Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pick of the Litter

I got first pick of the litter. Cheska was Suzanne's dog, the mother, and the father was a dog named Red. Both dogs were Springer Spaniels, although Red was so big we suspected he might not be pure-bred. Cheska was medium to small size, had reddish brown(liver) on her back with a white underbelly and white on her legs and muzzle. She could be dependent and whiny, whereas Red was strong, independent and had a regal appearance. Red's body was white with a smattering of reddish spots. Most of the color was on his head. He was owned by Suzanne's former boyfriend.
Suzanne and I lived together for a time in the early '70s, when one could easily drift in and out of relationships. Ours wasn't meant to last, but we shared a deep love of dogs as well as love and respect for each other. She was still living in Eugene in the house we bought together, but I had moved to Seattle and was eking out a living as a fry cook during the day and cab driver at night. I had been dog-less since my beagle, Blossom, was run over by a car driven by a young man going way too fast on a country road. I wasn't sure I wanted another one.
But getting pick of the litter was quite an honor and I was secretly pleased that Red's master was getting second choice. I can't remember how many puppies were in the litter, but a lot, maybe 8 to 10. Suzanne called me when they were old enough to adopt. There is absolutely nothing cuter than a bunch of Springer puppies. I couldn't resist and took my time watching them before making my decision.
Suzanne let me know which puppy the ex-boyfriend wanted. It was the biggest male with the droopiest face. He was lethargic, spending most of his time sitting and watching the other puppies play. There was something appealing about his mellow nature and for a while I thought he was the one I wanted. It may have also had something to do with taking the dog that Suzanne's irresponsible, cavalier yet ruggedly handsome ex wanted. But as I continued watching the puppies, I kept noticing one medium sized male, always on the move. Some of the puppies fought a lot, some slept most of the time and some whined until mom returned to feed them. But this little male went around bumping the other dogs with his nose until he got one of them to play with him. He didn't get angry or give up. He would bump a puppy, back up and then furiously wag his cropped tail. After two or three times of this, without response, he would move on to the next one.
When I touched his back, he looked up at me and for a brief moment I could tell he thought maybe I'd play with him. But when he realized I was just sitting there watching like that fat puppy in the corner, he again turned his attention to the other dogs.
I named him Murray after the Jason Robards character in the movie A Thousand Clowns. Murray was a writer for a children's television show. But he grows to hate the shows host and the conformity of it, so he quits. Murray realized that most people go through their lives reacting and conforming to others and to the “system” and lose the basic childlike joy of living. His nephew Nick lives with him and Murray wants him to live life with gusto and to stand up to the hypocrisy and phoniness of others. Throughout the movie Murray tries to act as an example for his nephew. In one scene he goes out into the street very early in the morning, looks up at the New York apartment buildings and begins yelling at them as if he were a camp counselor. “Campers, volleyball will be held out on the main lawn at 10 am sharp”.
I lived with Murray the Springer for over 15 years. We ran together, hiked together, lived in a variety of houses and towns. He endured my ups and downs with girlfriends and marriages. He loved and played with my son and two stepsons. He tolerated our other pets as they came and went. Throughout it all, I could count on him to bump me on the leg each morning wag his stump of a tail, back off and look at me straight in the eye as if to say, Isn't it great to be alive. What fun activities are we going to do today? Murray 001
Murray had a stroke in 1990. His left side stopped working. When I took him to the Vet to be put down, we took a few minutes to sit outside the office by the side of a small stream. He knew something was wrong, but when he heard the birds chirping in the trees, his floppy ears perked up and he looked at me. Again I saw that little puppy. What do you say we go chase after those birds? I'm reminded of the Jerry Jeff Walker song Mr. Bogangles. “His dog up and died... after 20 years he still grieves.” It's been over 20 years since Murray died and I haven't gotten another dog and probably won't.


  1. I put down Berk a little over a year ago and still cant think about it. Best dog ever. After a year of trying to go without a dog Gail brought home Blue from the pound. Another best dog ever. I still think about Berk but somehow life seems better to have Blue with us.

  2. got me to tear up over this story!