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Maxwell’s Journey Home


By Kay Sumner

“After years of experiences on the Dog Whisperer, and working with all kinds of animals on our ranch, we felt we could work out what whatever character issue might come our way.”

It all started when my husband Murray and I received an email from a canine rescue organization that specializes in the Bouvier des Flandres breed. The Bouvier had been our dog of choice for many years and we were committed to help as many as we could.

Since they are herding dogs and require a lot of exercise, they are not for everyone.

We drove about 50 miles to check him out in the shelter. His description said he was four years old and might be aggressive.

After years of experiences on the Dog Whisperer, and working with all kinds of animals on our ranch, we felt we could work out what whatever character issue might come our way. We arrived at a busy shelter that had a rampant kennel cough epidemic.

Yikes — we had healthy older dogs at home, and that cough could be a risk for them.

We wandered past so many cages that it was heartbreaking. There were dogs of every size, every color and every breed. They were mostly sad-eyed, and many were sick.

Finally, there he was — a Bouvier — pure black one, with long hair, that almost covered his eyes. He lay halfway back in the kennel, so despondent that he would not even look at us! His head was between his paws and we could not even get him to look up. He was forlorn, lonely and distant — not the usual Bouvier disposition with lots of tail-wagging tail and affection. It was as if we did not exist.

The volunteer offered to bring him outside where we could meet him properly. We were ushered into a meeting yard that was fenced-in so he could run loose. It was small, cement covered and not especially dog-friendly. When he arrived, it was as if he were walking on springs desperate to relieve himself, bouncing around. It was clear he had not wanted to foul his kennel, so he was obviously house-trained.

Again, he made no eye contact, hardly noticing we were there. It seemed that he had not been out of the kennel in some time. This was a different dog than we had intended to find and he was a sick dog. He also seemed very large for the breed standard, but we decided to take him and see if we could help. We were informed that there was a waiting period as he needed neutering, which required a second trip amounting to another whole day’s journey.

We adopted him on the spot and planned the return trip. We needed to set up a kennel in which to keep him in a warm location while he was quarantined and medicated for his cough. We moved it into our studio with blankets, bed, toys and food but he was still once again inside a kennel. We gave him his new name: Maxwell.

I picked him up at the appointed time and he rode in the back of the SUV. At first, he had very little interest in the ride, as the trip was long, but he gradually began to look out the window, still ignoring us.

It took about six weeks to make sure the other dogs would not get sick. We walked him several times a day. At first, he ate very little, but he gradually came around and let us pet him and talk to him. Eventually, he began to respond to our care. By the end of those six weeks, he looked forward to our visits, but it took a long time. Then he made it into the house at last! Unfortunately, another problem arose. Our female dog Breezy, our cream-colored Bouvier, would not let Maxwell get close to my husband!

Everyone who got in the way as Breezy tried to guard Murray got bitten! Poor Max. He had graduated from the kennel to the house to be met with a bossy female who wanted to put him in his place. We lived an uneasy truce with Breezy exerting her domineering nature from time to time.

Max was very passive with her. He was extremely good with all other dogs, even small ones, and he continues to be a happy pack dog.

After months of caring for him, he was over his shyness. He became part of the family. Taking him for a walk in town, we met a dog-lover who came up and petted Max and said to us, “You have a Black Russian!” We said, “No, a Bouvier des Flandres.” But… he was right. Max was a Black Russian!

(To be continued…)

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