Monday, November 15, 2004


Murphy was born in 1989. He was a Sheltie and actually belonged to my first girlfriend. When she and I went our separate ways in 1993 I got custody of him and we became family.

Dogs are like people, they have personalities. Murph was The Man. When he was 7 years old I met a woman from Dallas with a similar breed puppy just a few months old. I dated her, the woman, not the dog, for several years so the dogs got to know each other pretty well. Whipper, my ex-girlfriend’s dog, had an issue with dominance. Even though both dogs were eventually neutered, Whipper continued to hump everything in sight. Including Murph. Sometimes I’d watch Whipper chase Murphy away from the dog food bowls and eat both bowls. Other times I’d watch him literally run on top of him to be the first one to come inside without regard to what his toenails might have done to Murphy in the process. Then just as I’d reach my limit, Murphy would make me proud. He’d charge at Whipper, snarling and biting, and send that penis-envy son of a bitch yelping across the back yard.

I used to let Murph sleep in the bed with me, a habit I got into when he was run over and had both hips crushed when he was 5. All I had to do was motion my head toward the bed and Murph would jump up, do a 360 at the foot and plop down.

Each year I took him in for a check up and each year I was told he had an elevated white blood cell count, probably some sort of minor infection. He showed no outwardly signs of being ill so the vet never became too concerned.

Then in November of 2001 I went to Hawaii with the girlfriend I broke up with this past March. When I returned, the kennel told me Murphy didn’t eat a damn thing the entire time I was gone. Several weeks passed and by Christmas I was genuinely concerned. He was barely nibbling his food and didn’t care one damn bit about his corner of the bed, he just slept on the floor. I took him to a different vet who found a growth in his mouth, blaming that for his lack of appetite.

I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a canine dentist, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t find one on the west side of Houston. He let me bring Murph in without an appointment, thank god, since he was booked two months in advance. Lots of dirty dog teeth in Houston, I guess. He looked at Murphy’s mouth and squeezed the fleshy lump hanging down over his teeth. Murph didn’t budge, but then again he never did. That boy was tough. He never flinched when he got his vaccines. Just stood there and took it like a man.

The dentist said something was seriously wrong systemically, indicating Murphy’s breath, and referred me back to the vet. I went to three more vets trying to find the problem. In the end, I found myself at a local pet hospital. It was mid-January by now, 2002. I was getting pissed off and impatient with the constant back and forth referrals between various vets. The owner of the hospital sat down and looked Murphy over, drew some blood, and asked me a shit load of questions none of the others had ever bothered to ask. He pointed out Murph’s yellow tongue, gums and whites of his eyes. He was seriously jaundiced and had been for some time. This was a sign of liver failure. I was given pills to force down his throat that were the same antibiotic he’d been prescribed in the past.

In the three days it took to get the results back from the blood work Murphy and I found ourselves on opposite sides of the fence. I was determined to make him take his pills. He was determined not to. You see, Murphy wasn’t just The Man with Whipper those years prior, he was The Man. Period. Hiding the pill in his food was a fucking joke. He’d eat everything in his damn bowl and in the bottom I’d find the tiny, white pill all by itself. I smashed it into a slice a cheese. Murph would eat the cheese, spit out the pill. I tried placing it on the back of his tongue. He’d hack it up. At our lowest point, I found myself sitting on my kitchen floor with my legs holding him against me as he struggled. I pried his jaw open, placing the pill as far back as I could reach until he gagged, then held his yap shut. I sat there, holding him against me, clamping his muzzle and stroking downward on his throat for a solid five minutes. I did a lot of thinking in that five minutes time. I’m sure he did, too. Finally, I felt him swallow.

Confident I’d won, I let him go only to watch him hack it back up, depositing it on the floor right between my knees. I should have kicked his fluffy ass for being so fucking stubborn but all I could do was cuss and squeeze my eyes shut in frustration and sit on the floor like a hopeless fool.

When the blood tests came back that same day, we finally had our diagnosis. Ehrlichia.

It’s a blood disease that came to the US from Vietnam when the dogs returned from the war. I’m going by memory now, so if my details are skewed I apologize. Ehrlichia lies dormant in the dog for 5 years before “coming to life” under stress, such as when the owner goes to Hawaii for a week. It attacks the blood cells which in turn overworks the other organs involved in recycling and replenishing them. Dogs become so lethargic they lose all interest in life and eventually starve themselves to death when they refuse to eat or drink water. It is easily detected, but rarely checked for in this region. That’s because Ehrlichia is prevalent in Dallas. Where Whipper was from, the dog we met 5 ½ years ago.

Murphy was the first dog in the entire Houston area to be diagnosed with it. Still, I don’t feel better knowing most of the vets here had never seen it; therefore, had been unable to diagnose it. As it turns out, the animal hospital owner was from Dallas and had known which test to request. No matter, it was early February by now. Murphy was vomiting after every meal and losing pounds by the week.

Every day I left work at the close of the market and rushed home to get him. He had to be fed intravenously and the process took 45 minutes. The antibiotic dosage was increased and added to his nutrient bag and would need three weeks to prove itself. Dr. Roberts admitted he’d never seen a dog get this far and survive, but I couldn’t very well look Murphy in the eye and tell him his life wasn’t worth the effort. Even if he disagreed with me.

Soon the entire staff at the hospital knew Murphy. He was the little brown dog who never complained when they fished his legs for a vein, but who also taught them not to turn their backs on him or he’d pull the catheter out with his teeth every damn time. He even figured out how to pinch off the tube so the cold saline would stop flowing, forcing them to wrap him in hot blankets and assign a “sitter” to watch him during his sessions.

After two weeks of IV feedings, Murph was given a drug normally reserved for human chemo patients at double the human dosage. It was to stop the nausea and enable him to eat solid foods again. We sat on the floor of the vet’s office and I rubbed the canned dog food on his teeth because he refused to open his mouth. Eventually, I got about a tablespoon into him. But within fifteen minutes he brought it back up. Dr. Roberts looked at me for a long moment, then left the room without saying a word.

His assistant came in shortly after and said the jaundice had gone too far and Murphy needed an immediate blood transfusion or his body wouldn’t have the ability to complete the aggressive antibiotic regimen. I shook my head, more from not knowing what to say than to decline, and then Murphy laid his head on my thigh.

“Just one more week, buddy?”

The next day Murphy was given a bag of German Shepard blood. For 48 hours, my Murph was back. He walked around the house wagging his tail, looking right at me rather than staring blankly at the floor. He even barked a few times. But as the final week of IV treatments finished out and his marrow failed to reproduce new blood while the German Shepard blood was dying out, it became obvious how it was going to end. Dr. Roberts brought in a sonographer from all the way across town who checked him out and then gave me the word. Murphy had liver cancer and it had spread into his other organs. A side effect of living for so many years with Ehrlichia. They regrettably informed me he wouldn’t make it through the night. I remember it was a Friday.

I picked up my boy and brought him home. That evening I pulled the catheters out of his legs and unwrapped his tail which had been wrapped to keep it from sticking to the secretions his body was putting out. I made him a place on the floor and that night I slept beside him so he wouldn’t die alone.

Unfortunately, it didn’t come that easy for him. He hung in there, fighting it out. He drank water, but refused food. On Wednesday night he made a noise I’ve never heard in my life. A deep, guttural sound that made my heart race in panic. His back legs went limp and his bladder relaxed. He tried to drag himself away, panicked and afraid, but was too weak to move. Goddammit, Murphy! I swore I’d never put a dog down. If it was his time, it was his time. If not, then it wasn’t my place to contradict that. Nature knew better than I. I would treat, but not terminate. He’d just had 3 aggressive weeks of treatment and he didn’t die when they said he would. All this for nothing?

I can’t do it. I can’t kill him. I won’t.

“Settle down, Murph. I’ve got you.” I carried him outside and sat in the swing and…had a moment. I called Dr. Roberts and he said the paralysis may or may not be temporary and was caused by the toxins released as the kidneys shut down. He advised I bring Murphy in. I told him Murphy had spent way too many weeks at the hospital and deserved to die at home.

Late that night it began to wind down. Every two hours, on the dot, he started vomiting blood. I knew he was bleeding to death internally. I was never so conflicted. It wasn’t fair to put him through it. I scooped him up and carried him to the front door but he started struggling and bit my hand when I tried to calm him down. He didn’t want to die there and dammit to hell I wasn’t going to make him.

We made it through the night and that morning Murphy, suddenly recovered from the paralysis, wanted to go outside. I patted his head and opened the back door. He had this unique habit of pressing the top of his head to my shin as a show of affection. He did that then, then walked outside to the far corner where the cotton tree stands.

I remember it was a sunny 55 degrees that day, February 28, 2002. He passed at 11:05AM. I buried him right where he died, beneath the old cotton tree.

Maybe it's trite, but I had a stone made for him to mark his spot. I'm not sure which affected me more: Momma's passing, or Murphy's.