Just before Thanksgiving, a Jefferson Parish animal control officer picked up Max, a handsome Lab mix with a distinct brindle coat, striped with tawny browns and other colors. For five months, the dog lived at the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter, becoming a favorite of all who worked there.
On Thursday, Max’s former owner, Kery Pafford, 32, was reunited with Max after a separation that began in the early fall after Pafford suffered a collapsed lung that required an extended hospital stay and a slow recovery.
Pafford walked into the shelter on Ames Boulevard in Marrero, with no idea Max was there. Though he was still heartbroken over the loss of his dog, a friend had convinced him to adopt a new dog, maybe a puppy.
But as Pafford was escorted to the part of the shelter that houses dogs available for adoption, he heard a familiar sound. “I knew that yipe — it was Max,” he said, doing a double-take.
As shelter staff watched, both dog and man became emotional. Pafford began to sob with joy, and his legs got so weak that he had to sit down. “I can’t even explain the emotion I felt — just a rush of happiness,” he said.
Max, a poised dog that rarely barks, also reacted immediately, running to the front of the kennel, where he spun circles and whimpered, his tail wagging furiously.
“I’ve never seen a dog light up like that,” shelter manager Brooke Bourgeois said. “It was like nothing we’d ever seen before.”
In November, soon after Max had arrived at the shelter, staff members took notice of his easygoing disposition and eye-catching looks, which Pafford said also are part German shepherd, pit bull and boxer.
“He’s a beautiful dog,” Bourgeois said. “And because of the amount of poise and grace he has, he is the perfect dog.”
Shelter director Robin Beaulieu met Max and thought it would be a snap to find him a new home. “This dog just won everyone’s heart,” said Beaulieu, who has worked to step up adoptions by 45 percent since she started at the shelter in late 2011.
But there were some problems. Max was technically known as an “owner-relinquished” pet, an animal given to the shelter when an owner moves out of town, becomes pregnant, develops allergies, is unable to care for the pet or finds it to be threatening.
In Max’s case, the description of him as “aggressive,” as told to the animal control officer, didn’t jibe with his laid-back personality. “We had questions,” Beaulieu said. “And what we were told and what we were seeing with this dog just wasn’t adding up.”
The investigation took more than three months, she said. But until a hearing officer determined without a doubt that Max was no danger to anyone, the shelter didn’t have the legal right to offer him up for adoption.
Few dogs remain at the shelter that long.
Over the past few weeks, the staff had been actively trying to find a home for Max. Often, staffers led potential adopters to him first. They also took him to adoption shows, where they had high hopes that he would be adopted and be able to leave the shelter, which is noisy and stressful for dogs that stay there too long.
Recently, Max was chosen for an adoption event on the north shore. “We could picture him running on acres of land,” said Bourgeois, who was puzzled when Max returned to the shelter with other unadopted dogs.
Adoptive families often were interested in Max but then didn’t seem to follow through. “We were wondering why people weren’t choosing him. Now we know why. It was fate,” Bourgeois said.
Max was a mere puppy, 8 months old, when Pafford first got him, naming him Maximus Furious, or Max for short. “We took dogs from the litter,” he said, noting that his sister took in Max’s sister, Eva.
He and Max were inseparable and often went for long walks, up Avenue D in Marrero to the Mississippi River levee. Then, about a year ago, Pafford felt a pain, like a hammer blow to the chest. His lung had collapsed.
His friends cared for Max while he was in the hospital, though Max panicked because of his absence. When Pafford was discharged, Max stayed by his owner’s side. But Pafford couldn’t bathe him or walk him. He could barely even make sure he was fed or walk to the door to let him into the yard.
“It broke my heart. But I realized that I couldn’t properly care for him,” he said.
In the early fall, around August or September, he talked with the family downstairs, who agreed to take in Max temporarily while Pafford moved away to finish his recovery with the help of family and friends.
In December, he returned to his former apartment, feeling better and ready to take Max back. “But the family was gone,” he said. No one knew where they’d gone.
“I can’t even explain the grief I felt,” he said. “I missed my dog so much.”
On Thursday, Pafford’s first instinct was to open the kennel door so that he could hug his old friend. But first, he had adoption paperwork to complete. So he almost sprinted to the office, filling out the forms so quickly that he misspelled his name at one point, he said.
Before he was finished, shelter staff had brought Max on a leash to the office, where Bourgeois videotaped Max running to his owner, his tail wagging nonstop.
Then, Max paid his respects to the staff. “He knew he was leaving. He went to us one by one and basically told us goodbye,” Bourgeois said.
Pafford, whose new apartment is right around the corner from the shelter, left and took a long walk with Max. “We spent the whole day bonding,” he said. When they returned home, Max, despite his size, sat in Pafford’s lap all evening.
That night, Max kept waking up and looking at his owner, who lay next to him. “Yeah, buddy, it’s real. You’re back home,” Pafford told him.
At this point, Max isn’t letting Pafford out of his sight. “If I go to the kitchen, he’s right behind me. I go to the bedroom, he’s there. I go to the living room, he’s there.”
With Max at his side, Pafford predicts that his lung will heal even faster. His mood has already improved “tenfold,” he said. “It’s made a sad man happy.”