After moving in together last year, Jennifer Gray and Stephanie Michael got the puppy itch.
“We knew we wanted to adopt and started looking,” Gray said. “We looked for about a month and found Max at a local shelter.”
Max is a 2-and-a-half-year-old lab mix; Michael grew up with a black lab, and said the breed’s temperament and demeanor pushed the couple toward looking for adoptable labs.
As soon as they saw a photo of Max on the website for Animal Sanctuary Society in Mount Laurel, N.J., the couple knew they wanted him to join their family.
“We just fell in love with his picture right away,” Michael said.
Meeting him in person solidified that hunch.
“It was overwhelming but at the same time we looked at each other after a half-hour with him and just said, Is this guy ours?” Michael, 36, recalled about their September 2016 meeting with Max. The rescue organization didn’t have much information on Max’s history, other than he was originally from South Carolina.
“He was a wild dog and wasn’t very trained,” Gray, 34, noted. “We knew we’d have to put a lot of work into him but when he came up to me and pressed his little body into me, I just knew.”
Once they brought Max to their home in Haddon Township, N.J., all three of them faced a bit of an adjustment period.
“We found out that first night he didn’t know how to climb stairs and we have steep stairs so that was fun,” laughed Gray. “He didn’t know how to walk on a leash and he’s a really strong guy. So the daily routine was a bit of a struggle at first.”
The pair enlisted a dog trainer who works with police canines and trains house pets on the side.
“He really helped us in so many ways,” Michael said. “He taught us a lot and gave us so many useful tools in helping us all to adapt to each other. We had to get used to Max and he had to get used to us.”
Now, more than a year into their venture, the couple, who recently got engaged, has the pup all figured out.
“He’s very food-motivated,” laughed Michael.
Max responds very well to treats, and his energy is best harnessed through several walks a day, the couple said. He loves to play but will also snuggle up with Gray and Michael on the sofa.
“He’s just so fun and really loves people; he likes people more than other dogs,” Michael said, noting how rewarding it has been to see how much the dog has bonded with them and come into his own in the last year.
“It’s amazing having someone so happy to see you all the time,” she said. “Whatever mood we’re in, he can feel that. If we’re upset, he’ll come up and snuggle and if we’re happy and excited, he knows it’s playtime. It’s just a proud moment to look back on the last year and see how far he’s grown from being this quiet, withdrawn dog to the easy, outgoing, super-friendly dog he is now.”