Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jekyll or Hyde?

I want Murdoch to be a great dog. I want him to be one of those dogs you can take anywhere, who is welcome in peoples’ homes; one of those dogs you see on the street walking calmly with its owner, a deep connection between them that makes having a dog look like a really good idea. I want him to be able to live in our home without fear of him eating a cat.

I tell Morgan these things and he looks at me like I have just told him I taught myself how to fly. Sometimes he laughs as though I made a joke. We agree Murdoch is no Bear. I know he never will be, no dog could of course, but I feel there is hope for him to be, if not a great dog, at least a pretty good one.

I didn’t always feel this way, it took me a good year and a half to actually believe it myself, just long enough for him to turn two and start kind of listening. Over the last eight months Murdoch has improved exponentially in the “I’m a dog, not a demon” category, though he still has a long way to go.

Some of my best moments with him are when we are walking together, just the two of us. We have these parcels of time where the world becomes about just him and me. There’s no one around and we saunter casually together down the driveway, emerge from the trees, turn left towards the dead end and see the open road narrow into the trail which disappears amongst a clamour of green, winding its way to the mountains and unknown adventure. At that moment we are connected to each other and every point on the planet and great possibility.

On a clear sunny day, the rich blue of the sky is an endless field beckoning us, the dirt road glows a bleached tan against the deep, fresh greens of trees and long grass lining the road. We move methodically through warm air heated by the bright sun; it laps against my skin and gently ruffles Murdoch’s fur. It’s a lazy kind of day and makes me want to walk slower, savour the moment. Something inside, a tiny voice I ignore, whispers evil truths: “This won’t last.”

Murdoch reminds me of a horse. His long, skinny legs trot a relaxed rhythm over the gravel. His tail hangs casually behind him and his back end, looking wider than it is because of his wild hair, sways from side to side, sending a wave of motion up his spine I can track all the way to his shoulders.

Something intangible has clicked into place between us and I feel a swell of affection for him in the quiet, wholeness of the day. In the next moment, my stomach flips and the spell is broken.

I am hyper-aware when I’m with Murdoch. I need to think two or three steps ahead at all times. I am constantly watching and listening for anything that might attract Murdoch’s attention so maybe I can distract him before he knows what’s happening and avoid catastrophe.

I hear the zhoom of a car then a change in pitch of an engine and the distinctive crunch of tires over gravel that tells me the car is slowing down and most likely turning on to our road. I look over my shoulder and see a flash of sun off the windshield and a plume of dust rising behind it.

I don’t panic. Dogs can sense that kind of thing. I try and stay calm, take a firmer hold of Murdoch’s leash and direct him to the side of the road. I keep walking as though nothing out of the ordinary is going on and hope he follows my lead, but he has seen the car now and eagerly spins around to face it, his body stiff. The leash becomes taut as I dig my toes into the dirt and pull Murdoch along behind me. I try in vain to keep to the same pace and tell Murdoch to leave it and never mind.

Finally, I am forced to stop walking and with two hands gripping the leash I use my entire body to haul Murdoch back to stand beside me. I stuff a handful of treats under his nose to keep his attention, but it’s already gone. His eyes are trained exclusively on the approaching car and I am forced to abandon all attempts to snap him out of this trance-like state. All I can do now is hold on with everything I have as he launches himself towards the passing car. His barks sound frustrated and angry as his front legs come up off the ground like a rearing horse.

Sometimes he manages an extra surge of energy and if I’m not ready for it he yanks me off my feet and drags me behind him a short way as if I am some annoyance to be shaken off and discarded on the side of the road. I feel like a delinquent dog owner. Only once the car is gone does Murdoch return to his senses, his eyes refocus on the world as a whole and he looks at me as if to ask why I am sprawled on the ground.

Some of my worst moments with Murdoch are when we are walking together. Moments like this, when his brain shuts off and he transforms into a crazed lunatic, make me think Morgan is right to laugh when I talk of Murdoch being a great dog some day. It’s hard to be his champion when he gives in so easily to his multiple personalities and becomes like Jekyll and Hyde. Still, I do believe he wants to be good, maybe I have to believe it, but sometimes it’s like he just can’t help himself.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A place for Max

I took Murdoch for a walk the day after Max died. I awoke that morning with my heart torn into a million ragged pieces. The hole in my chest where it used to sit, ached against a flood of sorrow. Max’s spot in the entryway was so empty and huge it dwarfed everything. Bear and Murdoch seemed smaller somehow, I felt tiny. The entire house was engulfed by his absence.

I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. For the last year Max filled a huge portion of my time. His morning routine alone took half an hour. It was usually a good 40 minutes before I could even start thinking about breakfast for myself. That first morning the dogs were taken care of in less than ten minutes. It felt weird.

Everything felt weird, like I was moving through a dream. When Murdoch and I headed down the road that day, even the outside world seemed removed from reality. We plodded along as though encased in a bubble to the walking trail at the end of our road.

It had been a long time since Max walked the trail. Over the past year he had started slowing down. At first he would go to where the trail began to track slightly uphill before stopping and giving me a pointed look that he was ready to turn around. For a while he walked to the end of the road, turning back just where the trail began, but in the past four months, Max spent most of his time wandering between our house and the neighbours’ before tiring and returning home for a nap.

Murdoch and I continued up the trail, heading for the clear, open space where the ticks are less prevalent and he can run free and chase a stick. When we reach the spot. I pause to look for a stick and am about to unhook Murdoch from his leash when I feel a surge to keep going.

I veer to the left of the fork in the trail and continue walking over flattened yellow grasses that have spent the winter dried out and crushed beneath a blanket of snow. Murdoch happily bounces along beside me. In the distance I can hear a chorus of chirping frogs which gets louder as the trail winds its way closer to the swampy area in the midst of this re-growing forest.

The sky overhead is a brilliant silver, light and dark hues give the clouds a rich texture, like ripples in the sand beneath the edge of a lapping lake. It is as though the clouds are alive and teasing the wind that flows playfully over the ground and through the trees.

I pick my way around the edge of a patch of rich, black mud. The tangle of bleached grasses I step on give way a bit as the soft mud shifts underfoot. Murdoch tromps through the middle of the swath of muck where puddles gather in deep grooves left behind by the fat tires of ATVs. I can hear the schloomp of the mud as it releases each of his feet in turn and the squelch as it oozes between his toes again.

The land is open here. The swamp is just thirty feet away behind a field of flattened, dried out white grasses and reeds, it is more a pond in the early spring than a thick swamp. I am compelled to stop. A couple of pine trees grow from the middle of the water at strange angles. One looks like it almost fell over at one time, then managed to stop itself and continue growing straight up towards the sky. Its spine curves precariously out over the tiny patch of ground it has claimed in the middle of the pond, and looks like it’s stuck in a permanent wind storm.

Through the grasses that stand tall near the swamp I catch glimpses of the water, it sparkles silver-black beneath the overcast sky and ripples with the wind. The peeping of the frogs fills the air. I can hear the quack and splash of ducks. Mountains etched out in a semi-circle against the sky in the near distance make this place feel cozy and familiar, like home. A warmish spring breeze swirls lazily around me and sets the still standing reeds swaying. Murdoch sits beside me and we are quiet together, watching and listening.

A feeling of peace wells up inside me as I picture Max here. I can see him in the grasses, running free, I can feel him riding the swirling wind. This is his spot, I am sure of it. It’s a place he would have loved.

The bubble that encased me all morning is dissolving, my heart slowly begins to stitch itself back together, and I breathe deeply of the wind that carries the sounds and smells of life, it fills me right to my toes. I can feel Max here, he’s free and happy. It makes me smile, a genuine smile.

This is the spot I think about now when I miss Max. I see it as it was on that day, vibrant with awakening life after a winter slumber; the cheery symphony of the frogs, the richness of the silver clouds, the friendly hug of the swirling wind, the stark whiteness of the dried grasses, the ripple of the water, the splashing of the ducks and the determination of that tree. Life. It was as though that moment, that place, was created just for Max.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Goodbye my sweet Max

                                                1995? - 2010

Things I’ll miss:

Wrapping my arms around his thick neck in a big bear hug and burying my face in his great mane.

The way he melted hearts with a look and quietly, just by being there, made everyone feel at ease, important, and loved.

Our slow strolls down the road, just Max and me, his lion-like front paws striding out with purpose while his wheels squeaked and crunched over gravel. He always walked tall, ears pointed skyward, nose at the ready, before veering sharply left or right, without notice, to revel in whatever smell reeled him in.

Kissing the top of his wide black nose, then using my knuckles to rub his snout vigourously, while he pushed back against the pressure and closed his eyes in contentment.

The black freckles on top of his right front paw.

His blatant refusal to mope about anything.

The way he curled his lips when Murdoch came within three feet of him. It made him look terribly fearsome, even with hardly any teeth, but I always laughed because I knew Max didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Well, maybe one but it had Murdoch’s name etched on it.

Watching him trundle down the road on his own in his wheelchair just being a dog.

Hearing Morgan’s voice call enthusiastically, “Hello, Maxwell!” when he walked past Max’s bed. Each time I imagined Max staring back wide-eyed, happy to be noticed.

The way his coat changed colour depending on the weather. On clear sunny days his fur shone the creamy caramel of a melting ice cream sundae. When it was overcast the black markings that outlined his features became darker, making his eyes more intense, his face more striking. After the rain when tree trunks were dark grey, almost black, and the leaves brighter green and the road a rich chocolate brown, he glowed a deep warm copper as though lit from within.

His enthusiasm for life.

The way his tall, velvety ears, combined with his long, regal nose and a pair of searching brown eyes gave Max a permanently pensive look.

The weight of his head pushed against my leg in greeting or just because.

His eager little face staring at me first thing in the morning or when I came home from work, instantly energized, with anticipation pouring off him because he knew we were going out soon.

Listening to long, deep breaths fill every corner of his lungs as he slipped into an all-encompassing, contented sleep in the quiet of the evening.

Watching him plow, almost obliviously, through everything in his path to get to something he wanted. It was the greatest feeling in the world when that something was me.

The way he made me forget about a bad day just by looking into his eyes. He reminded me constantly to live for this moment, right now, to be thankful for everything I have, and to hold kindness and compassion in my heart even when it seems the entire world is against me.

Mostly, I’ll just miss his big, beautiful spirit in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone like him again - of any species.

Rest in peace my beautiful boy.