After walking for two weeks, ‘Journey Max’ and his six dogs get a boat ride home

TAGUM CITY (MindaNews/24 March) – A septuagenarian who had planned to walk from General Santos City to Ormoc in Leyte with his six dogs has obtained a free ride home with help from a dog owners association and the city government here.

Max de Lima, 72, had started the long walk back to the place he left around 50 years ago, but his plight caught the attention of netizens. (The nearest point from Mindanao to Leyte is the Lipata port in Surigao City.)

Mercy Bontilao, vice president of the Tagum Dog Owners Association, said in an interview Thursday at Tagum’s Rotary Park that they reached out to Max, through friends and strangers at the Facebook page of Davao City’s Public Safety and Security Command Center Support Group.

Bontilao said they started hearing about the man she endearingly calls “Tatay Max,” from people who saw him in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur and Toril, in Davao City.

Max met up with his family at Ormoc over the weekend with the help of Tagum City’s local government unit.

“The LGU here lent us a van that we could use to transport Tatay Max and his dogs to the port,” Bontilao said.

Edwin Lasquite, officer in charge at the Tagum City Information Office, said in an email Wednesday night that Max made a courtesy call at Mayor Allan Rellon’s office Tuesday.

Netizens in Davao and nearby areas heard about Tatay Max during the Araw ng Dabaw festivities last Monday. He was seen at Toril main highway as well as at the main parade route downtown.

Max carried with him all of his only possessions — pots, pails, pans, and tarps for the rain.

“The dogs and I were lucky that it hasn’t rained since we started walking,” Max said.

The old man and his dogs had been walking since March 9, passing through main highways and getting occasional rest stops.

There was no rain but Max’s journey was not without tragedy. While walking along the rough roads of Baluyan, four of Max’s 10 dogs fell to their deaths off a cliff. “It was dark, I could not save them.”

He said he tried looking for Kaloy, Agaton, Barok and Ondoy in the morning, but they were nowhere to be found, possibly swept by the rapids of the river below.

What endears strangers to an old man like Max is his utter lack of any need for pity. Walking along the road from General Santos, Max’s pushcart only bore the words “Journey Max,” his full name, and his prayer of a route painted in huge letters.

Asked what he did for a living, it was clear that what he has done since 2011 was not for himself but for the dogs he considers family. Max rummaged through trash bins and sells recyclable items to buy two kilograms of rice or corn grain.

Such is his routine: look for cans or pieces of metal, sell these at a junk shop, buy rice, and cooks it for the 10 dogs. “I usually just leave just a handful for myself,” Max said, gesturing with his fingers. “Everything is OK with salt.”

On better days, Max says the dogs would feast on leftover barbecue bones from the patrons near the Bulaong Terminal in General Santos, where he also stayed.

Even with the way the old man walked with his dogs, one could easily see the loyalty he has earned. At night, his dogs would surround him and in his absence let out cries of longing.

As MindaNews did the interview, each dog’s personality became readily apparent. Bolantoy, for example, acts as the alpha male. Max treats the two-year old male as his right hand. Marimar acts as second in command, even as she is the mother of all of Max’s dogs. Pablo, a white pup, is the youngest at four months old. Yolanda, Bulantok, and Dionesia all take turns playing around and act as scouts.

Max, obviously, is their pack leader, with the dogs readily at his beck and call.

Bontilao said the dogs were so obedient that they sat still at Max’s bark when they needed to meet Mayor Rellon at City Hall. “He just told them ‘puyo!’, and they did just that, stay still.”

Perhaps to the surprise of others, each of Tatay Max’s dogs are not only obedient, they are also vaccinated, with Tatay Max having scheduled each dog at the city veterinarian.

Max shifted from nice and gentle to those interviewing him one moment, to being firm and aggressive the next, which explains the way he kept the dogs in check.

Tatay Max said he decided to come home to Ormoc because he did not want to die in a place where he had no relatives.

However, Max’s fate in Ormoc may not be as certain. He said his relatives there might no longer know him, as he left the place around 50 years ago.

Since then, he has traveled from Manila to Palawan, Ozamiz City to Cagayan de Oro City, making a living by selling toys and ball pens wherever he was.

It was in 2008 when he moved to General Santos, where he would stay up until March this year.

He has had at least four generations of dogs since 2011, but this was the first time he became famous. In General Santos, Tatay Max is popular with locals who are amused with the way the dogs follow him around.

He has since capitalized on this, with each dog having a colorful bandana wrapped around their necks. “I did this for fun,” he said. “I noticed that people liked my dogs.”

While waiting for the trip to Ormoc, Tatay Max confided he didn’t know what awaits him there. He said his relatives there might not know him given his long absence.

“Another family has already bought our land there,” he said. “I hope I can convince them to let me stay where my family used to live.” (MindaNews)