.

A second cheque was cut and we were on our way. For the next 10 years that apricot mastiff, whom I named Max-A-Million after his dad, was an integral part of my life. He was a constant companion and a steadfast guardian that gave my wife much peace of mind in my absence. We never locked our doors in Fernie. Didn’t have to.

Growing up Max was a real education as it was the first time I was to take total responsibility for a large dog. As he grew into a full sized freight train he developed some interesting personality traits and habits.
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Early on I realized that a dog as powerful as Max wouldn't be content to play with things like frisbees (two bites) or rubber balls (five bites and swallowed). His chewing ability was phenomenal and his powerful mastiff jaws made short work of things like shoes, rawhide bones and large sticks. An entrepreneurial uncle of mine, who was manager of the Chinook Shopping Center in Calgary at the time, suggested that retired ten pin bowling pins from the Chinook lanes might survive his gnawing onslaught. Made of hardwood maple these unusual toys slowed him down a bit but swallowed wood splinters became a concern both on entering and exiting his constitution.

Eventually Max settled on two toys that were able to survive dozens of ferocious attacks. One was a 13 inch car tire he found on one of our walks and which he proudly carried home. Many times I observed that tire being tossed into the air only to land around his neck and be tossed back up again. The other makeshift toy was a piece of plastic culvert two feet in diameter and about as long. That culvert suffered thousands of bite marks from a maturing dog who at times seemed to be quite possessed.

As Max filled out his physical presence became quite intimidating to most and I found it prudent to always keep him on a lead when walking him. It was on one of our many sojourns that the incident I refer to as the "Clash of the Titans" occurred.
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After walking a circuit through the trees above the Ridgemont subdivision in Fernie one day Max and I decided to take a shortcut and cross between two houses to get back to the roadway. As we came around the front side of one house we were confronted by a monstrous dog named "Buster". Buster was a very large Rottweiler/St. Bernard cross that ruled Fernie for many years. It wasn't unusual to see Buster walking down the middle of main street forcing cars to each side as he wandered about looking for his owners. He was one big, bad dog.

At any rate Buster the protector charged in defense of his property that day and so did Max with a mighty roar. The sheer power of Max's charge snapped his thick leather lead sending him flying forward and face first into a mud puddle in the driveway. He immediately regained his footing and Max and Buster did a terrifying hind leg dance on the lawn, snapping and growling with such ferocity that I was reluctant to try and intervene. This clash of the titans dance ended in a bristling standoff when they both realized they were equally matched. I was then able to call Max back to me and rush him home, muddy face and all.
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Once there I noticed he was salivating quite profusely from the side of his face that had ploughed into that puddle. On lifting his mud coated lip I discovered that half of one of his substantial upper eye teeth was missing, probably broken off, I thought, during the puddle face plant.

I still wince when I remember what that looked like. The pain must have been excruciating and his painful drooling continued for days. I even contacted a local dentist about a possible repair, a request that was greeted with an indignant no! Interestingly enough Busters’ owner was patting her dog's head weeks later when she discovered a lump. Further investigation revealed that lump to be none other that the other half of Max's eye tooth, imbedded in Buster's skull.

I rarely travelled without Max whether it was across town or out to the coast. The only time I ever lost anything out of my truck was a time I left him home on a trip to Calgary. The thieves got my tool box and a case of beer and I often wish he could have been there in the back of my truck top that night when those bandits hit. The show he could put on was quite a spectacle.

I'm reminded of an amusing incident at Edward's Lake out in the South Country years ago. It was on one of those rare times that I let him wander about unleashed at a private acreage that adjoined the lake. It wasn't long before Max discovered an open water-filled cooler by the edge of the lake with a fresh caught 14 inch trout in it. Max studied it closely then buried his face in the water grabbed that trout and took off down the shoreline with that fish flapping out either side of his mouth. The owner of that fish, a local realtor named Frank Hughes, hollered to me from his nearby boat that that was his only catch of the day. On studying Max's size he exclaimed: "If that dog wants that fish I ain't about to try and take it away from him"!

There was never a dull moment in my life with Max around. He was always up to the challenge of carrying large objects in those powerful jaws of his. This was just about my undoing one day in a schoolyard near where I lived and where I liked to walk the big bruiser. I challenged Max to pick up and carry a cottonwood tree branch lying beneath a tree that was about eight feet long and as thick around as my leg.
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What happened next would have made the Three Stooges proud. He hoisted that branch by its middle in his mouth and then swung around to show me, catching me across the back of the knees. I buckled and as I dropped down to my knees he swung around proudly in the other direction whacking me off the back of the head. The hilarity of this Charlie Chaplinlike stunt left me in tears both from the pain and the humor of being cut down by my own dog.

Typical of larger breeds, Max began to fail badly at about 10 years of age. As his getting up and about became more difficult and awkward things like incontinence crept into his life. I realized that my dear friend's quality of life was fast deteriorating. I anguished for some time about what I knew was the right thing to do and every time I looked at my boy the guilt and pain of eventually taking that decision just about tore me apart. While we all recognize it is our last act of love for our beloved pets it is hard to be the one holding the power of life or death over one so loved.

So it was on a warm winter Saturday morning in 1991 that Dave and Annie Lawson, the local veterinary husband and wife team, came by my house to still my Max's mighty heart. I sat on the kitchen floor that day holding his head in my lap as that deadly dose of barbiturates was administered by these two very special vets. He slipped away from me quietly, trustingly then and I buried him in a special spot in my yard. My artist daughter Kelly Anne drew a beautiful portrait of him for me after he passed that captured the essence of this magnificent creature. It hangs near my desk on my office wall along with his spiked collar draped over it; forever a reminder of what was truly a very special friend.

Author’s Note: Yes I was crying when I finished writing this. After all these years. It still hurts.
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August 14th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 33
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