Monday, June 21, 2010

My darling demon

Murdoch is a master at messing up a good thing. He doesn’t really stay in my good books very long. Just when I think he’s starting to be a regular dog, he has to go and act like a lunatic. I think overall he is getting better, but the thing is, he usually takes one step forward and about 20 steps back.

One day I decided to take Murdoch down the road to a farm where we buy eggs and cheese. It’s about a five minute drive and I figured I could manage five minutes alone with him in the car. Usually we only take him in a vehicle when there’s two of us so one can hold his leash and direct his attention while the other one drives. Morgan took Murdoch by himself one day and almost went off the road as Murdoch lunged across him to bark and intimidate a truck that drove by in the opposite direction.

So, the day I headed out on my own I was armed with treats and drove with the end of Murdoch’s leash in my lap so I could grab it if another car appeared.

We trundled along the undulating gravel road which lay ahead like a ribbon bunched carelessly on the ground. Murdoch sat calmly in the back seat, watching the world flash by outside the window. His tongue lolled lazily out one side of his mouth but his eyes flashed out from his black shaggy face, focused and alert, taking in everything.

When it was still quite a distance ahead I saw the top of a car emerge from behind a hump on the hilly road, bob up and then disappear again between the swells. It was definitely heading in our direction. I glanced in my rearview mirror, confirming Murdoch hadn’t noticed it yet.

“Be a nice boy Murdoch,” I said firmly. “Nice boy.” Then I handed him some treats.

My eyes moved quickly between the approaching car and Murdoch’s image in the mirror. I held some more treats under Murdoch’s nose and continued talking to him. He was fairly intent on what I had in my hand, but as the space between the cars closed quickly, Murdoch’s eyes finally flicked up and focused on the advancing metal beast leaving dust clouds in its wake.

“Hey,” I said sharply as his body stiffened. “Never mind.” Murdoch was clearly torn between the treats in front of him and the fast moving object outside. For a split second I could see the indecision in his eyes, then it cleared as he made his choice. His shaggy muzzle pressed into my hand and he popped the treats into his mouth as the car flashed by the window. He then spun around on the seat to watch the car recede into the distance. It worked. Somehow I managed to keep his attention away from the other car long enough for him to retain his senses.

“Good boy!” I said with great enthusiasm and handed him some more treats.

When we reached the farm, the parking lot was empty and Murdoch was relaxed. I stepped easily from the car, elated at how well Murdoch was behaving himself, told him to wait and entered the small store.

Two minutes later I walked out the door to find Murdoch barking madly and just about throwing himself against the window in the back seat. I was momentarily stunned but when I looked over my shoulder I saw a Jack Russell Terrier-like dog trotting towards me. Great. I turned my back on this new dog and walked towards the car, hoping to out-distance him or that he might change his course, but he followed me and stopped at my feet.

I stood outside the drivers’ side door trying to decide what to do. The small dog was so close to the car now, Murdoch couldn’t see him. I thought I could use that to my advantage. I put my face up to the window, which was open a few inches, and told Murdoch to sit and wait, which he did, but his face reflected the manic energy he was trying to contain.

I opened the door a crack and told him to wait again, then opened it a little wider and slipped myself quickly into the drivers seat, keeping my hand on the door so I could pull it closed behind me in what I hoped would be one fluid motion. I had barely sat down and was swinging the door closed when out of the corner of my eye I saw a black blur as Murdoch’s tail disappeared under the door, followed quickly by a flash of blue as the still-attached leash snaked after him. Before I even knew what was happening, my hand had snagged the end of the leash just as it was about to disappear as well.

All I could hear on the other side of the door as I scrambled back to my feet was guttural snarls and scrabbling claws. “Oh my god, he’s going to eat that dog.” The thought reeled wildly through my mind. I leapt from the car and wrenched on Murdoch’s leash with both hands. I succeeded in pulling him back a pace, but his hackles rose and as he pulled forward again his front legs came up like a rearing horse. His tiny adversary stood his ground and barked angrily back at Murdoch, which just got Murdoch riled up even more.

The little dog’s owner appeared then and casually called him away. I was so jealous as I continued to wrangle my wild beast. As soon as the little dog had trotted around the car and out of sight I was able to get Murdoch’s attention again. Slowly he returned to himself and sat when I told him to, through clenched teeth.

I stood there for a minute taking deep breaths and trying to disperse the adrenaline that still coursed through every cell in my body. I felt half crazy and ready to snap. Beside me Murdoch sat calmly, the intensity of a moment before brushed aside and a familiar expression of utter innocence sweeping across his face.

"What?" He seemed to say, "I didn't do anything." I glared sideways at him and tried for the millionth time to think of a good reason why this dog is in my life.


  1. If I am being completely honest...

    I am a lot like Murdoch, Heather is totally surrounded

    I hear ya Murds... Best intentions and all that :)

  2. This interesting narrative about that ruffian Murdoch moves easily and deeply into his character. Living with Murdoch [and his half-brother Morgan? Ha!], even with all your patience and love, seems like a Herculean task. It took all your knowledge and instinct just to prevent him from leaping at and devouring a moving car. When that small terrier war is narrowly curtailed, Murdoch sits calmly and innocently on his hunches while you are left "half crazy and ready to snap". Whew! You're a tough person, Heather. I suspect that you're quickly learning to dance in the rain, knowing that you can't control the storms.
    On another point, I liked the pic of Murdoch you used here. Creative choice! You reduce his robust nature somewhat by using a high angle thereby shrinking his immense physical and emotional presence. A state wished for but not achieved - a polite and smiling dog looking up at the viewer. It all nicely points to the vivid contrasts in his complex character. He seems unaware of the stick glued to his snout as he quietly but pointedly sizes up the viewer- a reminder of his take-no-prisoners personality? Most of us would just use a low angle to underscore his size. You went the other way - far more effective and intriguing. Again, your camera and pen bouncing off each other. Good job!