From the first day I met him, Maverick new how to get what he wanted. My then boyfriend, now husband, and I were browsing in a pet supply shop – the type that adopts out shelter dogs – when we saw a puppy that looked like a bear cub playing in the adoption area. There were several people playing with him.
We went in to get a closer look at the roly-poly puppy that was an indistinctive mass of long, black hair. We could barely tell which end was which. He bounded over to us when we entered, cocked his head to one side and then ran into the back room. Seconds later he came out with his leash in his mouth. Everyone burst out laughing as bounced enthusiastically around the room with his leash.
We weren’t allowed to take him outside, but we sat and played with him for an hour. We discussed it and decided Maverick was right, he should come home with us. The next day he did.
The shelter had listed him as Rottweiler cross but this was obviously not the case. We researched some of his characteristics and realized he was part Newfoundlander. Not a purebred, but a big, hairy dog nonetheless. As he grew, and boy did he grow, he started to get the bone structure of an Irish wolfhound. There was nothing small about him.
Like all puppies, he was extremely energetic. We lived in a dog-friendly neighborhood, so we had access to off leash parks, beaches and trails. He was allowed in many stores, like the local video store, and everyone knew him. He was easily recognized.
He had many endearing antics, and some not so endearing ones. He’d jump up and drink out of a water fountain if we were walking by and there was a pool of water in the bottom. Once, we were walking by a restaurant with an outdoor patio. I had him on a long leash and was walking briskly with him. He pulled to the full length of the leash and stuck his head between the rails on the patio, just about swiping a steak right off someone’s plate. I apologized profusely and left quickly.
Maverick was always a sensitive dog. A scolding would send him cowering, while praise made him giddy with excitement. This was also evident at the dog park when he was playing with all the dogs. He thought all the dogs were his best friends for life, even the ones who clearly didn’t want to socialize. On one occasion, he pounced on an older dog who just wanted to play ball with his owner. This dog snarled and snapped at him, sending Maverick submissively, belly-up on the ground.
Maverick howled, yelled and rolled on the ground. I was startled but had been standing right there and new he hadn’t been hurt. The other dog hadn’t actually touched him. He lay on the ground whimpering, his feelings hurt. I didn’t go to him or talk to him, but stood near him. I didn’t want to reinforce the behavior. Everyone else looked at me like I was cruel. The other dog’s owner kept apologizing and asking if he was alright.
People ran over and offered to drive us to the veterinarian. I kept saying, “He’s fine. He’s fine. He’s just … sad.” No one seemed to believe me. Maverick carried on this show for no less than five minutes, and then he decided he was ok. In one quick move, he turned and popped up onto his feet and ran to the nearest dog to start playing.
When we weren’t at the dog park we went for long walks. At first he was only able to do short stints on the pavement as his paws adjusted to the hard surface, but he was soon able to walk for over an hour on the sidewalk.
One of our favorite trails was around the Stanley Park seawall in Vancouver, Canada. This trail is 22 kilometers, or 13.7 miles, long. It took some time for us to feel confident we could walk him this far.
We set off geared up with only our leash, collar and water. Maverick was having so much fun. The tide was out so we walked down on the rocks and he explored every crevice amongst the barnacle-covered rocks.
Most of the trail was on-leash but there were sections where dogs are frequently allowed off-leash. During these parts, Maverick would walk exactly in the footsteps of my boyfriend, Steve. Wherever he stepped, Maverick stepped. He climbed up onto the short, brick wall between the path and the tidal area below. So did Maverick. I told them both to get down and they did. However, both of them hopped back up shortly after. Steve frequently walked on the seawall when we did the trail so he wasn’t really aware he did it. I started to tell them to get down again but before I could finish, Maverick lost his footing and fell over the side.
I screamed. The tide was out and it was just rough rocks below. Steve was already climbing down one of the staircases to get to him. I looked over and Maverick was lying motionless on a rock. Panic was rising in me. It seemed to take Steve hours to climb over the rocks and get to him but he was actually moving quite quickly. He yelled up “he’s alive!” and I felt myself start to breathe again.
Maverick didn’t react much when Steve felt him all over. He couldn’t find any tender areas or wounds so he carefully lifted the giant puppy up off the rock. Maverick refused to stand, so Steve climbed back over the rocks with him in his arms. He brought Maverick up to the path where I was anxiously waiting for them. I inspected him myself but couldn’t find anything either. Maverick was standing now but refused to walk around.
We had made it almost halfway around the seawall to a location without car access. We didn’t even have a cell phone to call someone to pick us up. Steve thought he might have to carry Maverick all the way back. I was nearly in tears. I didn’t have a clue what was wrong with him and was imagining all the worst-case scenarios.
I sat next to him on the path cuddling him and he leaned into me for several minutes. Finally, I stood up and tried to coax him to walk. He tentatively took a step forward and I could see he was limping. That pushed me over the edge. The tears started and I felt the panic rising.
Steve suggested we walk slowly to see how he did. He was putting some weight on his foot it was possible he was just sore. We headed back. Maverick walked placidly behind me. All his over-eager, puppy energy seemed sapped. Every time I glanced back at him he was still limping with his head lowered. After about 15 minutes I was still fussing and fretting over him when Steve burst out laughing. I yelled at him, “It’s not funny!”
Steve said, “He’s fine. Whenever you look at him he starts limping. When you don’t look, he’s playing behind you. He doesn’t even limp on the same foot each time.”
That was ridiculous. I knew he was a manipulative little puppy but that was too clever. However, I stopped turning my head when I looked at him. Instead, I looked at Steve and watched Maverick out of the corner of my eye.
Maverick was playing behind me. He was alert and trotting along, smelling the grass and plants as he went. When I turned my head fully, he’d lower his head and start limping again. Steve was even right about him switching paws.
I burst out laughing. What a relief. I snuggled him and he bounced around in my arms. After I stopped fussing and constantly checking on him, he turned back into his usual, active self. We went straight home in case he was sore or tender after the fall. Luckily, he was still his usual self the next day.
This incident taught me about the capabilities of dogs and their intuition. I made an effort to be a more aware, attentive dog owner. Even though Maverick is now a senior dog, the memory keeps a smile on my face and a note of caution in my heart.