This was an animal, well-liked but by no means a “member of the family.”
When we got him in the house my mum and sisters leapt into protest about his ugly face, the sheer size of him and the possibility that he was a biter. They quickly declared that he would sleep outside.
Within mere days, Max had migrated from the backyard, to the doormat, and then, eventually, to wherever the hell he liked.
It was his expression of adorable sincerity that melted my parents’ resolve. He was also talented, able to perform tricks like “play dead,” “shake” and “sit.”
Unlike the other dogs we had randomly collected throughout my childhood, he seemed to listen and, astoundingly, to understand. He would routinely go for walks around the neighborhood by himself and then come back on his own accord: sometime we didn’t notice that he had done so, save for the open gate left swinging in his wake.
Boxers are European dogs, and Max suffered admirably through the extremes of the scorching Australian summer, panting heavily for months on end while enormous horseflies bit his thin ears raw and bloody scabs formed. Where the chemical solution from the vet failed, dad concocted an altogether more ethnic remedy of vinegar and kerosene, more suited to a bonfire than to a medical treatment.
By then, my mum, with her feigned apathy, had also fallen prey to Max’s charms. Once, when she didn’t know anyone was looking, I saw her pet him and call him “habibi,” which is Arabic for “sweetheart” or, more dramatically, “beloved.”
Then he got sick. It wasn’t like the time he got pancreatitis because we were feeding him the wrong kind of food, or when he hurt his eye playing fetch at the park. It came on suddenly and gave no warning signs.