We drop Murdoch at the vet first thing in the morning the day after a snowstorm. The forest is awash in white, the fields pristine and glowing with the fiery pink and orange of the sun in a frigid sky rising up behind the mountains. Snow banks tower overhead as we trundle along the road, itself gleaming, packed smooth and shiny.
Murdoch missed breakfast, but he doesn’t seem to care since he is in the car, face pressed to the window, steam billowing from his mouth, obscuring his view. We are going somewhere. It is an adventure. I turn to look at him where he sits deliriously happy in the back seat, ready for anything. Anything except what is actually going to happen.
“Sorry Murds,” I say. “But if you’d let me pick out that crap between your teeth we wouldn’t be doing this now.” He flicks a glance at me, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, and then his eyes are glued on the world outside the window again.
“He has no idea,” I say to Morgan. And we talk about the only other time Murdoch was anaesthetized, when he was neutered at maybe six months old and we were sure it would make a difference to his manic personality. We had dropped off this whirling dervish of teeth and hair, expecting a pathetic creature to emerge, drowsy and feeling sorry for himself. What appeared, however, when they brought him to us in the waiting room was exactly what we had dropped off. The cone around his neck didn’t even slow him down. He marched into the room, head held high, and when he saw us, he leapt into action as if to say, “That was awesome, what are we doing now!?” It was like he had just awoken from a really great nap. We wonder if that is how he will be this time.
But when we pick him up later that afternoon, he is a marshmallow.
He enters the exam room, mouth clamped shut, body moving like a slowly ebbing wave past where I kneel on the floor. “Oh Murpy,” I say when I see the bandana tied jauntily around his neck. Murdoch is not really a bandana sort of dog, but this is perfect. It is black and pirate-themed with skulls and eye patches and muscled arms wielding sabers.
He is mushy and subdued, not at all how we’d left him. After his frantic spin around the waiting room and then panting excitement in the exam room as he was weighed and we explained the problem, he leapt up with his front paws on the exam table and leaned in to one of the vet techs, his head on her shoulder, and flicked his tongue at her face, his mouth in a grin, tail sweeping happily.
“Get down,” I said, and then apologized to the girl, but she laughed, enjoying his enthusiasm. When we handed over his leash I explained how I use it backwards, looping the leash through the handle and keeping it high up on his neck for better control. “He’s strong,” she said with a smile. And as I agreed, Murdoch hauled her out through the door that leads to the surgery. Morgan and I exchanged worried glances as we turned to go.
But they are no strangers to Murdoch here. The last time he was at the vet it was summer and I had to wait with him outside at a distance from the clinic. We stood in a small field lined with two straight rows of apple trees across a trickling stream from the busy clinic, and watched people and their pets come and go. Murdoch stiffened with interest and paced and huffed at the air as he monitored these movements but had to direct his enthusiasm to sniffing trees and lifting his leg on various patches of grass.
He was there just to get his shots but when I pulled in to the parking area on the edge of the farmyard, it was packed with cars. I left Murdoch bouncing about in the back of ours, parked beneath a towering pine tree, and poked my head in the door of the clinic.
“I’m here with Murdoch,” I told the girl behind the desk when I caught her eye. “We’ll just wait outside.” And she nodded knowingly.
Murdoch and I quick-marched across a wooden plank spanning the small stream and wandered about in the green field until one of the vet techs appeared outside the door of the clinic with a file folder in her hand and waved at us. I braced myself and headed for the building where I wrestled Murdoch through the bustling waiting room and into an exam room so he could be bribed with treats while he got his shots and then muzzled, as one of the shots was administered up his nose.
He is known here as a bush dog, a strong personality, a handful. A vet tech once said she would let someone else hold on to him because “he doesn’t like me, he growled at me last time.” I wanted to say, “Oh, he growls at everyone.” But I didn’t.
This dog who emerges subdued and mushy after the minor surgery on his gum is too tired to growl, which has never happened. He sits beside me with his head against my leg where I stand with Morgan and listen to the vet explain the surgery, show us pictures of the deep pocket in Murdoch’s gum, discuss her concerns for what happens next, namely more surgery to remove a healthy tooth in order to gain some gum to close up the pocket and save another tooth before both teeth become rotten due to exposed roots.
As we discuss options I notice Murdoch’s head getting heavier and heavier and starting to slide down my leg. When I glance down to check on him, his back legs are splayed out almost 90 degrees to his body. He looks like a big old bullfrog.
“Look at this,” I say with a laugh as he melts into a puddle on the floor.
“Yeah, we had to give him extra sedative,” the vet says as she looks around the table. “The normal dose didn’t work, so we had to give him more to get him to relax. He’s probably still feeling the second dose.”
Oh Murdoch, I wouldn’t have expected anything less. I could just imagine him leaping around an exam room crying out “You’ll never take me alive!!” and the vet entering with a blowgun and darts packed with sedative to take him down. And then the final kick in the pants, waking up with a bandana tied around his neck.
As we get ready to go, Murdoch pulls himself together, even mustering the strength to try and haul me through the door. He makes a show of attempting to take charge as Morgan walks him out of the clinic, his body stiffening up as though he could control their pace and direction.
We drive home beneath a sapphire blue sky in a blindingly white world, promising great adventure in the depth of all that fresh snow. But in the back seat, Murdoch sleeps, grudgingly I imagine, a great big puddle of a dog with a pirate bandana, plotting his revenge.