Outside the sun shone thinly through a gauze of cloud on to the cold snow and the bare trees. Murdoch stared meaningfully at me, a most vocal dog but not a peep when he has to pee.
“You need to go outside?” I asked, and he pivoted on one leg, looked back eagerly over his shoulder, and shot down the stairs.
“Well,” I said to him as we stood side-by-side at the front door and I reached for his collar. “You have some pretty big paws to fill.” Then I hugged him roughly and opened the door, letting in a blast of cold as I clipped him on to his line.
Of course, I don’t actually expect Murdoch to live up to who Bear was. He is far too much his own dog, but I explained to him later that his attitude was going to have to improve.
“No more Grumposaurus Murds,” I said as I knelt in front of him and he stared back at me, brown eyes through sprays of black eyebrows. He was humouring me, I knew, looking interested but already thinking about his next conquest, those white rabbits that hop around everywhere leaving enticing tracks in the snow, or that treelimb he almost dislodged yesterday, or maybe, finally a deer, before it flicks its tail and disappears on spindly legs amidst the spindly trees.
“You are the dog now,” I continued. “You have responsibilities.”
I shifted to sit by his side and slung my arm over his shoulder. “You have to be much more cuddly,” I explained, and he grumbled quietly in his throat. So I hugged him harder, wrapped both arms around him and then planted a kiss on his cheek. His grumbles grew to growls.
“No,” I said sharply, and hugged him once more before letting go and then we sat and stared at each other.
It has been almost five years since Murdoch came to live with us and this has been going on for at least the last four. The first time I ever managed to hug Murdoch was probably about eight months after I found him and I only managed it then because he was so exhausted after a full day of trekking through knee-deep snow that he couldn’t move once he’d finally collapsed in front of the fire.
Murdoch is not a cuddly dog, and from the beginning I’d resigned myself to the fact that he was not going to be huggable like Bear, but then I had Bear so it didn’t really matter. But now, I tried to explain to him, things are different.
And I’ve been working on him these last four years, spending more time on the floor with him, petting him lots, touching his feet when he'd rather I didn't, resting my head against his shoulder, hugging him more and more, pushing him a little farther each time. He’s not always terribly impressed, but sometimes I manage to slip in and out before the grumbling starts.
“No more Sir Grumpsalot,” I said as we sat there and scowled at each other. I tried to be serious, I wanted him to understand the gravity of the situation but as he eyed me through those ridiculous eyebrows, I couldn’t help myself. I reached out and pinched his cheek, leaned in and kissed him quickly between the eyes and before he could react, before he could so much as twitch his lip, I turned and ran up the stairs to the kitchen. And I left him sitting there, slightly bewildered, a little black dog and his grumpiness.