Murphy the Short-Legged Beagle

I’ve had a dozen dogs in my life, many of them memorable for one reason or another.

One of my early traumas concerns our family dog. When I was little more than an infant we had a daschund named Paula who was “in heat” and we had her in the house. A pack of male dogs had gathered around the back door, and I leaned against it and fell out among them. One bit me on the upper lip, so I had to get rabies shots around my navel for a month.

It’s not that I remember what happened. It’s just that the story became one my family kept alive around the dinner table by telling over and over. I still have the scar on my lip.

When I was a little older we had a very lucky dog that ran away from our north side Spartanburg house and ended up a week later at my aunt’s house in Converse.

In elementary school one of the first poems I wrote was about our family dog: “I’ve got a dog named Hugo./Whereever he go I go./When I’m sad and feeling blue,/My dog Hugo pulls me through.” I think that rhyme properly pointed to my future as a dog lover, but not as a poet.

Besides these dogs I’ve had muts, golden retriever cast-offs, shepherd mixes, and lately a long run of beagle crosses like Ellie Mae and Toby.

On St. Patrick’s Day we added Murphy, the pound hound, to the household. His legs are shorter than he should be, and I think maybe he’s got some daschund in him.

Two-year old Murphy’s been with us six weeks now, but two of those weeks I was on my river trip. I felt guilty about leaving Betsy with the new dog, but she enjoyed it. “We will use it as bonding time,” she said before I paddled away.

Once I was able to call home when I had phone service:

“How’s the bonding going?”

“Great, I’m trying to teach him to sit.”

“How’s that going?”
“Not so good. He’s so short I can’t ever really tell whether he’s sitting or not. I don’t know when to give him the hot dog treat.”

I worried Murphy would forget who I was after two weeks on the river, even though one of my dog trainer friends reminded me that canines have short memories.

When I came back from the paddling trip Murphy was glad to see me, and I was glad we had another dog. Now we’re trying to work out his duties in the household.

Toby’s job was lizard control, chasing the anoles sunning on the railings. Murphy’s decided it’s squirrels he’s supposed to keep off the deck, and he bays endlessly if one approaches, but the lizards move about freely.

Murphy doesn’t seem to understand that I’m a writer and I need time at the computer to do that. His idea of bonding with me is sitting on my chest, even when I’m sitting straight up. Right now he’s wandering my office trying to find something-an important book, a draft of a poem, my leather bag– I haven’t stowed away to pull out and chew the edges off.

“Dogs,” says wildlife photographer Roger Caras, “are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

I’ll second that.

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