The parental heavy lifting I forecast while pregnant could have never prepared me for having to navigate the majority of what has actually gone down. In my days of trying to “make everything that’s uncertain certain,” I could have never pictured the look on my 6 1/2-year-old’s face when he walked into the vet’s examination room to say “Goodbye” to the family dog.
In the spring of 2005, new to the state and even newer to home ownership, I convinced my husband to “just go and look” at the pound. Or at least this is how he retold the story to the kids. We were without Internet and had zero idea about PAWS and its close proximity in Lynnwood, so we opened the Yellow Pages (Google it, kids) and found the Seattle Humane Society, oddly enough in Bellevue. Once at the pound, we walked down the echoey halls filled with barking, the gate noises that spurred the barking, and well, more barking. I noticed that one dog, a big black dog mostly resembling a lab, was not partaking in the hamster wheels of events: people, barking, gates, people, barking, gates. He was an adult-sized lab mix named “Ricky,” and he wasn’t riled up, but instead somehow tongue out and happy. After a little meet-and-greet, where he was sweet, leaning on the lady holding his leash in what would come to be one of his signature moves, we decided to make “Ricky” a “Murphy” and bring him home. The night before, married less than a year and now living in a three-bedroom house with only one bedroom in use, I had mentioned the name would be great for a kid after hearing a co-worker describe her bed of the same name. This could possibly explain the Mister’s willingness to “just go and look.”
Once we got Murphy home, to join the cats, one of my first thoughts was “this house just got a lot smaller.” As I couldn’t have fully understood until now, he occupied more than just space in our house, but also an energy that he put into everything he did, from scaring away someone rattling the front door to wolfing down two pounds of raw chicken off the counter in the same room as my father-in-law without getting caught.
Murphy’s first days were much like those of an only child, the first grandchild or some sort of dog royalty. Anything he wanted, needed or so much showed half an interest in, was his. New beds, toys, trips to the vet and the pet store. If we went out of town, he went to “Camp Happy Paws” for a long weekend and a “pack mentality” refresher course. The back seat was his own for long trips to Marymoor or the Edmonds Dog Beach, where we found out water was his “thing.”
Not two months later, when I told one of my co-workers I was pregnant, the first lovingly misguided words were something to the effect of “but you just got your dog.” As new dog owners and know-it-alls, it never really occurred to us that Murphy, who was many nicknames deep at this point, would go from the actual backseat to the proverbial backseat.
In the time between getting pregnant and having my first kid, Murphy went from the non-barker at the pound to trigger happy, following me around no matter where I went or when. No one was so much as allowed to walk in front of our house before he alerted them to his menacing bark, backed up by a submissive dog with a love of tiny dogs. Pregnant me loved this and I was able to correctly forecast his love for my kids and their love for him. While trips to Marymoor ebbed and flowed with morning sickness, toddler walking skills, a backseat full of car seats, and another round of morning sickness, we did the best the we could. I know I’m not the only one to feel guilt over the division of attention, among a million other things beyond my wildest, craving-filled pregnant daydreams.
Last May, also on a holiday, Murphy needed to go to the emergency vet where we got the bad news that he most likely had bone cancer. We weren’t sure what to do or how long he had and our regular vet’s office wasn’t any help. This was the first round in hard conversations with the kids about the dog. You know, the conversations where you hear the words that you are saying, but you are kind of out of your body as if to watch it happening on a bad news nanny cam. Since then, we were armed with some pain medicine that didn’t do much and a watchful eye to make sure that his quality of life was still up to par; love from the kids, first right of refusal on any food that hit the ground, and a big new dog bed to ease the pain. But let’s be clear, the dog bed was for show, he hit the couch the second we fell asleep.
The morning of New Year’s Eve, it was clear that Murphy could no longer do the things he enjoyed the most; chasing squirrels in the backyard, rubbing his face on you after he had his nose in his water dish, or leaning on the couch right in front of you in hopes for an ear rub. While I had been to Brier Veterinary Hospital for flea medication, my only experience with Dr. Carol Earls was knowing she was a local mom after seeing her ad on My Edmonds News and recognizing her on a beach trip with my kids. Having had such a positive experience picking out flea medication with the staff up front — that’s an odd sentence, but it’s trickier than it sounds — I decided I would try the Brier Veterinary Clinic. With a full schedule and quick question back to the doctor, I was told I could bring Murphy in during the shortened holiday hours. While in the exam room, I heard the front desk do the same for a woman with a cat in need.
While, deep down I’d known for maybe a week this day was coming, I was nothing short of paralyzed by it. Dr. Earls explained that this was common and how she herself had been a veterinarian for awhile before she was in the same position I was now in. As this appointment ended up being as much to soothe our fears and help us understand what we were faced with as it was to help Murphy, it was so reassuring to know that someone who does this day in and day out could feel like I did. In feeling gratitude, I was initially overwhelmed with the need to tell you every detail of the thoughtful care I received. As time goes on, it feels like a dream or a movie montage meant to make you cry with only images and a sad song. Now, the specifics feel less important than the feelings of the day, which were compassion, care, understanding and devastation, mixed with an unexpected level of relief.
My husband was tasked with not only getting our kids, engrossed in Christmas present video games, over to the vet’s office, but doing so after breaking the news to them. Before I left for the appointment, we agreed we weren’t going to try and “fix it” by promising a new dog or distracting from the pain in many of the million ways we’d wanted to. We were gonna take the hit. Sitting in the exam room, knowing what was to come, I had prepared myself for their reaction the best I could, but I couldn’t have been further off. They responded directly opposite of how they handle most things — the emoter went stoic and the feeling-stuffer turned outward. I figured I would hit up Dr. Google when I got home and see just how people deal with this. I decided against it because I just too spent to try to handle this the “perfect” way, which I never accomplish anyhow. At dinner, which we don’t get to share together very often, we talked about how we felt, we shared stories and gave toasts with our plastic cups filled with the sparking cider meant to celebrate the new year.
We had a great last vacation week with our dog. He got lots of attention, holiday pot roast under the table, a couple of bones and a brand new “wooby.” He was a great dog with a shade of impossible, stealing food with man-in-a-dog-suit precision — he once stole a cookie jar off the kitchen table before dragging it onto his dog bed and opening it without breaking it. He taught us patience, what loyalty feels like, that cleaning up food we drop on the floor is tedious, that soft dog ears are hard to beat, being greeted at the door is so nice, and most recently, that things are easier when we tackle them together.
— By Jennifer Marx
Jen Marx, an Edmonds Mom of two young boys, is a traffic reporter by dawn and writer and PBJ maker by day. She is always looking for a fun place to take the kids that makes them tired enough to go to bed on time. You can find her trying to make sense of begging kids to ” just eat the mac n cheese” at jen_marx . If you have a kid-friendly event you’d like to share, email her at email@example.com.