Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

January 31st, 2005

Max

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
Maybe this doesn't have anything to do with fly-fishing, but I believe it has a lot to do with fly-fishers. Most all the fly-fishers I've ever known are animal lovers, especially dog lovers. It just seems that somehow it works out that outdoor folks and dogs go hand in paw.

Last week a sad and inevitable event took place. Linda and I had to make a logical decision, a decision that couldn't be clouded by emotion. That's so hard to do, the separation of logic from emotion. I've always said, "One can't look at logic through emotional eyes." But now we both had to forget the emotion, and just simply do the right thing.

Max was our eleven year old "pound puppy." I was blessed to know Max for nine of the years he spent on this Earth. He was April's birthday present, but she was unable to take him with her when she left home. So, Linda and I took care of him, or maybe I should restate that to Max took on the responsibility to take care of us when April left. Either way, and to put it simply, we took care of each other for the next nine years.

Max was a mix-breed that was adopted from our local animal shelter. A pup all his own that had perky ears. A pup that sat all alone from his little brothers and sisters. A pup that turned his head from side to side questioning why April and Linda were talking about him, and not playing with all the puppies that were around him. Maybe he thought he wasn't that much different from his littermates. But he was.

When I came into Max's life, he took me in as a family member. No growling or barking at me when I would come home from work late at night. I was met at the front door by a black dog with a wagging tail. I suppose he knew I was meant to be there. And so it was... a demonstration of unconditional love from a dog to a human, one of the greatest gifts one could ever be given.

Max began to feel badly this past Thursday morning, and his condition deteriorated quickly. By the time I got home from work, the old guy stayed down, not jumping around and barking to greet me. I knew in my heart something was seriously wrong, and he seemed to agree. Of course it was bad news when our vet took the x-rays and did the lab work. A cancerous tumor had invaded his body. He hid this from us until he just couldn't, said Dr. Joe.

The next morning Linda and I made the trip to say our final farewell. It felt as though I was saying goodbye to an old friend…I guess I was.

I've only had two dogs that affected me the way Max did, my Irish setter, Rusty and Max, the "pound puppy." I spoke to both of them in full sentences, and they understood each and every word, it seemed. However, Max was different than Rusty. Just an old mutt from the pound, hardly. He was a dog of all dogs.

I remember Max when he was younger, running through the grass in the front yard then jumping into the back of our pickup truck, then sailing off the tailgate and ripping up the yard in circles. There was a tree in the backyard that had a chunk of rope hanging off one of the lower branches and Max would fly out the back door and jump up then grab the rope and swing from it growling and wagging that tail of his. All for our entertainment, I suppose. He let Linda paint his toenails with red fingernail polish, dress him in a sweatshirt and socks and he would pose as she took his picture. What a ham! Max would bark furiously at fish I would bring home for the table, and raise holy hell at jumping, live shrimp that Linda would give him out of the live well from the skiff.

We spoke of Max Friday as we rode around, somehow trying to make ourselves feel better. Linda asked me where I thought Max was. Through tears of sadness and a large lump in my throat, I tried to tell her what my feelings and thoughts were.

"I think he's with Rusty. There has to be a special place for dogs, and good pets. It's somewhere just over that green hill, just past the horizon. A place where they don't hurt anymore. A place where streams flow, and where trees abound to shade those green hills where they can now rest and not be on guard watching over us. A place where they know we aren't too far away from them. It just has to be beautiful, you know?"

The lumps in our throats and the mist in our eyes are still fresh. But Max is just over the rise, and he's okay.

I never trusted anyone who didn't like dogs. Dogs are unconditional. No matter what mood you happen to be in, they are always there to cheer you up, to laugh with you, to celebrate your excitement and entertain you, no matter what. I wondered why dogs don't live as long as we do.

I figure this. We, as humans, live longer mostly, in order to get "things" right along our path of life. It takes us longer to love, to trust, and longer to let someone know us for what we are. Dogs, on the other hand, live shorter lives, because they come into this world trusting, loving and just being who they are. Their loyalty for us humans set deep within them. Do dogs go to Heaven? I think so. There is that special place, just over yonder, past the misery, past the turmoil of human life. That's where good dogs go.

So long, Max. ~ Capt. Gary

About Gary:

Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area. After moving a little closer to the coast, his interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."

He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the waters will ever be present.

Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater patterns in the early '90's and has participated as a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting and tying instructor and stained glass artist, creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.


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