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The Worst Dog I Ever Had


“We rescued him from the mall.” That’s what I always say to describe how he came to be ours. In part, I say that because it can be considered poor taste to purchase a pet. I quickly learned this after posting about him on the blogs and socials. People panicked and sent me carefully worded messages about how I was contributing to the downfall of society by funding a puppy mill.

Then they sent follow-up messages to tell me how serious they really were, how they were losing sleep because Murphy’s biological mom had probably spent her entire life pregnant and crated, that her sweet little momma-dog feet had likely never touched green grass, and that my reckless behavior and impulsive purchase were perpetuating the cycle of abuse in animals.

A fair point, actually.
But I had already bought him.

I had signed a contract that all sales were final. And after I signed it, the sales clerk – seventeen and pimpled – had done what his boss required: he read the fine print aloud to me. I had to sign a second contract to confirm that I had listened and heard and understood. All sales were final.

If we got home and changed our minds, no returns.
If we took him to the vet and learned that what we thought was a puppy was actually a lemon, no returns.
I had carried that puppy out of the mall, and they weren’t taking him back.

But in a way, I feel like I did rescue him that day. Like his momma-dog that came before him, his sweet little feet had never touched green grass. He had never been out of a crate. And the window was closing on his adoption opportunities. While most puppies come home at 8-10 weeks, Murphy was more than four months old. And what happens to a puppy nobody wants? What becomes of him? So I do think it’s fair to say I rescued him.

Once he came home, we immediately began to learn some of the ways our brindled puppy was damaged goods. He peed on everything. Months in a crate had given him no understanding of inside, outside, exploration, and boundaries. He didn’t understand anything that didn’t smell like him, so he quickly made it his own by marking it. If it didn’t smell like him yet, it soon would. The only way he could make sense of the world was to leave a few drops on everything in his path.

I have heard, “There are no bad dogs, only bad owners.” Sorry – “bad dog parents.” And probably I was a bad dog parent. I did everything wrong. Absolutely everything.

When Murphy came home, I was in a very deep depression. I had thought a puppy would be the Great White Hope for happiness in our home. By the time I realized he would never be – could never be, and should never be – by then my two boys couldn’t see his flaws or smell his messes, and they had had enough taken away. I couldn’t bear to break their hearts again. So Murphy got to stay.

He got cataracts before he was a year old.
His elbows were displaced, and they bowed outward at a 100-degree angle that made him look like he had ridden a teeny tiny horse for all of his teeny tiny life.
Saddest of all, he never seemed happy to see any of us. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that the reason he never wagged his tail wasn’t because he didn’t want to. His tail didn’t work. Truthfully, his tail had probably been one more broken part of him.

Adding to the list of challenges against Murphy, we met Sam. Sam was Peter’s dog when we started dating, and Sam was legendary. A trained therapy dog and a natural empath, I often joked that Sam had more emotional intelligence than some men I had dated. I was kidding… but also totally serious.

Peter and I got married, so now we all had Sam, who greeted us at the door, walked peacefully off the leash, monitored and adjusted every mood in the room, retrieved the newspaper every morning, and could be a courier of items throughout the house to specific people.

“Here, Sam,” we could say, “Take this to Dad.” And he would.

Meanwhile, Murphy fumbled and bumbled around the house, struggling to navigate stairs, and wearing diapers to protect my lowest bookshelves. The Dynamic Duo became known as The Best Boy and the Other One.

Then Sam got a cough. We took him to the vet for a checkup, expecting an antibiotic, but an X-ray proved that our good boy’s chest cavity was full of cancer. We left with only his collar and leash, tangible proof that only the good die young.

So then it was only Murphy again. Poor guy didn’t stand a chance in the empty acreage of our hearts. Once again, it was too big a sadness for a little broken dog to fill.

When Peter was ready for another companion, we began our search for Huckleberry. Chosen from a lineage of award-winning canines, we picked out our new pal. There was nothing impulsive about the decision, the breeder, or the purchase. The breeder had hand-raised each of these puppies, and he knew their temperaments as well as their faces. The social media had been right: this was the way to do it. Now I learned from Peter how to choose, prepare for, and bring home a man’s best friend.

When we learned that Huckleberry had a creamy blond sister whose adoptive parents had fallen sick with Covid, and she was available for adoption, too, Peter and I doubled our portion. We kept her as secret as a pregnancy gender reveal, and the boys didn’t know about Molly until they placed her in my arms.

I’m obliged to clarify that all of the dogs belong to all of us. Truly. But I have a special fondness for Molly. Peter and Huck hunt for elephants, while Molly and I snuggle up to read books about them.

And still, Murphy kept on ticking, tagging along for walks and trying to keep up. He was a grumpy old man, and we had moved two toddlers into his assisted living facility. I worried that the “two littles” – quickly the “two bigs” – would learn his bad habits, but they were soon housebroken in ways Murphy never was. Again, Murphy was outnumbered by bigger, better dogs.

I won’t say I ever hated Murphy, but I will say I can’t speak for everyone at our house. And I will agree that he was hard to love. It’s hard to love a dog who bites the guests and pees on the throw pillows, without even the charm of a wagging tail.

We began to offer the dogs cheerful choices.
“Huckleberry, do you want to go for a walk? Yes? You’re allowed.”
“Molly, do you want a special treat? Yes? You’re allowed.”
“Murphy, do you want to go to heaven? Yes? You’re allowed.”

We talked about giving him away, but we knew his neurotic little self couldn’t adjust to life anywhere else. We talked about giving him to a shelter, but we knew he’d live a short and lonely life without us. And we thought about putting him down, but I couldn’t reconcile giving up on a family member because they become inconvenient.

And so, Murphy ticked on, lived on, and licked to see another day.

He was eleven years old when he died last week. The vet came to our home to confirm that he was dying, and we were with him until the end. I held him as he fell asleep. Peter held him as he died. And each of the boys held him before he left, something Murphy would never let them do while he was still alive, since something on his little body always hurt to be touched by any hands but mine.

I think the weight of a lifeless dog is one of the things a young man needs to hold. It changes a person.

Ted Lasso says, “It’s funny how the very things that could make you cry knowing they existed become the very things that make you cry knowing that they’re gone.”

He’s the worst little dog I ever had. But I was his person. And he did his best.

So long, little defender. See you someday.
Please tell Sam we said hello.

Very soon, I’ll get these carpets cleaned.

Tricia Lott Williford

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  1. “I think the weight of a lifeless dog is one of the things a young man needs to hold.” So very sad. My youngest and I have been there. A couple years ago he helped me take our Penny Dog to the vet ER one morning when she was suddenly too weak to walk. Sorry for your loss. Glad you have the other two to love on and enjoy.

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