Alan's Mental Health: Losing A Friend

"Just say goodbye, because you're not getting another chance!"

If you're a new visitor to the blog, or to the Alan's Mental Health feature, take some time to read this introductory post. It explains a bit of the background behind the posts.

This post contains some strong language, as well as descriptions of violence which, whilst not overly graphic or descriptive, may trigger some readers.

This photo is of a boxer dog - the brown furry thing on the left, not the grinning idiot on the right! He was my first ever pet. My only ever pet. He was also my first ever friend. It's the only photo I have of him. I lost him when I was about four and a half. Well, actually that's not entirely true. He didn't die and I didn't lose him - he was taken from me. This is a story I've never told anyone before. This is the story of Max.

I can't remember how old I was when I first had Max. From what I've been told by various people over the years, I believe it was shortly after my parents opened an off-licence and we moved into the duplex behind/above the shop. I'm not even sure how old I was, but it couldn't have been more than 2 years old at most. The story I tell here is partly from anecdotes handed to me by other people. Most of it though is direct from my own memories.

Max was a big, daft, soft, cuddly, smelly, drooly sort of a creature. I could grab him, yank his tail, tease him, play tug-of-war with him, role around on the floor with him, stick my hand in his mouth, and he'd never so much as flinch. He was fiercely loyal to me. If anyone approached me whom he didn't know, he'd stand between me and them. He'd growl and snarl, baring his teeth so they knew who was in charge. He'd pace back and forth blocking their path. If I was ever in any real danger, I'm not sure exactly how much use he'd have been - but there was no doubt that people were terrified of him. For the most part, that was enough. He was my protector.

Except that, sometimes, not even my slobbering knight in furry armour could protect me...

You see, when he - the other he, not Max - was angry, his rage was always directed at me and my mum. Regardless of whether or not we were the cause, we bore the brunt of it. Physically, verbally and emotionally. Whenever he was about to be violent towards me, and Max was nearby, my canine companion would instantly launch into 'attack dog' mode. He'd carry out his well-practiced routine of "Don't fuck with Alan - you'll have me to answer to." For some reason, his fierceness seemed even more robust when confronted with this particular foe. It was, however, never enough.

You see, he would simply remove Max from the equation. His usual, and only if I remember correctly, method was to simply inflict his particular brand of unmitigated violence onto the dog first. He'd start by shouting at Max - "Get out of the way you stupid fucking animal!" Naturally, Max would not move an inch. I was about to be hurt and, no matter what, my loyal friend would do all he could to prevent that. However, despite his strength and ferocity, he was no match for a nigh-on 20 stones adult male with a penchant for violence. (I refuse to use the word man to describe him, as I don't believe that any man worth his salt would beat a helpless child.) Max would be quickly overcome. He'd lash out at him, kicking and punching him as hard as he could, and as many times as possible until Max eventually admitted defeat and backed down. Then he'd refocus his attention on me.

One day, it was announced that we would be moving. My mum was pregnant with my sister and there were plans afoot to extend the shop at the rear, so we'd need more room. Not only were we moving, but we were leaving a really horrible part of the city and going to a lovely three bedroom semi in a quiet cut-de-sac in the suburbs of a nearby town. It was only a very short walk from the first house I'd ever lived in too. We'd still have the off-licence, but he would commute there daily while my mum stayed home to raise the kids. This also meant that he'd not be home as often, which meant my mum and I would have a bit of respite from him. I hoped.

About a week or two before we were due to move, I was playing with Max in the yard at the back of the shop. I remember a strange man turning up and talking to him (the 'him', not me talking to the stranger.) Oddly, Max was not bothered by this. Ordinarily he'd be defensive, but this time he took no notice. Then the lead came out. "Brilliant, we must be taking him for a walk!" (Something which I don't remember ever actually doing.) The lead was attached, and the man took hold of it and started walking to the door with Max. "That's odd. Why would they let a stranger take me out to walk Max?" I thought. I tried to walk with them, and I was stopped from doing so.

Of course, and as I'm sure you've figured out, that is not what was happening. I wasn't going anywhere. The man, this stranger, was taking Max away. I became aware that I would never see him again. An attempt was made to shove me back inside, but I was having none of it. This is the first time, but not the last by any means, that I stood up to him. I stood my ground. The fierce determination which Max had shown in my defence, was now being returned to him by me. It was, of course, just as ineffective.

I literally sank to my knees. I pleaded with him and begged "PLEASE! NO! DON'T TAKE HIM AWAY FROM ME! DON'T LET THAT MAN TAKE MAX!" I was crying, screaming, howling. Punching and kicking with all the energy I could muster to fight my way free to get to my friend, my defender, my protector. Eventually I did break free from his grip. I ran to Max and hugged him as tightly as I could. Tears streamed down my face as the man stood there, looking very uncomfortable with the whole situation. I was told "Just say goodbye, because you're not getting another chance!" I looked into the eyes of my best friend and said "Goodbye Max."

It wasn't until about 20 years later that I learned why he'd been taken away from me. The house we were moving into was rented initially, and we weren't allowed any animals. That led me to two questions, neither of which I have ever received an answer to: "Why didn't we find somewhere else where we could have taken Max?" and "Why did nobody bother to explain this to me at the time (or before - which would have been better)?"

You know, writing this post has been far more difficult than I anticipated. In fact, I hadn't expected it to be difficult at all. In the past, I've talked about how I used to have a dog called Max, who we had to get rid of. But I've never, ever talked about the pain it caused me. Not the pain of him being taken - that could have been dealt with easily, if I had known why he was being taken at the time. I've actually cried whilst writing this. It's taken the best part of four hours, for what really isn't much of a story.

I've never had a pet since. As a family, we've had pets, but they were never mine. I never wanted any part of it. I still don't. And now I think I finally understand why...

If you feel you need immediate help with your mental health, then contact one of the organisations below (click the logo for their website):
Samaritans (UK)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA)

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