The following is a beautiful reminiscence of dog fostering by Cindy Crosby, originally featured on Today's Christian Woman's Kyria blog and scheduled to be published next summer in a collection by Revell tentatively titled Great Dog Stories:
I’m a good hater and a slow forgiver. It took a dog to show me I was wrong.
He was a tri-color, collie-shepherd mix whose whole world was a cardboard refrigerator box with a short kennel run, tucked behind a seedy motel. A Rottweiler shared the same space. As the bitter months of winter bore down on Illinois, the two huddled together for warmth. But a cardboard box isn’t much protection against the cold.
Someone alerted animal control, which came out and saw the two dogs braving the increasingly raw weather with so little shelter. The owner was warned that unless the dogs were given a better refuge, they’d be seized. The warnings were ignored.
When the January wind chills began their slow descent to thirty degrees below zero, animal control came for Max. He and his dog pal were taken away from their rough “home” - perhaps the only one they’d ever known - and sent to the shelter, headed for euthanization. At the shelter, the two dogs were separated, but barked so piteously for each other that they were put together.
Collie Rescue, an animal-help organization, was called. Could they take another collie? They came for Max. But they couldn’t take his friend. Max barked and barked as the miles rolled between them. He would never see her again.
When Max was brought to us - his new foster home - he was a tattered version of a collie. Frostbite had nibbled away part of his beautiful tulip-shaped ears. His tail, injured in some unknown accident, was not the proud waving plume of a collie - it was just a stubby stump. A raging ear infection, which we began treating immediately, had already cost him much of his hearing.
It shouldn’t have happened to a dog.
Max had a raw deal for nine years. At first we were leery. Would he be aggressive? Angry because of his ill treatment? How would he respond to our cat? He was our first foster rescue dog, and we were careful. Who knows what years of bad treatment will do to a dog?
Because of the ear infection, and his lingering sadness over his missing pal, Max was lethargic. He’d lay between the family room and the kitchen, his furry body on the soft carpet, his long collie muzzle on the cool tile of the kitchen floor. Mysteriously, a pillow from our bed migrated to Max (I swore to my husband I had no idea how it got there) and he spent hours curled up on and around it.
As the days passed, our worries eased. Despite everything, Max had an open, sweet, trusting nature. Each person he met was a potential new friend. The children in our neighborhood would drop their sleds whenever they saw me walking Max and run over to give him a hug. His stump of a tail would quiver - his version of a joyful wag.
Max adored our elderly tabby cat, Socks, who grumpily refused to recognize his existence. He would invite her to play. She’d take a swipe at his nose. Max didn’t take it personally. And he never gave up. Eventually, she’d deign to let him lay down a few feet away from her, without giving him the cold shoulder. He was winning her over.
Soon, Max’s ear infection cleared up. Good food and daily exercise gave him confidence and energy. A streak of collie mischief came into play. I’d hear a crash from the kitchen: Max was in the trash. Or I’d stroll into the living room to find Max guiltily clambering off the couch - where he wasn’t allowed. He learned what a chew toy was for, and how to chase a ball, and sit for a treat. He discovered the joys of peanut butter, and chewing on an ice cube.
He was ready for a new home. Max’s picture went up on the collie rescue website and before two weeks had passed, a potential adoptive family came to our house to meet him. I was nervous. Would they be good enough for Max? Would Max like them? The couple turned out to be a special education teacher and her husband, both close to retirement, both looking for an older dog to enjoy in their retirement years. Max greeted them by licking her on the face and laying his long collie muzzle in the man’s lap.
I found myself strangely reluctant to give Max up. “You know he has hearing loss,” I said. The woman laughed and pointed to her hearing aid. “We’ll have something in common!”
Max needed a lot of veterinary care because of his ear infections, I told her, and I mentioned his age. “We’re not sure he’s only nine years old - he could be older,” I cautioned. The man told me how they had lost their 15-year-old collie just a year ago, and missed him. “He couldn’t walk anymore in his final few months, so we got him a doggie wheelchair so we could take him outside for walks,” he said.
I made a last-ditch effort to be discouraging: “Max did have one accident in the house.” The couple told me they had recently taken up all the carpet in their home, just to make it easier to clean up in case their new dog had an accident. Then, they asked me a question: “Does he like cats?” The couple had four, all pet rescue animals. At last - Max would have friends to play with again.
They were the ones. As much as it hurt to say goodbye to Max, it was the proverbial match made in heaven. But the house felt emptier when he was gone.
With his numerous losses, including his home and his best friend, Max was still ready to trust people. Even with his flaws - missing ear tips, cut-off tail, indiscriminate pedigree - Max still had a beauty all his own that came from a heart of gold. He was ready to fully love people again and again, even when they fell short and disappointed him or treated him unjustly. Max knew how to let go of the past. Without holding any grudges.
In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” (New Living Translation)
Seventy times seven. Sometimes it takes a dog to show you what’s most important.
... If you live in the Midwest and are interested in adopting or fostering a collie, please visit the Collie Rescue site. I know they'd appreciate your involvement; they are often overwhelmed with a need for foster homes.
(A sincere thanks to Cindy Crosby for sharing "Seven Times Seventy: A Collie Named Max," as well as the pictures of Max, with us (©). Please keep an eye out for the upcoming collection, as well as Cindy's other books including By Willoway Brook, and frequent submissions to magazines such as Backpacker, Books & Culture and Christianity Today.)