Monday, June 28, 2010

A dog only a sucker could love

Water sloshes from side to side in the large round metal dish. I hold it with both hands and carry it carefully from the kitchen sink to the stairs down to the entryway. With my knee I bump open the baby gate then descend to Murdoch’s domain where he stands panting loudly, pale pink tongue hanging out the side of his mouth over teeth that seem to define a grin. Through the shaggy black fur on his face, the smile touches his eyes and he looks at me with a gentleness that can only be the result of having been recently run ragged chasing a stick.

I bend down and set the bowl on the floor. It makes a dull boing as the water ripples out from the centre and muffles the sound of metal on linoleum.

“There you go sweetpea,” the words skip easily and cheerily from my mouth and I freeze in the middle of straightening up. I glance sideways at Murdoch with what I’m sure is a look of confusion, if not alarm. Wait a second.


Where the hell did that come from?

Murdoch continues to look at me with a dopey, relaxed expression on his face before casually wandering towards the dish and noisily lapping up water into his giant mouth. I watch him for a minute, this wild-haired, lanky-legged, overgrown creature who has tested my sanity at every turn and I wonder, when did this happen? When did he go from dork face to sweetpea?

Either I had suffered a forgotten blow to the head, Murdoch had finally managed to manipulate my mind, or my true feelings chipped away my stony, no-nonsense facade. Could it be that I actually love this dog?

Somewhere between the wolfish grins, the growling threats and the whiplash, Murdoch has weaseled his way into my heart. Sure, I’m a sucker for a furry face, but those cute, pouty lips, wide eyes and floppy ears only go so far - I know, we’ve reached the limit countless times. What I think is happening here is Murds is slowly morphing into an actual dog. There are even times when I believe he could be a real companion someday - when? I’m not sure, but the potential is there.

The real change in him started not too long ago when he finally figured out how to play fetch and developed a not unhealthy obsession for chasing sticks. I have exploited that obsession at every turn and now just uttering the word ‘stick’ gets his full attention, unless his brain has already shut off because he’s found something else to chase, like a car.

At the end of our road, before the trail into the mountains begins, there is a large patch of mowed groundcover hemmed in on one side by a line of towering pine trees and on the other by a wide-open meadow of waist deep grass. The strip of cropped weeds has become the main destination for Murdoch and me when we go for walks. It is the perfect place for him to run full-out after a stick without having to dash through the over-grown weeds and forest undergrowth of tick country.

This is where Murdoch turns his full attention on me. We’ve done this enough times he knows what’s coming when we reach the end of the road and he sits without being asked. His brown eyes brim with anticipation as he barely keeps the excited shivers from running through his entire body.

I tell him to wait and unhook his leash. He sits up taller, his eyes glued to mine. The world seems breathless for a moment as I hold the pause as long as I can.

“Okay!” I say and Murdoch leaps to his feet. “Find me a stick.”

Murd races to the spot where we’ve stockpiled sticks from numerous visits to this place and he stands tall, tail waving like a flag, eyes on me, waiting.

I pick one out for him and he bounces backwards, keeping an eye on me as we walk to the mowed strip. I launch the stick and Murdoch is flying after it. His feet thunder across the ground and his hair streams behind him. He’s a blur before he stops abruptly and pounces on his prey or snatches it from the air, then turns and speeds back to me with the stick protruding from either side of his goofy grin. I admire his athleticism and laugh at his pure determination to get the stick, even when he trips and falls and tumbles across the ground.

He brings the stick back and happily hands it over so I can throw it again. We could play this game all day I think.

For these brief moments I can imagine Murdoch is a perfect dog and ours is a perfect relationship in which I can call him sweetie and cutie more often than jerk.

Murdoch stops drinking from his dish and looks up at me, water streams from his beard onto the floor and bubbles along his upper lip giving him the equivalent of a milk mustache. I shake my head and roll my eyes but can’t help smiling.

“You’re still a dork,” I tell him as I sit down on the stairs to pet him and he shoves his sopping wet muzzle into my lap.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I'm an admirer of your writing in general and this article is certainly no exception - a whimsical yet realistic treatment of this shaggy animal who looms so large in your world. It all flows so naturally from your opening and startling remark: "Sweetpea". This sudden and endearing term leads you to a rhetorical question which, in turn, simply and logically pushes out the rest of the narrative: "Where the hell did that come from?". It seems so spontaneous, so unrehearsed as it should, but this entry is actually tightly structured and well thought out as it moves from the water dish through the stick-chasing section and finally, with the kind of symmetry I love, circles back to the water dish and that final smiling "Dork" comment. Smile - the controlled and smooth movement through these various sections occurs without a stumble. With some literary eloquence, the narrative answers the initial question by furnishing specific detail in support of the general vision. Overall, pretty inventive, Heather. The mood, the writing style, the thought are all nicely balanced - manner and matter reinforce each other, give each other strength. I really enjoyed this article: liked all the parts and how they fit together.
    And the photograph, as usual, is well-chosen: a glaring wolf-dog who defines teeth and squeezing jaws. I'm glad I live in a neighborhood densely populated with cuddly lap dogs.