Murdoch emerges from his kennel extra rumpled these days, his eyebrows low and haphazard, his beard askew, the fur at his neck swirled in not quite the right direction. He has had a rough few months.
“Sorry Murds,” I say for what feels like the millionth time as he brightens slightly when I don my boots. “It is a quick out and back in again.” He is getting better about that, but his instinct to pounce on a stick, spin around on the spot, run like the wind through the trees and egg Molly into a one-sided game of chase, still simmers just below the surface and I so desperately want to say, “Bring me a stick Murdoch! Go, go, go! Catch this ball! Run faster! Faster!”
But he injured his leg in February, a slip on the ice in pursuit of a stick. He turned one way and his knee went the other. “Oh no!” I sympathized as he glanced my way and then walked back to where I stood on the bright, blankness of the snow-covered field. He wasn’t limping then, but he walked instead of running, he knew he had injured himself, and then he stood beside me, pressed his head against my leg as I lavished him with praise. “You’re a good boy Murds,” hands petting his face, running the length of his body to his back right leg. “I guess we’re going home now,” I said and then, “Whoa! No Murds, just walking,” when he tried to leap sideways as though my touch had somehow miraculously made it all better. I wish.
A week later, after not enough rest, when the weather warmed and the snow became a thinning crust of white atop a soft plunge of two feet to the forest floor below, Murdoch left the sturdy, packed trail and I winced and cursed as I watched him flail across the snow, punching through every other step, legs working too hard to buck and pull his body along. He returned to the house limping and later, when he wouldn’t put weight on that leg, I felt sick to my stomach as I imagined his carefree days of running and playing and just being Murdoch coming to an end.
“Why did I take you out today?” I asked him that night as he sat with his back legs askew and stared at me with his wide brown eyes. I would take it back if I could.
But since then he has been on leash, outside for ten minutes at the most and, while he is disgruntled about the whole thing, his leg is getting better.
“I wish we still had those leg braces Bear used,” I said to Morgan, trying to imagine Murdoch wearing the little red “cast-away pants”. But we gave those away after Bear no longer needed them.
So we wait, for now, because there is also the matter of Murdoch’s teeth, the broken ones, the pocket in his gum and, we’re pretty sure, a cavity in a molar, all leading up to a sore mouth, an impending dental surgery, and a very rumpled Murdoch.