Eleven plus years ago I became the human charge of Murphy, Great Pyrenees Cross, Captain of the Palace Guard, Ever Vigilant, Scourge of the Forest, my faithful guard dog. Just ten months old at the time, he was unruly and stubbornly independent as all Pyrs are but with consistent rules, lots of affection and exercise as well as allowing for his basic nature as a guard dog he became a fabulous and integral part of our household and the neighbourhood.
Yesterday, 17 March, St. Patrick’s Day, we, Ann and I, eased his way to The Undiscovered Country after a week of physical downturn made more difficult by the most recent heavy snowstorm and cold weather. He had been in good shape for a twelve year old Pyr, leaping over logs and running through the woods as recently as a week ago. The woods seem empty without him and are definitely quieter without his patrolling and on-guard bark designed to keep the denizens of the woods at bay. Now comes the hard part of figuring out my days without my big quiet bear of a dog to consider.
Who is going to make me laugh every day? How do I arrange my days now that I do not have my ever-present quiet buddy reminding me how much fun it is to check out the spooky forest around us?
A day in our life would begin like this: I am reluctant to get out of my warm bed in my cold, loft-like room and Murphy, polite and kind dog that he is, doesn’t bug me until I actually sit up even though he is listening for that moment. He stands up and comes over to push his head into me and we have a morning greeting, I massage his shoulders and neck and he pushes all of his 95 pounds into me. He smells really good for a dog, a Pyrenees trait to better blend with the sheep they guard.
I get dressed and go downstairs to light the stove and he will either move to the top of the stairs to wait until I am ready to go out or he will come down and go out to wait for me and our first walk of the day. I don appropriate garb for the walk up the hill and away we go. I used to go down the road with him on leash for the first walk but I like heading up into the woods better because we both get a better workout and it is faster because there is less stopping for the pee-mail checks.
We start together but Murphy ranges farther than my loop trail (unless there is a lot of new snow and then he lets me break trail with my snowshoes) but we meet up at various points on the loop. If we go early enough we see deer or turkeys and in the new snow, tracks of porcupine, raccoon, coyote, fox and other residents of the forest.
At some point on the loop before it intersects with the trail back down ( I call it The Narnia Intersection because my neighbour’s trail arrives at that point as well, making a sort of crossroads. There really ought to be a lamp post just there) he meets me or catches up to me and I have treats for him. We stop and look down the hill through the trees. The trail makes a sharp turn beside some small balsam trees and I head for the Narnia Intersection and down and Murphy takes the high road just below the ridge of the hill. On the way down I stop to see if I can see him as he parallels me. He blends really well no matter the season. Mostly he times his progress so that he arrives in our dooryard exactly when I do.
At that point he takes up a guard position for the day. When I am in my lair at the back of the garage he is beside the driveway within sight of my door and earshot when it opens or in the woods just outside my door. When I go in to the house to make my breakfast he moves to a position in front of the house or sometimes he comes in for a bite but then goes out immediately because he has a job to do, to be on guard.
He has several vantage points beside the driveway and in front of the house and sometimes on the hill behind, but wherever he is, he is always watching down the hill towards the road and the possibility of strangers. He knows all the vehicles of everyone who lives beyond us. The town serviced part of our road ends at the next house but the road continues narrowly through the woods for four other places that are off-grid. When a strange vehicle drives by on the road below he gives a bark of warning. When someone comes up the drive his bark varies depending on whether it is someone we know or a stranger. As soon as I come out to see he sits by my side quietly, ready to assist as needed. I did not train him to do so.
In summer he has bunkers he digs out beside the drive so he is cool and somewhat hidden. However comfortable he may appear, Murphy is ever vigilant. When he perceives someone or other who does not belong he will bark in a way that sounds like he is about to go into attack mode, but every time I go to the rescue he is invariably lying comfortably with his paws crossed using the least effort for the most gain.
When I work in the yard stacking wood or other chores he positions himself near where I am facing the direction of possible danger. If I am away working on the road he follows Ann around as she works in the garden and protects her in the same manner. Sometimes I join him but he is not to be distracted from his primary focus, that of guarding his peeps.
Sometime around noon Murphy starts expecting his second walk of the day. I like to walk as late as possible so that it segues into tying him for the night and is closer to the evening meal for him but he is there to remind me all afternoon if it goes too long. Oddly he could take himself up into the woods whenever he choses but he wants to patrol with me even though we are rarely together in the woods. He ALWAYS knows where I am and I am frequently surprised when I am looking back up the trail for him only to turn and see him standing down the trail looking at me quietly to see when I notice him. At that point he runs madly at me and then dizzyingly around in circles making sharp quarter horse-like turns to fetch up beside me panting and grinning.
He does not usually want to eat right away but I know when he does because he brings himself to the leading edge of my sidewalk to bark so that I come out and ask if he wants food and he indicates yes. We go in the house and he waits patiently for me to prepare his meal which is a raw diet of ground chicken and bone mixed with liver, raw egg and grated carrot, zucchini and apple. I drizzle salmon oil on it and put about half a pound of this mixture in his bowl. If he wants more he walks around the table to the pantry and I dish out a second helping. He continues that until he has had enough and then he goes to the door wanting to get back on the job. Great Pyrenees are especially nighttime guard dogs and will bark all night long, ruff ruff ruff, pause, ruff ruff, repeat. It alerts all potential ne’er do wells that they should avoid our neck of the woods. I allow him to bark for a few hours and then I come out to tell him it is time for silent mode so the neighbours can get some sleep. In the summer he wants to stay out all night so he does his best to be quiet. I give him two warnings and if he can not be quiet I bring him inside for the rest of the night. In the winter I always bring him in and he parks himself on the rug at my feet and moves upstairs when I go to bed.
That has been our routine daily for eleven years. Now the day, the yard, the woods feel empty without his energetic presence. Parts of my life will be less complicated with Murphy gone but I don’t relish that. I won’t have to make sure Ann is ok to walk him twice a day when I go on the road and traveling to visit my closer friends and family by road will be easier but he will be missed by many.
He happily came along on road trips to Martha’s Vineyard to visit my bro, New Brunswick (Canada) to see my cousins in Bonney River, The Northeast Kingdom in Vermont to visit my long time friend, and near Kingston Ontario where we lived part time for a while with friends and their two dogs. We kept up the same daily schedule in those places substituting beaches on The Vineyard, shore walks and woods in New Brunswick and woods and beside Lake Ontario with his buddies for our usual forays.
He never spent a night away from home or away from me until Friday, 16 March 2018 when he had become weakened from not eating or drinking and was unable to effectively empty his bladder. We had been to his vet on Monday as soon as he started exhibiting symptoms and was started on a course of antibiotics and special food thinking it might be a UTI or stones or crystals in his urine. I even raced a meager urine sample back to the vet on Tuesday before our big nor’easter snowstorm started.
We continued to walk a couple of times a day down the road
and on Thursday he even took himself down the road unbeknownst to Ann as she walked to the start of the road to get the paper, only noticing him when she turned to walk back. So on Friday I carefully drove him to Midcoast Animal Emergency Clinic in Warren arriving when they opened at 1730 to get x-rays and ultrasound to see if we could find a reason and help him.
I stayed for several hours and left him in the caring hands of the vets and assistants there who gave him fluids and emptied his bladder and gave him pain meds. In the morning when I called he had eaten and taken his meds and treats easily and was much more comfortable. Twenty minutes later the vet called me to say that with the morning ultrasound, easier to do with him being more comfortable, they had found that one of his kidneys was entirely a mass of some kind with a tendril coming off it and floating fluid-filled cysts in his intestines and something preventing them from inserting a stable catheter and stopping him from being able to eliminate his bladder on his own.
I made the painful decision for euthanasia reasoning that any further procedures would not be tolerated well by Murphy at his relatively advanced age and I did not want to subject him to more getting in and out of my truck and drives to vets.
Ann and I arrived at midday and I settled the bill first. He heard us right away and was whining and barking for me. We were escorted with Murphy to a private room where we did the morning greeting, smelling, leaning, pushing together and generally re-establishing that we were each ok. He was so much better than the day before. With the added fluids, pain meds and empty bladder he was energetic and after about fifteen minutes of hanging out he started to indicate by moving to the door that we ought to get out of there. I did not want him to become anxious the longer we stayed so I had Ann call the vet assistants in to begin the process by injecting him with anesthesia.
He walked around the room and came to us for love and I spoke to him telling him what a good job he’d always done as our guard and when he was starting to totter a bit I talked him into lying down beside me and I leaned over him kneading his neck and shoulders and continuing a constant patter in my hypno-voice telling him he was my shining star and that he had nothing to do right now but relax, he was the best dog in all the land and was my fabulous and most excellent companion. Ann was rubbing his hips and I talked him right under and continued to talk in his ear as the vet came in and gave him the lethal dose.
I spoke and praised and worked his neck and shoulders leaning over him as I told him how much he had been loved and appreciated for all his vigilance on our behalf until the vet said that his heart had stopped and still I talked to him and told him it was ok to let go and we were so grateful for all he had done for us and then he was gone.
I stayed kneeling on the floor beside him with my face buried in his neck ruff for a couple of minutes until the unique smell that was Murphy began to fade and I knew he was really gone from that beautiful vehicle that he had inhabited for just over twelve years.
Pyrs are difficult, almost always alphas, thinking they know best and are slow or reluctant to follow the commands other dogs obey like marines because why on earth would they sit, come, stay, down when they know what they are doing and have to be ever vigilant? And yet if you can allow for that stubbornness and the suspicion of everyone who is unknown, they are loving and loyal and protective and quiet (indoors) and smell good (when they haven’t surprised a skunk) and leave a huge hole when they are gone too soon.
Murphy was a shining star of a Great Pyrenees, doing what he saw as his job right to the end and I am so grateful that he came into my life.Thank you, Murphy Badurphy, Burfie, sweetest of dog companions. You will be missed.