Monday, July 30, 2007

More on Murphy

A few days before we went to get Murphy, I remember my wife telling me, "Now we'll have to be sure to talk to her a lot. She'll like that."

I laughed that off. As I was growing up, my family had two mixed-breed terriers, "Peanuts" and "Barney." I remember playing with them, walking with them, loving on them. (I even remember picking ticks off of them. What fun!) But I didn't remember talking to them all that much.

We had only had Murphy a few weeks, before I realized that I was talking to her all the time. And she actually seemed to pay attention to what I said. Her eyes would lock on mine, and you could almost hear the wheels spinning in her head as she tried to figure out what was on my mind. We later heard that schnauzers are called "the dog with the human brain." And we could understand why.

Murphy was pretty much a joy from day one. But one problem cropped up early on that caused us considerable angst. Turns out our little girl liked to eat her poop. It's called coprophragia, and it's common among many young animals. But it freaked us out in a major way.

We went to our vet and got a powder to sprinkle on her food that is supposed to make the resulting poop less attractive. That didn't seem to work. We shudder to think about it now, but we actually talked for a few days about trying to find her a new home.

Fortunately, a family member had a cool head. My wife's sister had a little dog who had caused some problems in the early days. "There were times I wanted to flush her down the toilet," she said. "But be patient. This will go away."

We are eternally grateful for my sister-in-law's good sense. Murphy stopped eating her poop after about three weeks. And she soon became the center of our lives.

People often say the best day of their lives was the day they got married or the day their children were born. For us, it was the day we got Murphy.

We don't mean to diss wedding days in general, or ours in particular. And of course, we never would have found Murphy if we hadn't found each other. But the truth is, any marriage, even one that has worked pretty well for almost 18 years, is work. You see each other at your best, but also at your worst--when you're sick, angry, frustrated, afraid, moody. My wife has seen all of that and more from me, so I don't take offense when she says, "The day we got Murphy was the best day of my life." Only shows my wife is honest and has good sense--traits I admire in anyone.

Having Murphy was one of those rarities in life, with almost all ups and no downs. She was never grouchy, never aloof, never unreasonable, never unpleasant, never selfish, never dishonest. She never displayed any of those "charming" traits we so often see in humans. And except for two days, she always seemed to feel great.

I find it interesting that, as a society, our love for pets seems to be increasing at the same time that the amount of courtesy, kindness, and decency is decreasing. I think people cling to their pets because they find traits in them that are becoming increasingly scarce in the human world.

I know that was the case for us. Folks who are familiar with the Bible probably are aware of the fruits of the spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23--love, joy, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness. I wasn't consulted on the writing of the Bible, but if I had been, I might have added a few more fruits--honesty, fairness, a sense of justice. Murphy had all of these fruits in ample supply.

I remember the minister at our church giving a wonderful talk to those of us who were preparing to be ushers. "Don't just hand out the bulletins or pass the offering plates," he said. "Look into the face of people. You'll be surprised at how often you find yourself looking into the face of God."

This might sound ridiculous to some people, but when my eyes locked on Murphy's, I felt I was looking into the face of God. No matter how bad life could get, and we were dealing with a number of health concerns and this godawful lawsuit, there always seemed to be a touch of holiness nearby as long as Murphy was around.

I like to think that God has a sense of humor. If that's the case, Murphy certainly spread the good news in her own distinctive way. I never knew a dog could be so funny. We called her our "little court jester." She would often drop both front legs into that classic "play" position that dogs do. Then when she knew she had our attention, she would get up, lower her rump and run from room to room in what we came to call the "scrunch run." It's like she was running in a semi-crouch, and she knew we thought it was hysterical, so she seemed to take special pleasure in doing it.

She also loved to play an indoor version of hide-and-seek. In fact, she taught me how she wanted to play it. I was to toss a tennis ball, and while she chased it, I was to hide in one of about five good hiding spots in our house. You could see her clicking off the hiding spots in her head until she came to the one where I was hiding. Then she would drop to the play position, let out a bark, and run to fetch the ball, ready for another round.

As she grew older, it became hard to believe that Murphy had actually been the quiet one of the two female schnauzers we saw. We've often wondered what kind of little pistol that other schnauzer must have turned into.

Schnauzers are known to be "barky," and Murphy certainly could let out a "war whoop" when a jogger or bicyclist came to her attention. (She particularly got fired up about crows. We would often have these huge crows come roam in our yard, doing that funky crow walk of theirs. Murphy would go nuts, and the crows seemed to ignore her completely.) But we managed to keep her barking to a minimum. For one thing, she almost never barked for no apparent reason. She barked because she considered herself "director of security" for our household (a job she took very seriously), and it was her calling to notify us when unfamiliar beings were nearby. Simply closing the blinds usually calmed her down.

Not only did we talk to Murphy all the time, but we wound up singing to her, too. She weighed 18 to 20 pounds, and it was almost solid muscle. We liked to say that she was built like a brick ****house, so naturally, the Commodores "Brick House" became one of her signature tunes.

As natives of the Bavaria region in Germany, schnauzers love cold weather. On steamy summer days in Alabama, Murphy wouldn't mind cutting her walks short. But on a cold, wintry night, we almost had to drag her back inside. Our joke was that she could "walk 500 miles," so the old Proclaimers tune, "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," became another signature tune for the Murph. For nostalgia's sake, you can listen to the song here.

Let's see, what other songs were there? One was "We All Live With a Little Gray Schnauzer," to the tune of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine." And there was one to the Bee Gees "Lonely Days" ("Lonely days, lonely nights, where would I be without my schnauzer?")

Everybody likes to think their dog is smart. But we truly were amazed by Murphy's vocabulary. Lunch was one word she picked up on real fast. We started spelling it, l-u-n-c-h, and darn if she didn't figure that out, too.

One of her favorite activities was going with us to the Sonic drive-in for supper. We would gather up a bag of paper plates, napkins etc., and Murphy quickly learned that meant she was going with us to Sonic. She would start getting so excited, so early, that we decided to spell that, too--S-o-n-i-c. Naturally, she learned that spelling, too.

We wouldn't feed her human food, but she seemed totally at peace in her taxi in the backseat as we chowed down on Supersonic cheeseburger combos (not recommended by your cardiologist). Our nearest Sonic tends to play songs from the 50s and 60s while you eat in your car, stuff by Elvis, the Beatles, Chuck Berry, Herman's Hermits, the Beach Boys, Johnny Rivers, the Dave Clark Five. Murphy seemed to really dig those classic tunes. We decided she had an old soul, the best kind.

For some reason, we developed this "conservative" political persona for Murphy. I guess it was because of that serious look schnauzers tend to have on their faces. And maybe, since my wife and I are moderate/liberals, we figured we needed to balance things out by making Murphy a "conservative." Our joke was that "Bullet" Bob Dornan, the former firebrand congressman from California, was the only politician who was conservative enough for Murphy's taste. And I often told her that, with her distinctive schnauzer beard, she looked like that great Republican president Rutherford B. Hayes. ("Just the thing every girl wants to hear, daddy," she would say.) Maybe we just wanted to believe it's possible for a conservative to be loving and funny. Maybe that's why we gave Murphy her "conservative" persona. But given how the conservative train has gone off the tracks under our current administration, we hope Murphy will forgive us for ever labeling her a conservative--even as a joke. She was much too smart to fall for the modern-day conservative agenda.

One of our fondest memories of Murphy was the night when she was a few months old and decided it was time for her to be a "big girl." She had been sleeping in her pet taxi, with a towel draped over it, in our bedroom. The towel seemed to keep her in a peaceful state, but one night at about 3 a.m., she let out a series of barks. It was her way of announcing that she was ready to sleep with the "grown ups."

We picked her up and placed her in our bed to see what she would do. She started "snurting" around, lifting up the covers with her snout. Then she decided to dig around for a while, as if there was something buried in our mattress that she desperately needed to uncover. (We called this "digging to China," and she always did it at bedtime.)

Once she was convinced that everything was in order, she curled up between us and went right to sleep. She slept between us every night for the rest of her life.

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