by Craig Wilson
My life changed dramatically ten years ago. I didn’t get married or divorced, didn’t survive a life-threatening disease, didn’t have a religious experience, then again, maybe I did. I got a dog. Murphy is a soft-coated wheaten terrier, a feisty Irish girl with a mop of blonde hair and a mind of her own, as I discovered the day I picked her up.
That first evening, I fed her, left her on her new bed in the kitchen, and went to watch the evening news. Within minutes, her short legs had conquered the stairs, and there she stood in the middle of the den, staring at me as I sat on the sofa. The look on her face said, “If you think I’m going to live here with you and stay in the kitchen, you’re sadly mistaken.”
Murphy has pretty much set the rules of the house ever since. She sleeps on the bed, guards her favorite chair and eats cheddar cheese Goldfish crackers as her nightly hors d’oeuvres during cocktails. She is a herder, a ferreter and an honorary member of the neighborhood watch program. She patrols. She has taught me where all the cats reside, which garden gates have dogs behind them, and which hydrants are the most popular stops. Murphy has taken me down alleys and lanes and side streets I didn’t even know existed. She stops to smell the bushes. She makes me linger. Little did I realize that with a pet, I was headed toward a life of pockets stuffed with plastic bags and cookie jars filled with dog treats. Who knew that the mail would no longer be delivered, nor the trash picked up, in the same quiet manner? Each visitor’s arrival is now announced. Murphy sees to that, standing on her hind legs and barking out the window at the daily invaders. I now see things from her point of view, from her perspective. No longer is a walk through the woods just a walk through the woods; it’s an adventure. Squirrels! Geese! Field mice! Murphy alerts me to all animals, large and small, and protects me from all danger. No longer is a stream just a stream. It’s a place to dance, to drink, to frolic, until every last hair on her back is wet. And no longer is a spotless kitchen floor a high priority. Hair on the sofa? Who even sees it anymore?
All my friends with children say they wonder what life was like before the kids came along. I wonder the same about my life before Murphy.
What did I do with my mornings before she started coming to sit outside the bathroom door to watch me shave? Who made a fool out of me before she came along? Well, a number of people, actually, but believe me, it’s much more pleasant to be made a fool of by a dog. I talk about her at work until my colleagues walk away. I feed her from the table. We kiss in public. And I’m not ashamed of any of it. In fact, some of my best conversations in the past ten years have been with Murphy. On our morning walks, I’ll often confess to her that I don’t have a clue about what I’m doing with my life. Sometimes she can sense the gravity in my voice — that I’m serious — so she’ll stop, turn around, and cock her head as if to say, “You know, boss, I wish I knew. But it’ll be fine. Really, it will.” And that look always reassures me that everything will turn out okay. Yes, her arrival has meant that after-work detours for drinks with friends have come to an end. But I’d been going to happy hours for 20 years, and they weren’t making me any happier.
Foolish me. I’d spent half my life looking for love in all the wrong places. Little did I realize it could be waiting for me back at home by the front door, ready with a big, wet kiss and a wagging fanny. “You’re back!” she says, sliding down the hallway on a rug. “Let’s play! Let’s eat! Let’s rub bellies and go upstairs and watch the nightly news!”
Okay, so I’m getting a little carried away here. But people who say they don’t have time for a dog mystify me. What they’re saying is they don’t have time for unconditional love. Can that be true? We who have stumbled into the spiritual world of dogs know we are very lucky. We will never be alone again. Never be unloved again. Never be bored. We will always have someone who thinks we are wise beyond our years, someone who won’t judge us by our waist size or the kind of car we drive. (Although I think Murphy would like it if I got a convertible so she could enjoy the wind sweeping through her hair without having to stick her head out the window.)
Over the years, I have met many wonderful pet lovers through Murphy. The “dog people” congregate in the park, on the street, at the neighborhood corner store — anywhere that two pups can dance a pas de deux. We talk fleas. We talk ticks. And I confess, there have been more than a few early-morning birthday parties for the likes of Buster and Sheba, Maggie and Amos. Murphy has been feted, too. Champagne for the adults; party treats for every guest with a tail.
Are we fools? Perhaps. But we’re happy fools. And our dogs don’t seem to mind. At this very moment, Murphy is lying under my desk, sprawled out on her side, eyes closed, her neck perfectly placed across the instep of my foot. She is content but not nearly as content as her owner. I didn’t get just a dog ten years ago. I got a life.