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.

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