Tuesday, December 6, 2016

3,657 Days of Joy

Ten years ago my now husband and I decided to get a dog. We'd been dating for almost a year, and we were looking at houses together. Getting a puppy seemed logical at the time (we'd later learn nothing about puppies are in any way logical). For some reason I insisted we get an Irish Setter puppy. We found one in the classified section of the paper, and I called the breeder. She had one puppy left that she was going to save for us to pick up the following morning (a Saturday). We went to Petsmart and bought all of the puppy essentials. We went out to dinner where we decided we'd name our Irish Setter Murphy after Murphy's Irish Stout. We were ready to be canine parents. 

The next morning I called the breeder to learn that she'd sold our Irish Setter puppy the night before. We were upset, but we were already ready to get a dog. We had our minds made up. We shifted and talked about a Golden Retriever instead. I checked the paper and we called about a puppy. Later that morning, on a wet January day, we drove about 40 minutes west of Lansing to a farm to look at Golden puppies. The mom Golden was in a crate in a sunroom as we walked in. She seemed happy and sweet. There were three puppies: two boys and a girl. For some reason we decided we wanted a boy (I don't recall the rhyme or reason behind it). That left us with two choices. One Golden puppy was a hulk of a guy the breeder was calling "Tank". He was large and boisterous. He attacked his puppy siblings with glee. The other boy ran up to us and gave us kisses, and we were hooked. Later as we paid for him we saw him in the corner humping a stuffed toy. That was our Murphy. As we left the farm we saw a flash of yellow fur as a colossal Golden ran behind the barn. We learned that was Murphy's dad, and it was foreshadowing for our life with our big yellow dog.

Getting a six week old puppy is a life altering experience. People think I'm kidding when I say our life was more rocked by a puppy than newborn. I stand by it. We didn't realize how hard it would be to have a puppy. At six weeks old Murphy was used to sleeping with his siblings. He didn't like his big crate and whined incessantly, a challenge in a one bedroom loft apartment with two shared walls. Potty training in January meant multiple trips outside in the middle of the freezing night. We didn't want him sleeping in our bed, but he was awake all night and crying unless he was with us. We finally compromised by putting him in a box beside our bed where we'd wake up at night to the thumping of his little tail on the side of the box.  There were times when we both cried with exhaustion and frustration. Having a puppy isn't for the faint of heart.

Murphy's first day at home, deceiving us with this sleep.
Murphy grew into an amazingly fun and sweet dog. Three months after we got him we closed on our first house. Murphy loved running around the house and destroying it. He chewed a hole in our dining room carpet shortly after we moved in, and we had the hole there until we replaced the carpet upon moving out. Murphy's nails tore holes in our comforters and my husband's hideous leather bachelor couch. He dug holes in the back yard. He was the joy of our life. 

My all-time favorite photo of us, the night we closed on our first home
We took him to obedience class where the crazy teacher chastised us for our lax training. We brought a dog trainer to our home, and Murphy proceeded to hump her for no less than 20 minutes. A typical male Golden is 65-75 pounds, and Murphy catapulted past that to weigh 100 pounds of solid muscle by the time he was a year old. He was larger than life in every way. 

Despite his precocious and sometimes naughty behavior, I've known few other dogs who've had a fan club quite like Murphy's. Maybe it was because he demanded attention. Maybe it was because he was so joyful and it showed. Murphy loved every human and every animal and was generous with his love.

With a bone bigger than his body
Four years after getting Murphy we took him to Cleveland with us on a whim to rescue another dog, our Izzy. While it took Murph some getting used to that he wasn't the only dog, he and Izzy quickly became inseparable best friends. They joined us on trips to Maine, West Virginia, the Outer Banks. We took walks every day, and everyone in the neighborhood knew them. They were a dynamic duo.

Happy on a road trip to Maine
When we suffered heartbreak Murph was there while we cried. When we brought home our son Murphy was the most patient brother. He let Will take food and toys right out of his mouth and other than the occasional knock down with his missile-like tail was a gentle giant from the beginning.  Murphy survived dog skin cancer, many floppy eared dog ear infections and skin infections. Murphy was invincible.

Last January the groomer discovered a tumor on Murphy's chest. The tumor was large, and we immediately braced for the worst given that Goldens are prone to cancer. Testing showed that the tumor did not appear to be cancerous. We were told it would grow and ultimately affect his mobility, but we'd deal with those issues as they arrived. 

Late this summer Murphy started limping. The tumor was getting bigger, but he was still his happy Golden self. X-rays showed calcification of his lymph nodes, and the tumor was reassessed to be cancer. The vet prescribed a hardcore antinflammatory that appeared to be working. Unfortunately the drug that helped gave him a massive skin infection on his face, and we treated it with a month of steroids and antibiotics. Murphy thrived under the steroids, and we started almost pretending he would be okay.

Only a few days after he went off the steroids he was back on the antiinflammatory and pain medicine. I picked him up from the boarder a few weeks ago after our Las Vegas trip, and he could hardly walk. One of our vet techs helped me get him in the car, and I broke down sobbing to her in the parking lot because I knew it was getting bad.

We took him to West Virginia with us for Thanksgiving. Although he was limping badly he managed to enjoy the car ride and sneak onto Grandma's couch. Watching everyone say goodbye to him was agonizing. Murphy had been part of our family for a decade. We celebrated his 10th birthday in West Virginia by giving him copious amounts of human food and lots of snuggles. He loved it. 

Supervising Will on his last road trip
Sneaking onto Grandma's couch

By the time we got home we knew he was not going to be strong for long. On Monday evening we made an appointment for Murphy on Thursday. My husband and I cried off and on all week. We snuggled him and played ball and gave him all the cheese he wanted. He no longer wanted to go outside, and I bribed him with cheese to get him outside a few times a day.

As handsome as ever
We were a mess at the vet, and the vet told us everyone in the back was crying. She said Murphy was like their mascot, and she cried as we said goodbye to him. Of course my husband and I were a disaster. We petted and snuggled him and left him there in no way comprehending the huge hole we'd now have in our lives.

In the few days since his passing our house is like a tomb. We've had two dogs for six years, and we didn't realize how quiet Izzy is. She's still mourning, and she seems very sad. But it's agonizingly quiet, and I keep waiting for Murphy to loudly lumber down the stairs or to trip over him while I'm cooking.

I am so grateful for the years we had with Murphy. He taught me so much about myself, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to be the human he thought I was. He adored us, and we could do no wrong. Murphy lived for a week past his 10th birthday, and every single day was filled with so much joy. I'd had a sign in my office for years with a picture of a Golden that says "Live with Joy". That was Murph. He wanted nothing more than love and to make people happy, and it's how we should all aspire to live.

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