Murdoch turns in a circle on Molly’s bed by the fire. I watch his thoughts in his eyes, the concern, the calculation of how to lie down to be as comfortable as possible. Not the right side, he quickly realizes as he tries it and then flips his back end around so his left leg takes the weight and his right leg stretches out and away from his body as he sinks down on to his side.
He looks smaller somehow, his head rounder, his eyes bigger as they glance up at me around shaggy eyebrows with a hint of frustration colouring them a deeper shade of brown.
I am angry to see him there. Not at him, and not at myself. Not really. I was sure to keep the walk short, I told him no and meant it when he leapt on a stick poking out of the snow in that ‘happiest moment of my life’ kind of way he has that is usually hard to ignore and usually finds me throwing the stick for him over the white expanse of our trail. But I had noticed a slight favouring of his back leg the day before and I knew the frantic games in the snow of chasing sticks and balls of ice would have to stop for a while.
So we walked and Murdoch disappeared on his side adventures as he does every day, reappearing on the trail ahead of us or sometimes behind, leaping out of the deeper snow between the trail and the thick of the woods as Molly and I pause and play a bit, waiting. I didn’t wait for him on that walk though because I knew he would catch up and I just wanted to move, follow the trail out into our open field and retrace the slowly vanishing tracks there.
Molly and I emerged from the edge of the forest and circled out around one of our trails in the field. I called Murdoch’s name a few times as I walked, but I didn’t stop. I figured Molly and I would do the loop and return to the woods, pick up Murdoch and walk back home, a shorter walk would be good for him anyway. But, as Molly and I reached the far edge of the trail I glanced back to see Murdoch, a tiny black shape, barreling towards us.
I cringe to watch him run sometimes. He runs like he did that first day I found him on the side of the road, all legs and flailing feet going in six directions at once. It is as though he has not quite mastered the technique ‘but look how fast I can go!’ If he is chasing a stick he runs full on and slams to a stop as though he has hit a wall and I expect his legs to give out underneath him. I think of tendons stretching and popping and I tell him to be careful. But he will do what he wants, that wild charge with reckless abandon.
I stand with Molly on the trail and watch him come at speed, fur flying, ears flapping, lips peeled back from his white teeth, bucking his way across the expanse. He punches through the snow, trips, face-plants, keeps running. I can feel it in my own body, the tightening of muscles the stretching of ligaments, the weak-kneed aftermath of a surge of adrenaline. I want to tell him to slow down and yet there is a part of me that loves his enthusiasm, that is jealous of it even, and I love that he is running at top speed to catch up to us, not leaving us in the dust in pursuit of something better.
I kneel down to greet him as he sails past and then turns and comes back for a hug. “Good boy,” I say, wrapping my arms around his chest and kissing him on the head. I run my hand along his body, watch how he stands, he seems fine, and we carry on. For the rest of the walk he stays with us and I know he is scanning our surroundings for a stick but I keep moving. “We are just walking today,” I say.
It is not until later, after we have returned home and the dogs have napped for a bit that I see Murdoch’s leg is quite sore. He does not come up the stairs to the kitchen when I bring the cheese out of the fridge, but stares at me from a distance sitting in the entryway and I can tell when I ask what’s wrong that he is unhappy that maybe he is doing that thing where you try to convince yourself you’re not hurt at all by just not moving.
That evening he stands with his hips askew, the weight thrown over to the left side, just grazing the floor with the toes of his right foot, unable to even pretend that he’s fine and what’s all this nonsense about bed rest and sitting out walks for a few days.
In the morning he seems better, though he is not healed. He limps a bit, is not insistent about going out though he gives me long questioning looks when I sit with him in the entryway and try to check out his leg. Well, maybe a short walk, part of me says. What about on leash? But I know that’s not right. If I take him out something will happen, we will make it worse. We’ve been here before with sore legs and pulled tendons and injured cruciates.
And then there’s Molly who is fine and insistent in her own way, plodding up the stairs to find me, piercing me with her eyes, making her throaty mumbly noises to get my attention. She doesn’t understand why we haven’t been out for a walk, doesn’t understand how guilty I feel about leaving Murdoch behind.