Maxine, the sweetest, smartest, sneakiest Seeing Eye Dog died on Monday April 16, 2018.
Maxine loved wearing her harness and going on adventures. If I wanted to walk with her, though, I had to earn that right. In our first week together she crashed me into planters, chairs, and even stairs. “It takes time to build a relationship,” her trainer explained. “She has to want to guide you. Give her lots of love.”
We spent three exhausting weeks training at The Seeing Eye. “Good girl,” I cheered when she reached the end of the block without tripping me. Delighted with the praise, she challenged herself to earn more. Step-by-step, praise-by-praise, the trust between us grew. A week later she navigated the hectic streets of Times Square. That’s when I knew she’d let me be her human.
We crisscrossed the country on compliments. “Wonderful!” When she climbed the steep trails along Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. “Brava!” When she took us safely across the streets of San Francisco. “Okay.” When she peed on the White House lawn. Better outside than in. We traveled as a team from August 2009 to March 2018 when she experienced cancer. She was ten years old.
Her brilliant brain assessed each new situation. I’d give her directions, “Left,” “Right,” “Forward,” and she’d find the safest way through. Maxine logged each trip in her memory. On our way back I wouldn’t need to check the GPS because Maxine always knew the way home. We visited Harvard last year, four years after graduation. As we started walking through Harvard Yard, my mind hit a blank. I’d forgotten how to navigate the maze of paths and buildings. Maxine remembered. She weaved through the Yard, past the pigeons, past the squirrels, past the distracted tourists. “Good girl!” I paused to pet her puppy-soft ears.
She had a sassy side, too. During a media law class, my friend Alea handed me a tennis ball. “I found this on the floor,” she said. “Did Maxine bring a ball to class?”
“She would never—” I stopped to think. Could she? Would she? “I don’t think it’s her ball, but maybe…”
The next day, while we were walking to class, I reached down to feel Maxine’s mouth. A ball! I gently pried it out, wrapped it in a napkin, and popped it in my bag. For the next few days our front door became a checkpoint for the Toy Search Administrator. She did, eventually, accept the rule of no carrying toys while guiding. After sitting through all those law classes, she really couldn’t help looking for loopholes. When she found one, boy did she push for her way. Nose nudging and paw-whacking, she advocated for her right to have one more dental chew, one more visit to the awesome-smelling bakery, one more minute of petting.
Maxine showered her people with affection. She’d lean against your leg, rest her head on your knee, or lift your arm with the strength of her nose to invite you to start petting. She made friends at college in Portland, won over the hearts of law students in Cambridge, and earned the admiration of salsa dancers from San Francisco to New York. My family became her family. She had a fondness for my father and their special relationship — he’d slip her treats and she’d promise not to tell.
Rest in peace, sweet Maxine. Thank you for reminding us to build relationships with compliments and gratitude.