How a beagle mix cared for 2 grannies, including 1 with dementia

Our dog's gifts pointed to a place beyond Alzheimer's and this broken world

Ray Burow avatar

by Ray Burow |

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Max had a reputation, and it wasn’t a good one, at least not wholly. But no one is perfect, especially not a beagle mix with a bent toward naughtiness and a penchant for leftovers. Over time, Max’s good outweighed his wrong, and my family became fiercely attached to the little brown-and-white dog.

He came to us, as most of our pets do, as a rescue needing a home. It’s shameful to admit, but in his early years, Max was branded “El Diablo.” Given a choice between right and wrong, he nearly always chose poorly. How he wormed his way into our hearts, I don’t know.

Well, I have a clue.

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Max wasn’t a helper dog, but he did help

A few of us loved Max unconditionally: the daughter responsible for his rescue; my son, who was very young at the time; and my much older mother, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She giggled at his antics and sometimes reminded me, “He’s just a puppy.”

Funny, she’d say something similar when her grandkids were naughty. “Just remember, they’re children.” Translation? “Children do what children do. They’re still growing.”

Max cuddled, snuggled, and loved each family member one by one until even the hardest of hearts melted. I couldn’t infuse a training regimen beyond the basics because I was a busy caregiver, so he did what puppies do, only more so. He was incredibly naughty, but I believe Max could’ve been a service dog with the proper training. He had a natural bent.

In the sunshine on a large field of green grass lies a dog, largely white with brown patches, including the ears and forehead. In the distance, we see an asphalt road, palm trees, and a peach and white house across the road.

Max was allowed to sit outside with Grandma only after the mailman had made his delivery. (Courtesy of Ray Burow)

2 grandmas, 1 Max

My mother loved dogs and was determined to purchase one of her favorite breed for her grandchildren. Jack, the wonder dog, was a beautiful golden retriever, and he and Max were best buds. I expected helper behavior from Jack because of his breed and temperament. Then Jack passed away of old age and left Max at the helm.

He comforted my mother, who lived with us, and my aging mother-in-law, when she visited and then lived with us for some time. My mother-in-law adored Max, and he spent many hours sitting by her side, just as he and Jack did for my mother. And it wasn’t for the crumbs that slipped from their plates. Not solely.

Max was drawn to walk with my mother-in-law. He wasn’t trained to do it, but he walked alongside her slowly, matching her pace. He stood when she stood and settled when she settled.

I don’t know what inside Max made him such a caregiver. He was diligent. He was attentive. He was rowdy and naughty, but resolute as he aged. He stalwartly attended my mother-in-law — and my mother, too, before she passed away.

I believe what Max had was God-given. He didn’t do what dogs naturally do, but instead tapped into his original purpose, like trained service animals. He was a godsend, a warm-blooded instrument who delivered comfort. I believe with all my heart that every once in a while, humans are granted a glimpse into God’s original design before brokenness entered the world. That was our view of Max.

Because we live in a broken world, my mother and millions of others have suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses. That isn’t part of God’s original design.

My mother’s search beyond brokenness

Before my mother passed away and long before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she pursued God’s design. Her pursuit led her to Christ, and even though dementia broke her mentally and physically, she was restored to God’s original design. She was a committed follower of Christ and believed, as I do, that nothing can “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” — not even Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently, our family had to let Max go. He was 13. Many tears fell as he slipped from this broken world. I’m thankful that neither grandma had to experience the loss.

One of the kids wondered aloud if Max met Jack in the afterlife, and which dog was at my mother’s feet. In this fractured world, creation groans for restoration, a time when everything is put right — when dogs don’t bite, and loved ones don’t have to live with Alzheimer’s.

Until then, I believe that, occasionally, God gives glimpses of what could’ve been. Sometimes it’s through a little dog who lived a long time, doing what dogs don’t naturally do.

Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


Betty Ann Wolfe avatar

Betty Ann Wolfe

What a lovely story about a very special dog....I am sure that everyone needs a companion dog or cat. They love unconditionally and seem to know when someone needs them. The shelters are FULL of well- behaved pets who have lost their special person and their home.

Ray Burow avatar

Ray Burow

Hi Betty,

Thank you for your kind comment, and for the reminder about shelter dogs. Max, the dog featured in the column, was a rescue dog. Wouldn't it be great if we could match every good dog to a person who needs them?

All the best!

Linda Petke avatar

Linda Petke

Really Enjoyed the “Helper Dog” story. Animals seem to bring a quiet, enjoyable peace especially after a “trying” day. Alzheimer’s patient.

Ray Burow avatar

Ray Burow

Hi Linda,

Thank you for your comment. I agree, animals are often unsung heroes, meeting us where we need to be met and delivering joy in the midst of difficulty. May God bless you, Linda. Thank you for being a vital member of our community. I wish you all the best!



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