Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Excuse me, could we just play now?

Murdoch and I follow the trail through our woods, stopping every few steps so he can drop a stick at my feet and I can throw it for him off into the trees, bare of leaves and underbrush so it is open and easily navigable. Our feet crunch over dried brown leaves, frozen now and covered with a dusting of snow, the kind that collects on flat surfaces and looks like a carpet of tiny Styrofoam balls.

It is later in the afternoon, the sun hangs low in the sky, a flat white disc just visible behind a gray-white layer of cloud. In spots the cloud thins to let through a blush of blue.

I feel like I am just squeezing Murdoch in these days. Our walks are shorter than usual and I resort quickly to the throwing of a stick (which he, thankfully, loves) in hopes that the clipped bursts of more intense exercise will make up for the abbreviated walks.

We are, of course, completely focused on Bear, as we have been since the spring, wanting to enjoy every second we have left, make sure she’s happy and comfortable. We don’t like to leave her alone for too long because she still has to pee all the time and her medication makes her sleepy and somewhat unsteady on her feet.

So Murdoch waits, resorting to long meaningful stares, deep soulful sighs, and then ramming his head under elbows, flopping his chin heavily into laps, surreptitiously licking fingers, hands, sleeves, anything to get attention.

But it has kind of always been that way with him. Sometimes I think Murdoch showed up in our lives at completely the wrong time. When I found him on the side of the road, a rambunctious puppy of indeterminate age, it was just a month before we were moving to our new house taking with us Bear, our two cats and an elderly Max whose relaxing retirement was soon to be completely shattered.

We hadn’t planned on keeping the puppy, he was clearly wild, not trained and determined to use his massive jaw and gleaming teeth to inflict mass destruction on the world around him. No one was safe. Max was bullied, Bear was angry, Chestnut became so stressed out it set him off down the long road of recurring urinary tract infections. Cleo was the only one who seemed to take it all in stride. But then she doesn’t really seem to know what’s going on at the best of times.

I sometimes think if things had been different, if we hadn’t been in the process of moving when I found him, if we hadn’t waffled so much in that first month about whether or not we would keep him, if Max hadn’t needed so much care during Murdoch’s first couple of years with us, if Bear hadn’t injured first one cruciate and then the other, if there had just been more time in the beginning then maybe there would have been a lot more patience. Perhaps Murdoch would have had the chance to start out on the right foot; obedience class, followed by advanced obedience class, followed by exclusive attention at home, resulting in a well-adjusted non-grumpy dog.

But, alas, things weren’t different. Murdoch kind of got a raw deal from the beginning, not that he didn’t have a part to play in that, with his bratty attitude and his disregard for all life. He was not terribly easy on the limited patience we did have.

Murdoch is going to be five soon (we think) and although he’s settled down a lot with the simple passage of time, there is still so much of the delinquent in him, not the least of which is his whole car chasing thing. When Bear was his age she had just spent the year traveling with us by car and canoe halfway across Canada and back again, living in a tent, meeting all sorts of people who gushed over her at every turn, our beautiful, well-behaved girl. The thought of taking Murdoch anywhere there are people, or strange dogs, or vehicles of any kind, makes my stomach flip over. But it’s not fair to compare them I guess. They are completely different dogs, with completely different life stories.

So when Murdoch sidles into a room and quietly slinks up to that stray sock lying on the floor or the exposed mitten in the basket at the top of the stairs or the toque left on a chair and carefully takes it between his teeth and then slides it, with one quick motion, into his mouth before stealing away to sit with it by the fire, I know he is just looking for attention and I think, perhaps it is time to go and play in the woods.

Murdoch and I walk along the trail in the forest, our feet crunching over the snow-dusted, frozen leaves, and I throw a stick for him around bare trees, watching him fly over the ground. The stick becomes progressively smaller as it gets ground down by sharp teeth and bounced off of tree trunks until Murdoch is spitting splinters at my feet. We find a bigger stick to start the game anew and I ask him if he’s ready as I hold the stick above my head and watch his eyes grow wider, his body stiffen, his energy focus. I whip the stick as hard as I can off into the woods and he bounds after it, his feet kicking up little sprays of snow.

He lives for this, I think. And, for a short time at least, so will I.


  1. A strange and wild canine is this Murdoch of yours, but I miss him. I've played big-stick, throwing games with Murdoch and it's not for those with a weak tolerance for unbounded and unpredictable exuberance. I once tossed a small stick into the trees, and Murdoch leaped back with a large log easily spiked between his unending teeth. "Come on, Ian, Don't be such a wimp!", he yelled at me. I do miss him, strangely.

  2. I can relate, as always, to your Murdoch feelings... loving your sweet crazy dog, and at the same time remembering a different sort of dog life and relationship, one where you could actually meet people and dogs and travel all over, hike, canoe, etc. I remember. In fact, recently I was on a trip and passed an exit that triggered a memory of stopping at a gas station/convenience store there by the highway years ago, opening the door and letting Jessie hop out to take care of business. Then she'd followed me back to the car, we got back in, and off we went. Doing such a thing now - with any of the three dogs I have now, much less crazy-sweet Lady - would result in the screeching of brakes on the highway, cars sliding sideways into one another as they tried to avoid the dogs running onto the highway, or bystanders calling Animal Control because a dog was charging and barking at them and their little poodle etc. LOL! It's so not anything I would ever consider doing now. Yet with Jessie, it never occurred to me NOT to stop and just let her out to go, right alongside the highway. Such a different reality!

  3. Oh, and I got so tickled at your description of Katie in the comment you left on the Indestructible Nylabone post. You were so exactly right on the money in how you summed her up - it amazed me, it was like you'd spent time here with her!! :)