comic tragedy

Max Walk: 2.0

So much poo.

So much poo.

As many of you know, last week I walked a dog called Max.

It was an adventure involving lots of confusion, frustration and more than a little poo.

With so many people looking forward to my second walk with Max, I feared disappointing you all. Now that I know how to work the various house apparatuses, it probably wouldn’t be an interesting walk.

It was.

I’ll preface the story with these three key takeaways: 1. Doing CrossFit should be a prerequisite for walking Max. 2. The gentle leader is positively vital. 3. One poo bag is never enough.

Just as last week, I leave my apartment at 12:45. No traffic issues this time—score. Bright sunny day; no ice chasms to navigate. Sorry, friends, I don’t think I’ll have much to tell.

I stride toward the back porch with confidence and reach for the lockbox. I notice the door is about three inches ajar.

“It’s happening,” I think. “The story. It can’t even help itself.”

I wonder if the owner forgot I was coming and is still at home, possibly eating snacks on the couch, oblivious to the intruder standing awkwardly on her back step. I poke my head in and croak out a weak “hellooooo?

Silence. I enter and survey the scene.

It certainly looks like there could be someone here. There’s a crumb-dusted baking sheet on the stove and about two dozen dirty dishes in the sink. Shoes strewn all over the floor, and a purse, laptop and breakfast plate—complete with petrified sausage–on the table.

I shrug. Emboldened by my new status as Experienced Max-Walker, I head up to the alcove. NOT TODAY, BABY GATE, NOT TODAY. I don’t even unbuckle it; I simply lift it up and set it aside. Max is Very Pleased to see me and promptly wedges himself between my legs and licks my knees.

Downstairs, I grab the gentle leader. I hold Max by his collar with one hand as I attempt to lasso his snout with the other. Something’s not right. The ring for the leash should be on the side of his head, not the top of his nose.

I take it off. While I examine it, Max sprints laps in the living room.

The leader must be upside down, I think. I call him back and we try again. Now it won’t buckle. Again, I remove it for examination.

But now Max thinks we’re playing tag, and clearly I’m “it.” I spend the next 12 minutes alternately chasing/capturing Max and being bamboozled by the leader. Hell with it. I’m not spending another two hours here. We’re taking the regular leash. How much of a difference could it really make?

We begin the walk. Wow. Max is really strong. I guess the leash type really does matter.

I’ve got the loop around my right wrist and I’m holding the leash with both hands. I sort of lurch on my toes as Max strains at the leash. After half a block, he stops for a poo.

At least this time I’m prepared. I reach for the plastic Target bag I stashed in my pocket. But as I gingery collect the four fetid logs, I fail to notice the woman approaching across the street. Or her three dogs.

Do you remember Disney’s animated “101 Dalmations”? The park scene, where all the dogs look like their humans? This is a regal, silver-haired woman in a long winter coat, serenely walking with her head held high. At her side are two breathtaking, ashen greyhounds; a black Great Dane at the lead.

Jesus. Take. The Wheel.

Max yanks me a full 180 with the force I imagine is required for a launch into hyperspace. He screams. I mean, he barks, but make no mistake, he is screaming.

I’m crouched in a half squat, leaning the opposite way with all might, as though I were competing in a sled-pull event with a living sled whose goal is to ruin your life.

I pointlessly shout “NO!” as the regal lady and her regal dogs amble by. She beholds me with a gaze that seems to say, “Look at this unlearned heathen; how dare she sully the sidewalk with her uncontrolled beast.” Her dogs appear to agree, each staring at us as they obediently trot by her side.

In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya: “Let me esplain—no. There is too much. Let me sum up.”

Max and I encountered no fewer than six other dogs, two human adults, four cars and one human baby on our 30-minute walk. Each seemed personally affronted at my inability to get Max to obey, Max graduated from pulling to leaping, and the severity of the rope burn on my hand increased exponentially. At one point, Max tried to chase a fucking PLANE.

It’s worth mentioning that by minute 11, I had smears of feces across my left hand and hip.

You see, I had no time to grab another bag after Max took his second poo because one of the aforementioned dog sightings happened immediately after. I had to quickly swipe at the poo with the already-knotted bag and lug Max out of the danger zone. Though I dropped that poo in a nearby snowbank, the end result was such that every time the bag swung around my wrist while I attempted to restrain Max, it streaked residual excrement all over my person.

We returned home, stinky and sweaty (at least, I was sweaty). Max had his snack and his drink, then transformed into utter dead weight on the floor as I urged/dragged him back upstairs.

I replaced the fully intact baby gate and gave Max a few final pats. He’s a good dog, Brent, and it’s not his fault he’s untrained.

Still, I’m pretty sure that’s the last time I’ll accept a job in my neighborhood with a dog named Max.

Meet Max.

I recently signed up to be a walker on a popular app—think Uber but for dogs—as a way to make a few bucks here and there while I look for writing work. I like dogs. I've walked dogs before. What could be easier?

Yesterday was my first walk. It was scheduled for 1:00 p.m., just a few miles from my apartment. I timed my departure carefully; you have to click a button in the app that lets the owner know you're on your way and your ETA.

At precisely 12:45, I get into my car.

"On my way! ETA: 5-10 minutes."

I drive two blocks and promptly get stuck behind THE MOST ENORMOUS OVERSIZED TRUCK I'VE EVER SEEN. I mean, we're talking the kind of truck that has to take up about a half a block just to turn a corner.

The truck had just gotten stuck behind a somewhat smaller truck parked in the middle of the street while two men unloaded cases of neon-green beverages. Their juxtaposition was such that any attempt to swing, however momentarily, into the left lane to pass them would surely be to invite certain death by unseen oncoming traffic.

I sit and ponder.

The delivery guys stand and ponder.

Three angry, honking drivers behind me risk life and limb to zoom past the whole clusterfuck.

Six minutes later, the delivery guys had packed their wares and moved up to give ENORMOUS OVERSIZE TRUCK room to pass. Shit. I was going to be late for my first walk.

At precisely 1:01 p.m., I park in front of the client's house. Her neighbor stands in his doorway, smoking something and glaring at me. I look at the notes on the app.

"Lockbox in back."

"Strong puller; keep away from squirrels, cars and people."

"Won't want to go back upstairs when done."

OK. No problem. I make my way around the right side of the house and am faced with a fenced-in dead end. I backtrack, shoot an awkward grin at Glaring Neighbor and walk around the left side, doing my best not to look like an incompetent burglar.

AHA! There it is. The lockbox. I swipe open the app again, locate the lockbox code, punch it in and pull. Nothing. I double-check the code; it's correct. Pull. Nothing. Pull. MASSIVE FRUSTRATION.

Thinking about how I'm now well past the 15-minute grace period for the start of the walk, I tap the "contact owner" button. The app politely reminds me that it discourages contacting owners in order to preserve the best customer experience possible. Fuck it. I tap and send a polite text explaining the code must be wrong.

No response.

I call.

No response.I sit down on the porch, the cold rain adding a nice sense of patheticism to it all, and text the app support line.

I'll sum up the next 20 minutes of back-and-forth with support with a mental image: me, screaming internally with rage when I realize that the lockbox opens by pushing the key panel out, not down. I take a moment to properly appreciate my total incompetence before entering the house.

Now I'm in the kitchen. No dog to be seen. I kick off my rainboots and tentatively begin to explore. That's the bathroom. There's the linen closet. I wonder if the owner has security cameras watching me at this very moment?

I finally locate the staircase leading to a small alcove where Max, a very large and excitable lab mix, awaits. For a moment, it all seems good. Max is so happy! He loves me! I MATTER to Max!

I open the baby gate and he runs downstairs. Now the leash. Thankfully I'd Googled how to attach a gentle leader beforehand because this leash looks like a confusing BDSM accessory—if such things were a shade of cheerful, robins’-egg blue.

Now, a gentle leader has a loop that must be placed around the dog's snout. To do this, the dog must sit relatively still for at least a quarter of a second. This is an impossible task for Max, who is now ricocheting between the lower cupboards and the fridge, sending magnets and greeting cards flying with every lap.

I bait him by kneeling on the floor and calling his name. Max proceeds to leap onto my back and lick my head.

Again, I wonder if there are cameras.

I manage to attach the leash after about 10 minutes. There are no poop bags in sight but at this point, we're so extraordinarily behind schedule that I say “fuck it” and we take off.

Ah. This is nice. I'm walking a dog! So what if it's raining and every step requires tiptoeing around ice chasms and small rivers of meltwater with the precision of a mountaineer, or that Max seems to prefer snowbanks to the sidewalk, alternately leaping between them and sprinting toward the yards of innocent houses. I'm doing it!

Now, I'm aware that I'm new to this whole business. But it seems to me that if your dog cannot witness a squirrel, human being or automobile within 400 meters of his (dog)person without exploding in a fit of canine fury, you probably shouldn't hire strangers to take him for walks.

We walk. Max chases. I root my heels into the ground, muttering soothing and pointless pleas. I guiltily ignore a pile of shit so substantial there's no leaf in the Midwest large enough to collect it. We take so many sudden turns to avoid all matter of moving things, living or not, that I soon realize we are lost.

How can one be lost with a smartphone, you ask? Very easily. Especially when you combine rain, a poor connection and an innate inability to read maps, digital or otherwise. Thirty-six minutes later, we return home. Wet and cold, but triumphant.

I take a picture of Max, as per app protocol. Now it's time for the Battle of the Stairs.

The notes weren't kidding. Max does NOT want to go to his room, so to speak.

A previous walker wrote that she got him to cooperate by shouting his name enthusiastically while sprinting up the stairs herself. I try it. Max observes this indifferently from his perch on the couch.

Spotting a bowl of dog food on the table, I grab a few kibbles and present them to Max, holding them just beyond his reach and beckoning to the stairs. He's far too experienced to fall for such shenanigans.

I succeed about 10 minutes later by pretending we are going on ANOTHER walk, hooking his leash halfway and guiding him up the stairs.

You'd think my story would be done at this point. It is not.

For I have one final battle: Babygate-Geddon.

This is the old-fashioned, wooden type with all sorts of metal bits and bobs. Turns out they're easy to open but utterly confounding to close.

I sit before the gate, fiddling with its buckles and levers. Max sits on the other side, staring at me. He's so uncharacteristically calm and quiet that I'm sure I've rendered him speechless with my incompetence.

I can get the gate to fully extend, but it won't lock into place. Max retreats to his crate, seemingly out of boredom. THIS IS MY CHANCE! I tear through the gate, hoping to lock the crate before Max is any the wiser.

But I've been had—classic move. Hats off to Max, who immediately bolted for the ill-fitting gate as I made toward the crate.

I channel the 11-year-old soccer sweeper in me and block him with my knees, nudging him back behind the gate. I pull out my phone and proceed to watch a seven-minute YouTube video on how to use a wooden baby gate. Max watches with me.

In the end, I manage to wedge the gate with some sense of security between the wall and the alcove ledge. I'm positive Max could knock it over with a wag of his tail, but I just have to hope he doesn't know that. And that his owner doesn't come home to a sitting room full of shattered knick-knacks.

I lock the door, return the key to the lockbox (with a reasonable amount of struggle) and go to my car, where I finally hit "walk complete" in the app. I check my schedule. I have another walk booked next week—same day, same time. The dog's name?