Back when he was in college, my son Brad thought it would be hilarious to teach his then newly acquired 2-year-oldish chocolate Labrador retriever Max to open the fridge and bring him a beer. And I'll admit it was pretty darn funny to watch big old Max dog mosey into the kitchen, easily open the refrigerator, secure a cold brew in his mouth and trot it back to Bradley. What my normally quite intelligent son failed to consider when he taught his beloved canine pal this nifty trick, however, was that someday he'd finish college and might actually have more than just beer in his fridge. God only knows how many times Brad's plan to have the coolest beer-fetching dog in town has backfired on him. That crazy brown dog has consumed everything from six-packs of Mountain Dew to entire rotisserie chickens (bones included) to leftover Chipotle burritos (foil included) to birthday cakes (chocolate included) to cheesy potatoes to turkey pot pies to lunch meat to just about any food or drink item you can imagine. Yep, that's right ... over the years, Max dog has come to fully embrace the unmitigated joy that comes from raiding the fridge, and remarkably, the sweet old brown dog has lived to bark about it.
For all the times Max has stayed with Ollie and me, including the three or so months he lived with us when Brad first moved to Maine, he has never once gotten into my fridge ... not the one in my house or the one in my apartment. Until last Saturday, that is. Brad and Shelby had asked if I could watch Max and his totally insane puppy brother Chewbacca while they moved from their apartment into a house, and I readily agreed to a granddoggie sleepover for Friday night. I have never in my life seen a dog love a boy the way Max loves Brad, so I've grown accustomed to the routine of the big dog sitting by the door for an hour or so whining and whimpering after his boy leaves. Such was the case last Friday evening when Brad and Shelby departed, but as he always does, he finally came and laid his head on my knee and let me love on him. And at bedtime, he trotted right into my room with me and Ollie, and went right to sleep. The next morning, old Maxie was just fine ... ate his food, went outside and pooped and peed ... even played chase with Ollie and Chewbacca for a while. If that dog was upset or stressed about his humans being gone or all the packing activity he'd witnessed the day before, he sure as heck didn't act like it. It wasn't until I came home after going to breakfast with my daughter that I discovered just how out of sorts Max truly was.
When Meghann and I walked into my apartment, my first thought was, "That's weird ... there are Rubbermaid food containers in the living room. I wonder where those came from." I walked into the kitchen to hang up my keys and immediately knew exactly where those containers had come from ... the refrigerator door was wide open and all of my neatly packaged containers of leftovers were missing. Along with Meghann's leftover jambalaya, a brand-new large-size container of cream cheese and a box of baking soda. I quickly shut the fridge door and walked back into the living room and shouted, "Max you big turd, why did you open my fridge and eat my food? You've never done that before, buddy. What the heck? Bad dog getting into my fridge!" Max's reaction, of course, was to hunker down in the corner and give me the saddest "but I'm scared that Brad and Shelby are never coming back" look ever. Which then, of course, made me feel like the worst granddog Ghee ever because I'd yelled at him.
I was ready to chalk up Max's raiding of my fridge to just one more time that Max had helped himself to food that he shouldn't have ... until I realized that one of the empty containers on the living room floor had been filled to the brim with a dozen or so bundles of bacon-wrapped green beans. Bundles that were held together by wooden toothpicks ... sharp wooden toothpicks that could easily puncture a dog's stomach or intestines if they happened to turn a certain way or get stuck in a certain position. I'll spare you the details of the several hours that Brad, Shelby and I spent in the veterinary hospital that afternoon, but I will tell you that if I were Ollie the wiener dog, I would still be pissed off about the whole experience. Why? Because Ollie and Max were both out in the apartment together while Meghann and I were gone, which meant I had no way of knowing if Ollie had participated in the toothpick binge-fest or not so my poor little guy had to endure the same not-so-fun stomach pumping ordeal as Max. Not one of his best Saturdays for sure, bless his sweet little wiener dog heart, or stomach, as the case may be.
One thing that the refrigerator/toothpick-consuming/dash to the vet hospital experience on Saturday served to prove to me, however, was that Ollie really is the best dog in the entire universe. After the canine stomach emptying process was complete, the vet informed us that there wasn't one trace of fridge food in Ollie's stomach. Yep, that means my dog sat and watched another dog chow down on a vast smorgasbord of delightful dishes right in front of him and didn't eat one bite. No chicken livers, no cream cheese, no shrimp- and sausage-laden jambalaya, and thankfully, no green beans, bacon or toothpicks. I was so proud of him for standing strong and not succumbing to temptation that I took him straight to Starbucks when we were done and got him the biggest puppuccino he's ever had. Unfortunately for old Max dog, the contents of his stomach served only to prove his guilt as being the sole perpetrator of the crime. Max is fine now, by the way, following a few days of Brad and Shelby having to search through his poop on the hunt for the missing toothpicks.
I'm sure many of you are wondering why in the world I would choose to break my writing moratorium with a story about a dog opening a fridge and eating a dozen or so toothpicks. Truth be told, I'm sort of wondering the same thing myself. One would think if I were going to cautiously dip my toe into the writing waters again, I'd write something much more profound than a tale about toothpicks, stomach pumping and poop analyzing. But I believe that there are lessons to be learned and truths to be gleaned from every single experience in life. It was far from lost on me last Saturday that the small examination room where Brad, Shelby and I waited to find out if Max and Ollie would be OK was the same small room where I sat and held my beloved J.R. as he breathed his last breath on the morning of November 14, 2010. The lesson of treasuring every moment with those I love, be they human or canine, hung heavily in the tiny room last weekend. The truths I so easily forget ... that life can change in the blink of an eye ... that those I care so deeply for can be gone in an instant ... that in the end, when it's all said and done, the only thing that really matters is the way we take care of and love one another.
It's so easy to get caught up in all the stuff of life and forget what's most important. Sometimes it takes a sweet old chocolate dog gulping down a bunch of wooden toothpicks to make us remember that the most important thing we have in this life ... the very most important thing we can ever hope to have is each other. Appreciate every single moment, friends ... every single moment indeed.