Friday, January 7, 2011

Part 4 of I-don't-know-how-many

Murphy turned out to be an ideal family dog. She was the kid’s constant companion, climbing the ladder to the top bunks and then leaping the 6 feet down onto a pile of toys. She would swim with them for hours… in fact I would have to put her in the house for a break or she would wear her pads raw patrolling the pool. And if one of the kids swam underwater for too long, she would jump in, swim down until she could grab their arm and drag them to the edge of the pool.
Outside the pool she was a good babysitter as well. She knew the kids by name and I could send her to get them. Whether they were in the basement or playing in a neighbor’s yard, Murph would track them down and give them a little bark that meant “Mom said come home right now.” Kids, being kids, they would often ignore her. But a Border Collie, being a Border Collie, will not be ignored when told to gather the flock. If another bark or a bump didn’t get them started, she’d give them a little nip on the ankle, which could not be ignored. Then I would hear little feet running into the house and someone crying “Murphy bit me!” We’d always go through the same routine… “Did she tell you to come home? Did you listen? It’s just a little scratch isn’t it? Well good. Then maybe next time you will come home the first time she tells you.”
And even without the twelve hours of sheep herding, she did become one of the sheepdogs of Herriot stories. She could and would go anywhere with me. We took a leash for other people’s comfort, but Murph never needed one. We would go for walks and I could leave her on a stay outside a store or restaurant to wait. We even went to the elementary school where we took Kim Lewis books about Border Collies and read them to the class. Murphy would stand quietly to be petted, even when a class of 20 third graders were doing it. I can’t imagine how she kept her herding instinct in check… you know that she wanted to gather them.
She did have the instinctual herding drive and she wasn’t always able to control it though. One evening we had a small group of people from church at our house. One of the gentleman was older and used a walker to get around. As we would move from one room to another, he would naturally be slower than the rest and more than once I caught her getting ready to give him a little ankle nip to encourage him along. And when people would stand around and chat, Murph would sometimes bump into them ever so gently at the back of their knees, causing people to take small steps forward without thinking about it. And before long, we would all be in a tight little flock in one corner while she laid in the center of the room and just watched… waiting for us to get unruly.
As the kids got older, we bought a camping trailer so that we could take the dogs along on family vacations. Murphy enjoyed the long walks at campgrounds and especially catching Frisbees… if I had been a better thrower, we could have been competitive, because there was almost nothing she couldn’t catch. One summer we took the camper to South Dakota and we played Frisbee every day. Not long after we returned, however, Murphy began to limp a little. Nothing big-most people couldn’t even see it. But I saw it, and I assumed that I had worked her too hard on Frisbee or that she had stepped in a hole. She was only about nine years old, and had always been healthy. I kept her pretty trim because she was such a jumper… I assumed it would go away in time.
Over the next few months I had her examined multiple times. Most of the vets could see a little issue, but no one was very worried. They all said that after all, she was an active dog, and she was 9, so what did I expect but a little soreness once in a while. As the months progressed, she seemed to age right before our eyes. She limped more, she tired more easily. She didn’t have the energy she once did and she just seemed like a different dog. Another vet appointment and another “well she’s getting older” diagnosis.
One morning it was markedly worse. She clearly was ailing, and I just didn’t believe it was aging. We went to the vet again, and again saw a different vet. The practice that we use has a lot of different vets, and we always saw whoever was available first, so we rarely saw the same vet twice. This time, though, the vet we saw took Murph’s condition a little more seriously and started by drawing blood. The news was bad, and additional tests brought only more bad news. Murphy had an auto-immune disease, and her body was attacking its own blood cells. We did every treatment that we could, she received blood transfusions and massive drug doses. Over the next months she would improve for a while, and then she would slip. I spent countless nights sleeping on the floor beside her, in case that was the night she decided to quit fighting. One morning she seemed to be improved and went outside to potty on her own. She came back in and curled up in a spot of sunshine.
And from that spot, on July 31, 2004 Murphy crossed the rainbow bridge.


  1. I read this last night but was too choked up to comment. In the last few posts I have celebrated the life and times of Murphy. I knew when you started this series that she was no longer with you, but it was still so very sad. Thanks for sharing her life with us.

  2. I have enjoyed the story so far, despite knowing this part was coming. My dogs are jealous-they all only got one post for their story!

  3. You are a wonderful writer. I am sorry I never got to meet Murphy. She sounds like a very special dog.