Max 1999 – 2015
It is a great irony that a pet owner spends the life his or her pet securing its safety in every possible way only to one day bring it to the vet who then places a needle in its leg to end its life. Such was my experience this past week with our beloved Max, a 16 year old, 10 pound Miniature Pinscher. We were told he might have pneumonia but it turned out to be cancer.
I call him my sweet prince because Max possessed the perfect blend of protective instincts and personal affection. Like a noble prince he was brave beyond measure. I once watched in amazement as he chased a dog, literally, 8 times his size away. Had they fought he would have been killed for sure, but that did not deter him for one second. When anyone came to the door he routinely warned them of his presence and desire to safeguard all who were in the house. Soon after when he was assured that there was no impending danger, however, he could be found asleep on his or her lap. My Sweet Prince was rare indeed.
On one occasion my wife fell as a result of a “Floating disk” in her back. When she hit the ground, then puppy Max whose leash had not been placed on properly slipped off and he began to run away. My wife in great anguish of his being hit by a car cried out his name in desperation; he promptly returned, began to lick her on the face, and would not leave her side until she was well enough to get up again.
On another occasion when I was in the basement of our town-home I was greeted by Max as he stood at the next landing and would not stop barking until I followed him. He proceeded to lead me to the kitchen where I had placed the wrong soap in the dishwasher; once again he warned me of impending danger.
If I ever made a motion that was threatening toward my wife as she sat in her chair for instance, he would jump from the chair and actually push me away, bark, and with an attitude that assured me or anyone else that he meant business. I could then grab him, give him a hug, and he would immediately respond with warmth.
However, make no mistake Max was a dog in every sense of the word. In fact, at the Vet he was known as a land shark. He did not approve of getting a needle, and on one occasion I did not have a good enough grip on him, so when he spun around I got stuck with the needle. I loved him so much that I never got angry and would have gladly taken the needle for him, if I could.
For 16 years Max was the most affectionate of all our dogs. He could be found frequently laying on my wife as she sat in her chair, or sleeping on my chest as I lay in bed. He kept me warm when I was sick with the chills and he chased the squirrels out of our yard. He was obedient to a fault. On one occasion with a squirrel dangling from his mouth, he dropped it and let it scurry away at my command.
Why did my Sweet Prince have to die? Of course whenever we lose anyone or anything that we love we naturally ask that potent question. The simple reality of suffering loss is best summed up in the words of the master sufferer Job who once said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) The Lord God is the one sovereign over all the earth, and will not the God of all the earth do right? The answer is a resounding yes. But why death? We learn from Romans 8:22, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now.” Man was given authority over all the earth and charged with its care in Genesis chapter 1:26.
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
The one in authority always carries moral responsibility for all those under his or her care, which is why when man fell into sin in the Garden of Eden the whole of creation suffered for it. I bore witness to this reality as the doctor’s office when he stuck my poor Max for the last time and I said, “I’m sorry Max.” I understood in the moment that indirectly, it is my sin that caused his pain and death. The Bible teaches that the wages or penalty for sin is death; man sinned so man dies and all the created order under him.
It is very hard to see any good in the death of another, but it is a reality check that can’t be beat. The Bible says, “It is better to go into a house of mourning than to go into a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) Death is hard for most people to talk about yet what could be more important to understand than the end of every man? I hope everyone who reads this blog and that I talk to in the coming days will be touched by the reality of death through my recent experience.
How is it that my Sweet Prince appeared to carry human traits? Make no mistake, I know that Max is a dog and as such he is without an eternal soul, self-awareness, and a moral conscience. In the words of the apostle Peter,
“But these (False prophets), like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed,.” (2 Peter 2:12)
There are no halls of learning in the animal kingdom and neither is there a court of law; animals only talk in Disney movies. Animals have no consciousness of what they are, they simply operate according to God given instinct. I reckon that one of the graces that God has given to sinful men as an act of His beneficence is to make an animal like a dog that can serve, protect, and even bond with men with affectionate care. It is as if God placed upon man an undeserved blessing by making animals in such a way that they can bond with men. When a dog is in a man’s protective care he becomes part of the pack, and what appears to be human traits are merely God given instincts. The fact that animals are used for food is a constant reminder of just what a sin sick world we live in.
How does the death of my poor Max reflect the Gospel message? On the way to work this past week, on the day that we decided to end his suffering, I prayed as I usually do. I cried as my thoughts strayed to my poor Max who was hours from his impending death. I hurt so bad for my age old friend and then the thought hit me; If I the sinner that I am, one who is selfish, proud, inconsiderate, and willing by nature to ignore the existence of God how must God have felt at the cross.
We are separated from God in every way by an infinite gap. Even those attributes that He has created in us such as bravery, wisdom, love, self-sacrifice, kindness, justice, etc., find there infinite reality in God. So if I hurt to tears over an animal, as it endeared itself to me through instinctive traits given to it by God, how much more did the infinite God hurt who is the source of all that is good, holy, and just at the sufferings of His Son? How did Jesus feel when God placed upon Him the totality of my sins, when He is equally good, holy, and just? It was then that my cries turned to weeping.