By Brendan Quealy
Dog lovers often say their canine companion came to them at just the right time. Maybe you have seen the paw print-shaped bumper stickers asking: “Who Rescued Who?” Many people credit companion animals with helping them heal after an illness, or dragging them out of the depths of depression. Keith Sanderson believes finding his dog Max was meant to be—comforting him during a time of need and giving his life direction once again. Shortly after Sanderson suffered a stroke, he found out he had prostate cancer. After surgery and a clean bill of health, Sanderson was eager to return to his job. Then, another blow. Just two days after returning to work, Sanderson was fired.
It was during a visit to the Orphans of the Storm animal shelter in Deerfield, Illinois when Sanderson’s luck began to change. While his wife, daughter, and granddaughter were looking at cats, Sanderson wandered over to the dog kennels. He had no plans to get another dog—the famous last words of those about to have their lives changed forever.
That’s when he found Max—or as he tells it, when Max found him.
“I walked out, looked at the kennels, and there was this poor, sad Black Lab who was just shell-shocked,” Sanderson remembers. “My wife looked at him, then at me, and said, ‘We can’t leave him here.’”Sanderson filled out the adoption application, headed to the store to stock up on the necessary pet supplies, and returned in the morning to bring Max home. Soon after, the magic of Max was revealed.Sanderson and Max began taking long walks around the neighborhood. On one daily trek, Sanderson contemplated how Max would stay active as he got older. “Humans have lifetime sports, like golf,” says Sanderson. “So I asked myself: What could be a lifetime sport for a retriever? I thought, maybe he can pick up litter!”
Sanderson took Max to a 36-acre dog park near his house and tossed some plastic bottles around. Soon, Max was not only retrieving the bottles, he was depositing them in the recycling receptacle. “We’d go out for walks and show off our trick with the plastic bottles on the street,” says Sanderson. “People kept telling me he should be in the paper, and I said to myself, ‘Why not?’ It’s a great story.”
Sanderson sees Max as a perfect example of the benefits of recycling. Sanderson “recycled” Max, giving him another chance at happiness—and an opportunity to live a productive life. Sanderson, in turn, found his life became more productive as well. Soon word spread about Max’s exemplary feats of environmentalism. He was invited to a local Pooch Parade and landed on the front page of the paper. From there on, he officially adopted the title “Max A. Pooch: The Recycled Dog who Recycles!”
Sanderson and Max have an important message. The pair visits schools and other groups where Max displays his awesome retriever and recycler skills, and Sanderson speaks about the importance of taking care of the environment.“‘America the Beautiful’ spends somewhere near $11 billion a year cleaning up garbage,” says Sanderson. “Think of where that money could go if people just picked up their trash.” Sanderson also focuses on overcrowding at animal shelters when he speaks. “Four million cats and dogs are abandoned like [trash] every year by people who don’t have a strong sense of responsibility,” says Sanderson. “We could save a lot of lives.”Sanderson knows the messages would not resonate if he did not have Max by his side.“I think the key to [our success] is that it’s not just another man out there preaching at you,” notes Sanderson. “To have a dog do this is more effective, and Max is amazing!”
Max agrees, and loves to share his heartwarming story.“I am a recycled dog,” barks Max. “If I hadn’t been adopted I would have been killed and thrown in a landfill with little more thought than a discarded bottle or can.”Sanderson is thankful every day that he and Max crossed paths, and sees their fates as intertwined.“I was pretty down, and Max helped a lot,” says Sanderson. “I thought this recycling thing was for Max, but Max actually recycled and repurposed me.”
To learn more, visit MaxAPooch.com. If you would like to find an animal of your own to “recycle,” please visit your local animal shelter.