Max's story could have been a sad one, but it has a happy ending.
The 11-year-old German shepherd is home again, safe and sound, although about to be a bit sorry.
Early on April 23, Joseph Bagrowski, who is nearly blind and partially disabled, let Max out for a morning run in his Rosedale yard. The dog disappeared, a victim of his roving eye. The Bagrowskis say Max wandered off after one of his female companions in the neighborhood and got lost.
Six days later, a frantic search for Max ended in joyful tears when a reward flier landed on an animal rescue worker's desk just as a woman in Hamilton called to say she had found a stray shepherd.
The Bagrowskis' joy was all the greater because they had begun to despair of ever seeing Max again after a search through the Rosedale area, a newspaper ad and hundreds of fliers had produced nothing.
Within an hour, there were tears all around at the reunion in a veterinarian's office, said Nan Gatewood, 76, who found a starving, exhausted Max near the Perring Parkway Shopping Center while she was canvassing door-to-door for her church.
"I don't know if it was divine intervention. Maybe it was," Mrs. Gatewood said yesterday.
Max had wandered more than five miles through strange neighborhoods and across heavily traveled roads before he began following Mrs. Gatewood, a dedicated animal lover.
"He was so tired. I could count his ribs; I don't think he'd had anything to eat for days," she said.
After bringing the dog home and feeding him, Mrs. Gatewood took him to her veterinarian on Greenmount Avenue for a checkup. "His front feet were blistered," she said.
"I left him there because I knew he would be safe. I couldn't turn him loose; he needed a home. I wanted to keep him but I couldn't because of my four cats. He's such a lovely dog," Mrs. Gatewood said.
Mrs. Gatewood said she telephoned the Animal Welfare League of Greater Baltimore and was describing the stray to a volunteer when the woman interrupted to say someone had just dropped the Bagrowskis' reward flyer on her desk.
"It was uncanny," Mrs. Gatewood said. "How did she get that paper just as I was on the telephone?"
Calling the number on the poster, she had a brief chat with Mr. Bagrowski's daughter, Holly, and they agreed to meet at the vet's office.
"When the attendant brought the dog down, Holly had tears rolling down her cheeks, I did, even the doctor cried. We all stood there crying. They knew it was their Maxie," Mrs. Gatewood said.
For Mr. Bagrowski, 64, who retired as an engineer at Westinghouse when glaucoma and diabetes stole most of his sight, Max's return healed a gaping wound in his life.
He spends his days listening to radio and television programs with the German shepherd at his side.
"He's always there; he follows me from room to room," Mr. Bagrowski said yesterday, stroking the dog's glossy fur.
Max is a lucky dog. This is the second time he has been rescued after wandering off.
Mr. Bagrowski said he had never had a dog until a day in 1981 when he found a stray puppy about 6 months old and brought it home. Max became attached to his late wife, Marie, he said, but when she died in 1987 and his sight failed, he and the dog became inseparable companions.
For Max, the end of the story has good news and bad news.
The good news is his reunion with his family; the bad news is that they are about to dull the glint in his roving eye.
"The veterinarian recommended that he be neutered," Holly Bagrowski said.