Max ‘shepherds’ through life
Stillwater therapist’s dog earns award for service with deadly condition
Captain Maxwell III is a German Shepherd who fits the definition of a wonder dog.
Max and his owner, Dr. Janice Nadeau, were honored recently with the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association’s “Professional Service Dog” award.
The 10-year-old Max is an emotional support dog with Nadeau, a psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy and grief counseling. The pair have first-hand experience when it comes to therapy because of family losses Nadeau has dealt with, and a condition that Max suffers with called megaesophagus. The condition shortens Max’s lifespan, and the dog has experienced brushes with death.
“The award was much more than I ever expected,” Nadeau said. “He’s a wonder dog and it’s a miracle that he’s alive. We’re hoping to get more information out there about therapy dogs and get the word out there about megaesophagus because we could save some dogs who still go undiagnosed.”
Max’s veterinarian, Dr. Ginger Garlie of Rivertown Animal Hospital, nominated Max and Nadeau for the award.
“There’s a lot of people who have a strong bond with their animals, but the bond between Janice and Max is an extended bond, partly because of the work he does but also his support of her through difficult times of her life,” Garlie said. “He does a lot of contributing to Janice’s practice and a lot of people have responded really well.”
Garlie said megaesophagus is a condition in which the esophegeal swallowing muscles of certain dog breeds don’t function properly. Max’s condition is due to an autoimmune disease common to German Shepherds. Max has trouble swallowing and requires a special diet and a special way of eating. Although Garlie said that people often euthanize their pets after this diagnosis, Nadeau opted against that for Max. She discovered a way to make it work for them both. Despite the challenges of keeping Max hydrated and ensuring he gets food, Nadeau has taken her dog’s health issue in stride.
“I would say we’re pretty tight. He has to be fed every four hours except at night. He has a special diet of venison and can’t keep down water, and he has to stand with his paws on the back of a chair to be fed,” Nadeau said. “I used to be an intensive care nurse so I’m kind of used to that, but like the profession, the more involved with him that I get the closer we become. The thought of losing him gives me the shivers.”
Nadeau said Max’s appearance and talking about dealing with his condition with her clients leads to breakthroughs that she doesn’t believe would be possible otherwise.
“I specialize in grief counseling. I help them make sense of death. And here, you have a very sick dog that’s looking close to death, and it’s kind of a metaphorical way to get at my patient’s own grief and let them go deeper,” Nadeau said. “When they see him they sometimes tell me about their own dog or other animal they had once. That gets us to deep conversations with each other about their feelings. He’s truly a medium in that way.”
According to Nadeau, Max is a very intuitive dog and knows before she does when clients might need comforting. Nadeau said she gets to deeper levels of processing clients feelings, they sometimes are unable to find words. That’s when Max cuddles up to them and just lets them be.
Max does the same for Nadeau. He dries her tears with kisses and when that doesn’t work, he surrounds her with toys. She said that’s when she knows he’s telling her, ‘Janice, stop your crying and let’s just play’ which gets her out of her funk.
“Max is a tremendous comfort to me as well. I lost my family in 2010 during January and December and in the middle of that, Max also got sick. So as far as I’m concerned, that year can just disappear,” Nadeau said. “Max was with us through the whole process. This is who I come home to now, but then again, I guess we come home together, I’m still not sure who’s leading when.”
Garlie couldn’t be happier for the pair.
“I’m just thrilled for Janice and I was very proud of her,” she said. “I’m so glad that I nominated her and she’s just tickled pink about it. All of the hard work she has put into taking care of Max has made it all worthwhile and other people recognize what a cool relationship they have.”