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Max Rambo brings out the best in many

Sometimes a story seems too incredible to be true, yet results in an unbelievably happy ending. At other times; however, a story that at first appears headed for a happy ending butts up against cold, hard reality. Such is the story of an 11-year-old dog named Max Rambo who was recently rescued as a stray along a St. Francois County back road.

Dog groomer Jean Hopper says it was a St. Francois County Sheriff’s Office deputy who came to her home around Thanksgiving with a dog he had found wandering along a county road. He brought the dog to Hopper because he thought she might be willing and able to help the stray.

“The dog’s fur was terribly matted and filthy,” said Hopper. “It appeared to the deputy that the dog was a poodle. It looked like it had lost an eye and smelled terrible.”

After cleaning up the dog, she realized the stray wasn’t a poodle at all – it was a black and brown English Cocker.

“English Cockers have longer legs and a sleeker body than a poodle,” she explained.

Hopper next took the dog to her veterinarian, Dr. James McNeill of Farmington’s Webber Road Veterinarian Clinic.

“He looked the dog over and checked its ears,” said Hooper. “He found the dog had an ear infestation, but also discovered a microchip had been placed in its ear many years ago.”

She said the imbedded microchip led them to a Texas address and, subsequently, the dog’s original owner now living in Virginia.

“I used to tell everybody they needed to make sure to have their pets spayed and neutered,” said Hopper. “After this, I also say they need to make sure they get their pets microchipped.”

Max Rambo’s owner, Allen Rutherford, was surprised when he received the call informing him his dog had been found wandering alone along a county road. Upon hearing the news, Rutherford said he broke into tears.

“I had gotten Max in 2000 when he was just a puppy and also owned another dog. I lived in Texas at the time” explained Rutherford. “I owned him for five years.”

After a prolonged period of unemployment, Rutherford said he eventually found work in Virginia. Unfortunately, because his new job would require frequent travel, he said he was forced to give up both dogs. Rutherford took his pets to the SPCA of Texas, a local, independent non-profit animal welfare organization located in the north central city of McKinney.

“Max was adopted out in a couple of days, but after that I lost touch of what happened to him,” he said. “I have no idea how he might have ended up on a county road in Missouri. Maybe his owner was on vacation in the state and somehow Max got separated from the family. Maybe the family was having financial problems and could no longer afford to care for him.”

Upon learning the dog had been found six years after he’d given it up, the former owner called his sister, Pat Risley of Wichita, Kan. Rutherford asked Risley to travel to Missouri, pick up Max and then deliver the dog to him in Virginia during a pre-planned trip there over the Christmas holiday.

“I worked it out with Jean and her husband Dean to meet them in Rolla to pick Max up,” said Risley. “Within 48-hours after he’d been rescued by the Hoppers, I took him back home with me to Wichita.”

She said the dog looked like it had been through quite an ordeal.

“You could see Max’s ribs and hip bones. He only weighed 32 pounds, said Risley. “But he responded to good food and water, along with lots of love and affection. Then I took him to my veterinarian to have him checked over.”

She says her vet cleaned the dog’s teeth, flushed its ears, took X-rays and pulled blood work that revealed Max was anemic. Although it was at first believed the dog had somehow lost an eye, the vet found the dog’s eye was still intact, it was just covered with some sort of heavy matter.

When the veterinarian looked over the X-ray results; however, it was discovered Max had a large growth growing on his spleen.

“It was the size of half a cantaloupe,” said Risley. “The vet told me he might or might not make it. In the end, it was decided the kindest thing to do would be to have Max put down.”

And, so, a story that once appeared to be on its way to becoming a Christmas miracle, still ends as a miracle, but one with a touch of melancholy. Despite the story’s sad conclusion, those involved in Max’s rescue say they can still see positive aspects to the stray dog’s tale.

Jean Hopper said Max’s story was one in which a string of people did the right thing.

“There was the deputy who brought Max to my door,” said Hopper. “I cleaned up the dog and took him to the vet. The vet treated the dog, found the microchip and contacted the former owner. Mr. Rutherford contacted his sister and asked her to pick up Max and bring the dog to him in Virginia. Finally, Pat drove all the way from Wichita, Kan., to pick the dog up here in Missouri.”

Risely said that, although Max went through a difficult period of time out in the wild, his final month was spent in comfort where he received proper care.

“He was well-fed, watered and loved,” she said.

Rutherford said, “Even though Max never made it back to me, I’m glad to know what happened to him and that so many people took care of him in his last days.”

Kevin R. Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 114 or at

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