For most of my life, I considered myself a Cat person. Dogs require so much more energy and attention, they chew things to bits, and you can't leave them alone for a few days with a big bowl of food and a supply of water, while cats are mostly self-sufficient. Dogs need extensive and consistent training to be able to function well with humans, cats only need to know how to use the litter box and hide under the bed when strange characters come around. For a person like me who is by nature a wee bit on the undisciplined (lazy) side, cats are a much better fit.
But then we got Muirne. And while I know that not every dog we have will be as great as she was--maybe none will--she gave me hope that there were dogs out there worth putting forth all of the effort for. I also came to realize that dogs are great for kids, and kids are great for dogs. And that I feel safer at night with a dog in the house if Abe is gone. And that a dog is a great companion to take on a walk with you. And they're ever so much more fun to play with than cats: Muirne would spend hours fetching sticks in water, Radley will claw your face off if you try to give her a bath.
So when we lost Muirne, I knew we'd get another dog. In James Herriot's books (All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, etc.), he always counsels his veterinary clients who have lost a dog that they should get another soon, and I figured this was wise advice. I started scouring Craigslist and the classifieds for a suitable dog for us. Most of what I found were purebreds, and we are really mutt kind of people. So when I saw this listing for a littler of "Lab mix" puppies, I knew I wanted to call. Turned out the mother was a Lab/border Collie mix, and the father was unknown. Still, both of those breeds are highly intelligent and good family dogs, and the price was fair, so after twisting Abe's arm (just a little bit), we drove up and picked ourselves out a good one.
She was without a name for a while. We have almost impossible (and oddly indefinable) standards for names, and we knew that any "typical" kind of dog name was out. I made several lists with names from movies we enjoy, literature, and various mythologies, almost all of which got tossed out. Even when it came down to the final list of 6 (Ailis, Harper, Teagan, Tierney, Zora, and Hazel), Hazel didn't stand out to me at first. But then I had the kids vote for their favorite, and had Abe vote, and Hazel was the clear winner; it's different, it's cool, it's old-timey, we know no dogs with that name. I do think the kids believe her name is really Basil, which would be fine, too.
We've only had her for three days, so it's impossible to tell where she will fall on the list of Great Dogs We Have Known. But so far, so good!
She's Hazel, and we love her!
Note that she's wearing a red collar and using Muirne's red leash. It's our way of nodding to our dear girl. I still think about you all the time, friend.
10 July 2010
I don't even know how to write this post, but I feel like I need to. I created this blog as a way to stay in touch with far-flung loved ones and to chronicle the events in my kids' lives. This dog is worth chronicling.
We first met Muirne in Knoxville, TN. Some friends of ours had a dog with a new litter of pups, and they asked if we'd like one. Abe and I had been married a little less than a year, and were still living in a tiny little apartment. We already had Radley the cat, and even she was a violation of our landlord's no-pets policy. It was folly to think we'd be allowed to have a puppy as well, but look at her--even with the blink, she was just the most precious ball of fluff ever. We told our friends we'd take her as soon as she was ready to be weaned.
When she was ready, they brought her up to us, along with her pudgy little brother. They didn't want her to be lonely on the car ride, so her brother, the only other chocolate dog in a litter of mostly-black golden lab/rottweiler/german shepherd pups, was simply intended to be good company. But Abe's sister came with us to pick up the puppy, and she was enamored of the little boy pup, so long story short, she kept him. I chose the name Muirne for our dog because it means "Beloved" in Gaelic, and we chose Fisk for the little boy dog because he was a lot pudgier. Pudge. Carlton Fisk. Fisk. It was about a month before Abe's sister could take Fisk, so in the interim, we kept both puppies as the cutest contraband ever in our tiny apartment. Every time the dogs needed to go out, we'd scan the street first to see if the landlord was hovering around, then dash out as quickly as possible.
The day we got Muirne, we looked at a house that seemed perfect for us. The next day, we made an offer, and it was accepted. We moved in about four weeks later. About two weeks after that, we learned we were expecting our first child, which would turn out to be Charis. Just like that, in the span of a month, we had gone from newlywed apartment-dwellers to dog-owning, mortgage-paying expectant parents. We were a family.
Of course, Muirne went through the chewy puppy stage. We have one chewed-up leg of an otherwise beautiful coat tree as evidence. Other than that, though, she was smart as a whip, full of energy, and easy to train. We taught her using verbal and non-verbal commands, so even if she was at a distance, she could sit and stay. We taught her the boundaries of our yard, and she nearly always stuck to them, wandering only in the woods out back. When I was about 6 months pregnant with Charis, she did wander over a street to have a playdate with another dog. It freaked me out, but we got her back shortly thereafter, and forever after that, she came with a call or a whistle, no matter where she was.
She was the fetchingest dog you ever met, and I mean that quite literally. If you threw a frisbee or a ball or a stick even once, she was bound and determined to fetch until you were worn out. She treated it as her job. She especially loved fetching sticks and things in water. We never had to teach her to love water.
For a long time, until we had multiple kids, we'd take her everywhere we could with us--snowshoeing, to various fairs and parades, on hikes, to ponds and lakes, everywhere. She was always so well-behaved, and so beautiful to look at. On more than one occasion, random strangers offered to purchase her. I'm telling you, there never was a better dog.
She was the absolute best dog with kids. We trained her from an early age to adapt to little people who might tug at her, jump on her, or periodically try to take food out of her mouth. She was docile, she was loving, she was infinitely patient with everybody.
She loved nothing better than hearing the jingle of the leash and knowing she was going exploring. I took a lot of walks with her recently. It all started one evening when I was frustrated and needed to go blow off some steam. I decided to go for a walk, but opted to take my faithful dog with me, knowing she'd protect me if need be. She peed about 20 times during the walk and sniffed at every mailbox, but it worked for us. For weeks, I'd take her on two or three long walks a week. I don't have any pictures of that, and as I scanned through hundreds and thousands of pictures looking for snapshots of Muirne for this post, I was saddened to notice that over the past couple of years, I have taken very, very few pictures of Muirne. I suppose it's because she just always looked the same. It's probably also because I used too much time taking photos of my children, and maybe it's partly because we didn't take her quite as many places as we used to. Sure, she always went with us to play with Fisk at Tim and Beth's house, and to play with Quigley at Abe's folks' house, but there were regrettably fewer outings of interest to her. I regret not taking more pictures of her.
Oh, but there are more regrets.
Three weeks ago, we left for a week to visit my brother and his family. Muirne stayed with Fisk for the week. We were home for a week, then, this past Friday, we left again to vacation with Abe's family. Some friends of ours watched Muirne for us. We got a call from them on Sunday evening saying that they'd gone out for pizza and when they left, Muirne was on our back porch, but was nowhere to be found when they returned. They drove the neighborhood calling for her, asked neighbors if they'd seen her, but to no avail. But Muirne has never given us a reason to be concerned, so we figured someone had picked her up or she was through the woods at the pond. We figured she would show up.
I regret so much not specifically telling our friends to lock her in the house when they left. We always put her inside when we're gone, and I figured they knew that, so I didn't think it even needed to be said.
We got a voicemail from Animal Control on Monday morning saying they had a message about our dog. In my frame of mind, I distinctly heard the woman say that they had Muirne, and she was in their shelter. When Abe listened to the message, he heard no such thing. Frantic, I called back to animal control and left a message begging them to call me back with any news. When they returned the call, the message was not good. Muirne was gone. I sobbed and sobbed and screamed angry words and ran and ran just because I didn't know what else to do--and am still sobbing, days later. She was only 7 years old.
I regret not doing to math to realize that it was the 4th of July. Muirne has always been skittish about firecrackers, so around the 4th, we always end up keeping her inside. This year, we were gone on the 4th, and she was wandering outside by herself. The only thing we can figure is that she was wandering when she got scared and disoriented by the noises and ran. A policeman picked her up the next morning and gave her body to Animal Control. Oh, how I wish we would have very explicitly told our friends to leave her inside.
I haven't taken photos of Muirne recently, in the past couple of years. So that's why it is odd that, almost exactly a week before we learned we had lost her, I snapped this picture. You have no idea what a treasure it is to me now.
Abe came home late in the evening on Tuesday and picked up our sweet dog on Wednesday. She is buried deeply in our woods, her favorite place to wander, and her grave is marked by three logs. I wish I had been there to help bury her, I wish I had been able to stroke her fur once more and say goodbye. I suppose this post is my way of saying farewell to my good friend. I am hoping to get a puppy soon--not to replace Muirne, because there will never, ever be a replacement for a dog like her, but because we need another buddy to train and grow up with our kids, to take to the fair and to the pond. We need a friend to guard our house and family, to play fetch with, and to snuggle up with on cold evenings. And whatever color or size our next dog is, she will always wear a red collar, as Muirne did.
Muirne, you were the best dog, and I miss you almost more than I can bear. You were our first baby, our finest and most loyal friend, an endless source of entertainment and pride, and there will never be another you.
Goodbye, dear girl. I love you.