Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Memories of a real champion

        The closest Murray ever got to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was when he sat next to me on the couch and watched it on TV. For one thing, he was 2 inches taller than a male collie is supposed to be. And there were other things that would have made a judge wave him off, things that weren't his fault.

        For instance, he never wore a contraption on his ears so they'd have that natural collie “tip” that turns out not to be so natural. We brushed him faithfully, but we never fluffed him up with a hair dryer or gave him hot-oil treatments for his split ends. We never put a ribbon in his hair. Ever.

An imperfect gentleman

        Murray, a good sport about many things, let us know from the first that he was a dog, not a Barbie doll. I mean, really, would Barbie have eaten the leg off my favorite wing chair? Would Barbie have rolled in the neighbor's garbage?

        Last February, I am positive he was making fun of Lake Cove That's My Boy, a standard poodle and Barbie dog in the final round of the Best in Show competition at Westminster. He snorted every time the dog pranced his big hair and goofy shaved legs past the camera.

        Even if I'd gone to doggy hairdresser school, I'm not sure I could have prepared Murray for the personal attentions of the dog show judges. He was never encouraged to let strangers stick their fingers in his mouth or put their hands on him to see whether he was indeed a perfect gentleman, if you get my drift. It would have embarrassed us both.

        From the time he was a puppy, Murray had a certain dignity. Considering that he often refreshed himself at the toilet bowl, this was no mean trick. He kept his dignity, if I may say so, until the day he died.

        He had, in fact, just become an adult when we learned that he was sick. Just 3 years old, he was diagnosed with cancer, the No.1 killer of dogs today, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Our vet passed us along to a doggy oncologist, Cheryl Harris, one of only a handful of specialists in the area.

Gallant, uppity

        The plan was never to vanquish Murray's cancer. The drugs to do so would have been too caustic. As Dr. Harris said from the beginning, “Our goal is a happy dog.” Buying him a little time was about the best we could expect. I watched anxiously as she scanned Murray's chart.

        And, by the way, eventually his chart was a disgrace, taped together and smudged. This woman of science, this highly regarded practitioner of veterinary medicine, never makes a new chart once treatment has begun. “Bad luck,” she says brusquely.

        We had good luck for several months during which Murray was his gallant, uppity, personable self, during which he endured without complaint needles and noxious potions.

        But then it was time.

        “Murray will send you the message,” a friend said. “They always do. We just have to make sure we are listening.”

        He did. And we were.

        So tonight, I will watch the finals of the Westminster (USA Network at 8 p.m.) without Murray. I'll be sharing the couch with Mack, who reminds me a lot of Murray. It's something about the eyes. Or maybe it's wishful thinking. He's still a baby — 9 weeks old — and has yet to destroy his first stick of furniture or permanently anoint the carpet.

        So, I'll try very hard to notice what a good pup he is, and I'll try not to wish he was Murray.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call (513) 768-8393.


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