Meet Max!

Meet the star of the Scarlett Bernard Books!

Pictures of Max the Pit Bull dog In the front of every novel, there is a little disclaimer stating that none of the characters or events in the story are real. In my case, however, that’s not entirely true – it’s just that the real-life person in question eats kibble and sleeps in a kennel, so we don’t worry about his rights. You guessed it: the dog belonging to Jesse Cruz’s parents, Max, is based on my own Max, a 13 (!) year-old pit bull-greyhound mix that I adopted in LA shortly after I graduated college. All of Max’s behavior in Dead Spots, Trail of Dead, and Hunter’s Trail is based on the real Max’s behavior. The real Max is every bit as enthusiastic, loving, funny, quirky, and devoted as his fictional counterpart.

I could tell a hundred stories about my dog (example: the time he jumped through a window screen to hunt down a raccoon, only to realize that the window was on the second story, or the times he was so worried about protecting my three-year-old while she was on a playground structure that he ran up the steep rock-climbing wall to get to her). The moment we brought my older daughter home from the hospital, in fact, Max appointed himself her bodyguard for life. One night when she was three days old, I was in the kitchen doing dishes when I realized Max was nowhere in sight. I found him in the baby’s crib– he had jumped the four-foot high railing (without waking her up) because he needed to be close to her.

Max nine years ago, with my elder daughter. Notice her blankets are still perfectly tucked in.

A little background: Max lived on the streets of Los Angeles until he was six  months old. When I met him at the Humane Society, he had a liver infection, a broken leg that had healed slightly wrong, and a torn ear. He was also submissive to the point where the other dogs in his kennel wouldn’t let him drink or eat much, which made him almost emaciated. The Humane Society had already scheduled a day to put him to sleep.

Max and I found each other one week before he was supposed to be put down. The day that I met him, he crawled into my lap, leaned his whole body against me, and closed his eyes. And it was over for me.

My sister once said that although we may have many pets in a lifetime, including canines, you really only have one dog. One who’s special among all others, who serves as best friend and companion and chief comforter. I will be telling stories about Max long after he passes away (which will hopefully not be for awhile yet), and I don’t think I could ever possibly love an animal as much as I love him.

Max a few weeks ago. Same kid.

In more than twelve years together, I have found Max to be the sweetest-tempered, most tolerant dogs I have ever met. He lets my daughters climb on him and dress him up and use him as a stepstool or pony. He has never so much as snapped at a person in anger. (Though it did take awhile to teach him to stop nipping people’s coat sleeves while wrestling.)

I’m mentioning this because Max is legally defined as a pit bull, and they’ve been in the news quite a bit the past few years. Some states and cities have declared pit bulls inherently dangerous, and some have imposed third-party liability, which means that landlords, vets, kennels, animal shelters, pet sitters, groomers, etc are automatically financially liable for bites or other injuries. As a result, pit bull owners are being forced to either give up their dog or find another place to live, as landlords who don’t want to be liable forbid pits in their rental properties.

These extremely stupid laws are being passed, by the way, despite the fact that the “the name ‘pit bull’ is simply an artificial category that includes several breeds of dogs as well as any dog that has vaguely similar characteristics.” *

Now, folks, are there bad, vicious pit bulls in this world? Absolutely, there are. Just as there are bad, vicious Dobermans, yellow labs, French bulldogs, and Corgis. The meanest dog I’ve ever met, the dog that has true murder in his little doggy heart, is an eight-pound Chihuahua named Rocky. I am in no way joking when I say that I am terrified of him.

But pit bulls have specifically been singled out as dangerous and evil.** It’s a horrifying cycle of abuse and bad PR: the criminals who participate in dog-fighting hear about pit bulls’ “reputation,” so they get pit bulls and train them to be violent and insane. Police break up dogfighting rings, which makes the news, which contributes to the unfair reputation for these terrific dogs.

This reputation persists, by the way, despite the fact that the majority of the Vick dogs have been re-homed to loving families (many with children) or have become service dogs– including for police departments and children with learning disabilities. For an amazing story about one of Vick’s dog victims getting the best day ever, check out this video.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as an inherently evil breed of dog, just as there is no such thing as an inherently evil baby. As all this uproar over pit bulls plays out in the media, please remember Max, and remember that there are no evil dogs, only evil owners. If you live in an area where dog breed restrictions have forced people to give up their pets, please consider adopting one of these great animals.

In fact, consider adopting a pit bull wherever you live. Before they became the villain dog du jour, pit bulls were long recognized as an ideal family dog, which is why they pop up in movies like An Incredible Journey, Cheaper by the Dozen, and Little Rascals. As for Max, you’ll be seeing him pop up in Scarlett Bernard books as long as her adventures continue. He’s just that cool.

*From the American Humane Society
**For more information on the history of pit bulls in America, read Bronwen Dickey’s Pit Bull: the Battle Over an American Icon

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