When I came back from Mexico, I drove across the country with Mac and a very good friend, and Mac and I spent our first 9 months together at college in Connecticut. Mac set a pattern there: he was determined to teach me a *lot* about dogs and being a good dog owner, make me laugh, and make me bang my head against a wall. I had already volunteered at an urban animal shelter for over two years, so I wasn't totally out of my league, but little did I know that I had adopted a dog who couldn't be touched without peeing out of a combination of submission and excitement, and who had an excessive aversion to crates. So here I was, sharing a house with 4 other college seniors, and had a young dog who couldn't stay in a crate and ran from person to person pissing all over the place. I liked to keep him tethered to me so he could learn not to do naughty things, but he liked to chew his leash, so I got a metal leash. My roommates were totally not thrilled with the noise of the metal leash plus the pee being spread all over the house- I can't really imagine why not. And though the shelter and I had aged Mac as a year old, based on his teeth, he kept growing and growing. He loved to use our furniture as an obstacle course- and soon he was close to 60 pounds. My friends knew he was a nice dog, but he was also a young pit bull whose owner was really just figuring it out. Ask my mom about the time I was in the hospital and she got to share the bed with him. The bed was a double bed, but she'll tell you it was a cot, as she ended up on the floor. Mac always had an outsize personality, and strong legs.
When I graduated from college, Mac made sure that I found a job, even though I had a bachelor's degree in fairly useless subjects. He continued to have an immense aversion to his crate, so I had to negotiate with him about staying home alone. (Note for animal people: I am very sensitive to the (ab)use of the term "separation anxiety"- I've probably met less than 5 dogs with real "separation anxiety." If you've heard the stories with Mac and the crate, and met Mac, you'll know the dog did not have separation anxiety. He did, however, hate crates almost as much as he hated cats.) The negotiation at first involved a lot of car-time- Mac always loved the car. Then it involved a dog-friendly workplace. In 2003, there weren't a lot of those, and my only skill was a useless piece of college-issued-paper, so I ended up in retail- a ridiculously upscale dog boutique. I learned a lot there, and Mac continued to provide new and entertaining challenges, and I went to group classes and private (and expensive) training. I met people at a local pit bull rescue and at the first animal shelter that I ended up working for because of Mac and soon switched from retail to animal welfare, where I stayed until last year. I loved my career and was passionate about it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd end up scooping shit or euthanizing animals, or doing any of the beautiful things that I did- facilitating thousands of adoptions, saving animals from shitty situations, humane education, breed advocacy- and really, it all came from Mac.
Mac had a fan club from beginning to end. When I first came back to California with Mac, I fell into a "secret" Craigslist forum. I don't even know if they have Craiglist forums now in the post-FB world, but we had one that was initially based on sharing pet stories, but developed into a close community. Sharing pictures was a must. Mac, if I must say so myself, was very photogenic, and I decided to take up photography again. This was really the very beginning of digital photography- remember trying to take pictures of pets when the shutters took 3 seconds to click? I started taking pictures of Mac. The poor guy was an excellent sport, at least for the first 5 or 6 years of this, and the Craigslist forum was an excellent audience for Mac's antics and my snapshots. Many of us actually met each other, and through Mac I made friends- many of whom are still friends today. In the same way, I made friends through a pit bull rescue, some that I still count among my closest friends, and even through a pit bull forum, and later, through flickr. These people are in my life because of Mac, and I got back into photography for the same reason. I remember the first time I knew there was something magnetic about him: we were driving across the country the first time and had stopped to pee (probably me- he could hold it forever) at some national park or other, and a dude came up to me and said "nice dog" in a dude kind of way. He wanted to talk to me, but not because of me. He wanted to have a serious conversation about Mac, who at that point was very much not a "cool" pit bull, but a hilarious looking pit bull/beagle mix. Years later, I was walking Mac with a friend, and someone slowed down and yelled "Mac" out of the window. I had never met this woman, but we had known each other online for years, and she recognized my dog. At the camera store, one of Mac's favorite spots, everyone called out "Mac!" when we walked in, but had to ask my name when we dropped off film. I was always tempted to just tell them to put it in his name. Last year, we did the "52 Weeks of Dog" project, and Mac spread the sofafree word to the dog world. I would joke that Mac had more friends than me, but it's not really a joke. No one recognizes me on the street (thankfully), and if they do, they don't want to stop and chat or pet my head or take my picture.
I liked to bring Mac everywhere that I could. He was a pit bull for peace way back in college when these endless wars were starting- I think it was bombing Iraq, but maybe it was Afghanistan. We stood on street corners against Prop 8. He loved bookstores. He would come to meetups with me to take the pressure off of me in social circumstances- Mac knew how to work a crowd, and I don't. If there's one that that I can talk about, though, it's dogs. Photowalks, protests- whatever- Mac was a frequent flier, and so his fanclub grew. Lots of people knew him, or know me as the girl with Mac. "Oh, you're Mac's owner!" Yes. That was him, and me, and us.
Mac, though never really good with dogs, and often very bad with dogs, had this one thing about him- he liked to walk with dogs. And he was really quite good at it. So Mac had lots of dog friends, if dog friends are dogs you can walk next to, not touch, and never ever look at. It was amazing- I used Mac with lots of my friends- he was totally nonreactive even when their dogs would turn into screaming banshees, as long as I stayed cool and they stayed cool and no one tried to play with him. I think Mac probably helped dozens of young adults like me help manage their ridiculously rude dogs learn how to behave on a leash. This is noteworthy, because Mac was actually quite dog aggressive. He loved dog training class, and I tried to take one every year, even if it was just a beginner class. Surrounded by wild, hyper dogs, he would excel- as long as they didn't touch him. He marched in the pride parade with a contingent of dogs in close quarters twice, and thought there were hundreds of thousands of people there for him- he was so happy. He could ride in the same car with dogs he knew, or dogs he didn't know, if they were crated. But he really would have preffered to be The Only Dog Ever.
And that leads me to cats. When I first got to college with Mac, and he still looked like a hound, he still acted like a hound, too. A squirrel would run into a tree, and mac would run to the tree and silently point at it. In my naive days, I thought, oh! pointing! Hound!, as though only hounds point. Then Mac discovered pigeons and forgot all about squirrels. He was much more rude and embarrassing when it came to the birds. He would lunge at them, still silently, and really, there was nothing really houndy about this behavior at all. Then, finally, he discovered the enemy. Birds were nothing compared to cats in the Prey Hierarchy of Mac. The site of a cat would cause Mac to Hulk Out. I always said this, but until I saw that superhero movie last month, I never knew how true it was. Mac turned from a sweet, confrontation-avoiding dog who didn't evne care if you walked on his head (true story) and never barked to a dog who would bust a windshield to get to a cat (also true story), while making incredibly loud and disturbing noises. Mac was a terror when it came to cats. He never got one, and I'm pretty sure he never could get to one: it's not exactly effective hunting behavior to go running and screaming at something you're trying to catch. The closest he came was cat poop. He was a very effective cat shit killer.
Basically, Mac loved people, and he knew how to please them, and win them over, and make them laugh. His favorite thing was to sit on feet, but if he couldn't access your feet- if they were dangling, say- he would aim for your feet and fall over. He spent a lot of time with his belly in the air waiting to be petted, and if you moved your hand, he would look up his head in mock-surprise, which almost always worked to get the petting started again. If it didn't, he would swat you, hard. I kind of let him get away with that. When he did his tricks, he did them with gusto- people would crack up when I would show him his shake- "show it to me"- or his "dead"- the roll over that we never finished learning so basically looked like Mac going from lying on his side to quickly lying somewhere between his side and straight on his back and then bouncing back up. Sometimes I would demonstrate what free-shaping would look like- Mac went crazy anytime the clicker came out, and would just throw trick after trick at me. You could not watch Mac trying to get trained without laughing. We took both nose-work and freestyle dancing, and in each class, Mac kept stealing attention- he'd prance around and look up at me and wink. He knew people were watching and laughing. He never did catch on that I didn't really like being laughed at, but I did feel so proud of my boy.
He loved clothes- he had tons of outfits and costumes, and even though everyone claimed I abused him, I swear that I would never have put him in them if he didn't always come over to me when I pulled them out. He would lift up his foot willingly when I needed to put him in the sleeves. He hated being cold or wet- trust me, the clothes were better. Eventually, Mac realized that the bed was better under the covers. Unfortunately, Mac never figured out how to get under the covers. For those of you who have never had a dog, or never had a dog who is allowed in the bed, this is a skill that most dogs eventually gain. Mac would spend ten minutes mushing his pillow around and his nose would be mostly under the pillow: That's as far as he could get. So I'd get settled in for the night, and lift up the cover for him and he'd slide in. If I forgot, or he woke up outside of the covers, he'd claw my arm, hard, until I lifted up the covers. So hard that one day I went to work with bruises on my arm that looked like a human had grabbed me. No, Mac just wanted his creature comforts.
Mac really wans't much of an athlete- he always liked to do outside things, but never needed to do them, which is pretty much just my speed. When I first got him, I tried to teach him to swim. I threw him in a pond and he panicked. I threw his toy in the pond and he ran to the edge and panicked. I went into the pond and he panicked. No dice. But one day, with another dog, he learned to chase his toy into the water, and that was it. He loved it. Then there was the seal incident, and that was that. He liked to walk, he loved to shred, and when we found secret places, he loved to chase his monkey around. He loved urban exploring, and was fearless about climbing up and down and all around. I used him as cover more than once- "no, sir, I was just walking my dog, I have absolutely positively no idea how we ended up behind this barbed wire that clearly states 'no trespassing' all over it!"
But Mac hated just *being outside until a few months ago. I would try to hang out outside with him- I'd put his long line on when I was doing yard work, and he'd huddle against the door trying to get in. At my parent's house with a secure fence, I'd leave the front door open- he'd run out to pee and bound back in like a juicy steak was waiting for him. Then we moved here, and he learned the art of sunbathing. Maybe he knew already that something was growing in his head, or maybe the sun felt good. I never let him loose in my yard, because I'm a mean terrible person, or really because I didn't want him to ruin the beautiful garden with his pee and shred routine, so we built a "doggy jail," and the rest of the time I spent outside he'd be tethered to various posts near my gardening or porch swing. That dog loved it. He'd move to the sun or move back onto his bed in the shade. He grew liver spots. He got dirty for the first time in his life. He went out with my roommate for her morning coffee. He took naps with me on the swing. He turned into an outside dog. Okay, that's going to far- he turned into a normal dog who liked to lay out.
And then he got sick. Mac had a trigeminal nerve sheath tumor, or at least probably he did- I never did an MRI. He developed unilateral atrophy on one side of his head- the muscles all caved in on his left side. It just didn't look right, and I took him to the vet, who couldn't meet my eye. After about 2 weeks, we ruled everything else out, and I was almost relieved- no more not knowing. I was going to have at least a few months, maybe his normal lifespan, or till my house fell down. I promised him and myself that I wouldn't do anythign that would just prolong his life, with the possibility of keeping his quality of life up. I would put him down while he still felt good, while he was still Mac. And then, almost within the week, he became painful. I had seen him in pain before, when his back went out. But this time, I knew what he was suffering from was also the thing that was going to be the house that fell on him, and on me. He was tired all the time, and now he was painful. It was awful.
The week leading up to his death was spent on the couch- a spot I spent 10 years keeping as people space- Mac is big and strong, remember? I wanted people to be able to sit on the couch without my dog sitting on them. He got pain meds practically every other hour that day. He saw about 6 aunties and 2 uncles in two days- I told you, Mac has a fan club- and they all left crying. We gave Mac a party and taught him how to be a bad dog. He ate chips right out of T's mouth, and caught them out of C's hand. Within a minute he learned that people food was Mac food- something I had spent 10 years making sure he didn't know.
I had Mac for exactly 10 years- June 2002 to June 2012. This is the entirety of my adult life. Today is the first day that I have spent in my own home without my dog. It is surreal. In those ten years, I've probably spent 40 total nights away from him. If we're going to be a little more crass, he's cost me more money than anything else I've ever owned, including my car. He's outlasted many boyfriends- I've called him my "old man" since way before he was old. I have been identified, defined and self-defined by this dog. I have loved him probably like I haven't loved anyone else. He has broken my heart a jillion times and been an immense challenge, but gave me so so much. Everyone keeps telling me what a perfect dog he was. I know what they mean, but I can't help arguing with them. T, who of everyone, probably knows him best since she lived with him for about 5 years, said it best: "He was a good dog, but he was a great friend."
Mac, you were my main man. I am who I am because of you. You were my home, my bighead in the storm. You were one lucky ass bulldog to come live with me- I gave you my best, and I'm pretty sure most people would have given up on you after the 8000th thing you peed on that first year, not to mention the other things that came later. But really, I am one lucky ass girl to get you. We were great team.