Monday, July 30, 2007

Why Legal Schnauzer?

Like many of you, my wife and I grew up in families with animals. We both had several dogs and cats growing up, and my family even had various chickens, ducks, and a turtle or two.

So after we had been married two or three years, we decided to get a dog. We both had mixed breeds growing up, and we love a wonderful "mutt." But for some reason, we were driven to get a pure bred dog. We were both partial to small dogs, particularly in the terrier group. So that's where we began to look.

My wife has long had a fascination with Scotland, and she was interested in a Scottish terrier. But while flipping through a dog book one day, she came across the entry for miniature schnauzers. It said the schnauzer is a hardy, active, playful dog that tends to get along well with people of all ages and other pets. It generally is an indoor dog, but loves to take one or two nice walks a day. The schnauzer's wiry coat does require grooming every six to eight weeks, but it does not shed, making it an ideal dog for people with allergies (like my wife). All in all, the book said, "the miniature schnauzer is a great little character in the world of dogs."

We were sold. But as luck would have it, we were at a pet store one night when a young couple walked in with a schnauzer puppy. They let us pet him, and we were smitten even more.

My wife talked to several breeders over the phone and particularly liked a woman who lived near Selma. The woman seemed to genuinely care about her dogs, and she had two female salt-and-pepper schnauzers, which is what we were looking for. (Schnauzers also come in black, silver, and I think white.) The woman said one of the females was quiet and calm, while the other was more rambunctious.

We set off for Selma one March day in 1993. We had already picked out a name. The Dan Quayle/Murphy Brown/"family values" debate was going on about that time. We thought Dan Quayle was, for lack of a better term, a douche bag. And the notion of a Republican trying to claim some high ground on family values was, to us, laughable. So we sided with Murphy Brown, and we liked her feistiness and honesty.

We decided to name our dog Murphy. For a middle name, we chose Abigail. "Murphy Abigail Shuler." Had a nice ring, we thought.

The woman's home actually was about 15 to 20 miles south of Selma in the heart of Alabama's Black Belt. I recall a sign by the road that said Sardis, so I'm assuming that was the nearest town, although I never saw any indication that Sardis actually exists.

My wife had pictured the woman living in a neat white farmhouse, with pristine conditions all around. It wasn't quite that way. Many areas of Alabama are prospering, but "sub-Selma" is not one of them. Dallas, Wilcox, and surrounding counties make up one of the poorest areas in the state--and the country.

It turns out that Murphy and her littermates were born outside a trailer at the end of a dirt road. No white farmhouse was in sight, but the woman did seem to care for her dogs, and they all looked healthy and happy.

As advertised, one of the females was relatively quiet and the other was a spitfire. We wish we could have taken both of them home. But somehow, the quiet one particularly grabbed our hearts. She sat in the palm of our hands and immediately seemed to feel at home. I had never seen a schnauzer at such a young age and was surprised how much she looked like a raccoon.

As we held the quiet one, we noticed a couple of fleas on her, and that freaked my wife out. We talked for a while, and I told my wife this dog was everything we were looking for. We could give her a bath, get rid of the fleas, and she would be fine. Besides, I knew if we got back to Birmingham without this little dog, my wife would immediately want to turn around and head back to Selma to get her.

We paid the woman $150, got the papers, put Murphy in a pet taxi in the backseat of our car, and headed back to Birmingham. We stopped a couple of times to give Murphy a drink, let her walk around and do her "business." Then she was content to go back in her taxi. She never made a peep on the way to her new home.

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