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The first time I saw him more than six years ago, it was mostly his pointy ears visible just above the grass, where he was resting the best he could.

The last time I saw him a few weeks ago, he was curled up on a cushion by a large window, relishing the comfort he'd finally attained.

Max the dog's somewhat mysterious journey eventually took him to a place he deserved. Now, though, the journey's over.

Dear friend and pet angel Sandy Amendt suggested in 2012 that I tell Max's story, one of how a small stray seemed perfectly content to live mostly outside a Charleston restaurant, relying on people to care for him but too leery to let anyone get too close.

Joe Evans, owner of Smoky's House BBQ, where Max lived most of the time, told me he didn't know where Max came from but he'd been there since the restaurant opened a couple of years earlier.

I found that the folks at Smoky's got help from those at the neighboring BP gas station and a small crew of others to make sure Max had food and a dog house.

As every try to catch the little guy didn't work, the conclusion of those looking after Max was that he was fine, or at least as fine as he could be.

So, a few years went by and the only time I gave Max much thought was when I drove past Smoky's. I'd look over and often see him sunning himself outside the restaurant and think that he was still OK, as much as he could be, anyway.

Things started to change a bit about four years after I first met Max. He disappeared from Smoky's for about a week, longer than he'd ever been gone before. He did return, but I'll admit I had my doubts about it.

But about three months later, it was pretty clear that Max wasn't OK anymore. He wasn't eating and wasn't as active as he had been. Still, if there's such a thing as a miracle in disguise, that might have been one.

My friend Sandy and her husband, Jerry, along with fellow pet angels Betsy Miller and Courtney Garza were looking out for Max then, as were others I've not had the pleasure of meeting.

In Max's weakened condition, they were finally able to do something that no one could do for years, get him in a pet carrier and take him to a veterinarian for care.

They found that Max was in kidney failure. The outlook wasn't good at first, then it changed to the thinking he'd have "at least a few good months," as Betsy put it.

But a year later, I found myself at the office of veterinarian Cathy Hiser, where Max and his rescuers had an anniversary celebration of his rescue. "He's lived longer than he should have," was the blunt assessment from the vet.

At that stage of Max's journey, he was at Sandy's and Jerry's house, where he had a whole herd of cats and another dog to help him on his way from stray to house pet.

The leeriness was slow to wear off, and during most visits Max still wouldn't get anywhere near me, despite my reminding him that "I made you famous."

Still, he was in good spirits most of the time, toenails clicking on the floor as he followed Sandy around the house. "Max, are you cute?" she'd ask him and, in turn, he'd tilt back his head to say "Why, yes I am."

I did eventually get to pet that furry brown head a couple of times. Mostly, though, he'd end up on his cushion by the big bay window in the living room.

I like to think about Max resting there like a contented house pet, more than when he was lying on the grass during his time as a stray. That's something I'm grateful for, especially the last few weeks.

Unfortunately, while Max improved for a while, his kidney problems never fully went away, and the time came when it all caught up with him again. This time, I thought he might pull out of it, but I was wrong, again.

It was a simple, heartbreaking message I got from Sandy on Monday.

"Lost Max today."

So, there'll be no more toenail clicking on the floor or cushion curling by the window. Some solace comes from those things and how they replaced relying on scraps and food handouts, though.

And, when I drive by Smoky's, I'm sure I'll still remember the sight of a little dog, sunning himself on the grass, hoping he was happy then and feeling sure that he was happy later, until the end.

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Contact Dave Fopay at (217) 238-6858. Follow him on Twitter: @FopayDave

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Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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