Last fall Josh and I welcomed a puppy into our lives. It was my idea, having had a hankering for a dog since I went to college and found myself without one. In college, I knew that I was not responsible/structured enough for a new puppy and my parents refused to let me relocate my elderly childhood dog, Honey Bear, to my apartment. I ended up with my cat Merlin, who I love dearly, but it just wasn’t the same.
Case in point, one day I came home to our apartment and Josh was running erratically around our circular floor plan.
“What’s going on?”
“Playing a game with Merlin” he huffed, switching directions suddenly and jogging backward, knees to chest. This was clearly some sort of muscle memory from a football practice of yesteryear.
I scanned the apartment. Merlin was sitting on the back of the sectional sofa, watching Josh with a grave disinterest.
“Babe, I don’t think Merlin is playing.”
Josh stopped and surveyed the room, “He was a minute ago. He was chasing me.”
“You really need a dog.”
And this is how the idea took hold. Initially, having never had a dog himself, Josh was enamored with two large, muscly powerhouse breeds. He wanted a Cane Corso. He wanted a Pit Bull. The debate began, and in time my main points won, the most major of which being that there are breed restrictions in apartment living on those breeds specifically and we are not homeowners.
So we set out with a fairly open mind. I really wanted to rescue. We spent weeks visiting shelters around the Baltimore, MD area. No exaggeration, ninty-percent of the dogs were pit bull mixes. I just really couldn’t take the risk of having trouble finding housing when I knew it would be many years before I had a home. And, to be honest, I don’t think they’re cute. And I don’t want a dog that other people are afraid of. I wanted a poodle mix. I love fluffy dogs.
We applied to rescues. We rarely heard anything back, and when we did living in an apartment always seemed to be a significant snag. For all the desperate urgency these organizations claimed to have they appeared to only be adopting out to married families with yards. I was really frustrated.
So, we branched out. In a perfect world I would have Goldendoodle or a Labradoodle. The cuteness factor. So cute. So endlessly adorable. However, a Goldendoodle puppy proved to be as much as two thousand dollars.
“That’s insane. It’s just totally insane.” Josh stated as he scrolled through the links of breeders I had sent him.
“I know, but a pet is like a lifetime investment… someone has got to have a reasonable litter, I don’t care about papers or anything, I just want a healthy puppy.”
My parents, crazed animal enthusiasts themselves, gifted us a few hundred dollars toward the purchase as an early Christmas present. As if by magical intervention, I found two ads for doodle puppies for less than five hundred dollars while my mom was visiting. The homes were all in rural Pennsylvania, a few hours away. I arranged for an immediate visit at the closest one, in Lancaster.
The three of us boarded my mom’s Subaru, Josh captaining the voyage.
“Listen kids, we need to pay attention to which dog is the most outgoing and confident,” my mom began.
“Well I’ve never seen an awkward puppy.” I replied. This wasn’t a middle school dance.
“No, seriously. And you definitely want a male puppy. Bitches are petty, they’re always challenging you.” She stated, flipping her blonde hair over her shoulder. Backstory: my mom runs a small dog walking and dog training business.
“Bitches are petty? Mom, what are you talking about! Honey Bear never challenged us. She wasn’t petty!” I couldn’t believe the slander.
“Not Honey Bear, neccesarily. Although, she wasn’t perfect.”
“Oh, because she had a little incontinence? She was fourteen years old and had a botched spaying procedure. You said so yourself!” I was teetering, clearly still hypersensitive about my deceased dog.
“Didn’t you say you wanted a boy puppy? That’s what I want,” Josh intervened, squeezing my hand.
“Yes, yes I do.”
“Well then!” Mom threw her hands up in the air and looked slightly upward, as if commiserating with her audience stage right.
Josh delivered us into Amish country. The buggies and the beards and the quilts were everywhere, roadside shops cropping up more and more rapidly as we approached.
“Oh we should stop! Get some jam or something!”
“Eh, no thank you.”
“It’s vaguely cult-ish. They’re isolated, ostracized, don’t have access to a lot of outside resources.”
My mother looked befuddled.
“There are patients who got out of cults at her job,” Josh offered.
“Ohhhhhhhhhhh”, Mom tipped her head back in an exaggerated nod. My job working with trauma horrified her.
“You know, we could be headed to an Amish farm right now,” Josh stated, raising his eyebrows.
Mom slapped her knee enthusiastically, laughing with glee, “Maybe they’ll even have a possum for you Tasha!”.
After a minor trauma in childhood, I have a fairly serious possum phobia.
“Oh stop. I don’t have like a prejudice against them I’m just saying I don’t find it charming. I don’t want to, like, pull off the road and submerge myself in it. We don’t have time. Besides, they had an ad on the internet, so.”
“Look around you, that’s all I’m saying” Josh said, gesturing to our scenery.
Finally, we arrived at a spacious housing development and pulled into a large driveway.
“Oh, I’m so excited!” I bounded out of the car, and hurriedly rang the doorbell.
“Hi, we called earlier about the puppies! We’re here to look at them.” I smiled.
The woman nodded, “Sure, Natasha? I’m Annalee,” she extended her hand to each of us, “Just let me get them rounded up,” she yelled behind her, “JONAH! THE DOGS! GET THEM READY!”
There was a telephone and answering machine in the entry hall. They must be a Mennonite family.
“Just a moment,” Annalee shut the door.
“Ok, they are obviously Mennonite’s like cousin Tara’s friend who was in her wedding, and I don’t care. I really don’t.” I spit out as quickly as I could before the door opened again and the woman returned with her son. My mother just widened her eyes and crossed her arms in front of her, smiling. I had once admitted to my family in high school that dwarves also made me uneasy, following a warped Haunted House experience, and that tid bit had morphed into Natasha hates midgets, really hates them!
I had to stay ahead of this.
We followed the two around the side of the brick house, into the backyard. There was a giant metal dog kennel where the yard bordered a field. My heart sank. I couldn’t get on board with this. There were three separate “lanes” within the chain link separating the dogs. A large yellow lab, a cocker spaniel, and a German Shepherd stared back at me.
“These are our moms!” the woman said. Her son slipped into the first lane, with the lab, “Take out the boys!”
Giant puppies exploded into the first lane from the closed tin roof shelter, bounding into their mother. They were almost red, and shockingly large. I had wanted a small, soft, cuddly baby but these puppies were monstrous and had a visible stink, like Pig Pen in Charlie Brown.
“How old are they again?”
“Twelve weeks, they were born on… July 17th” she said, glancing down at her paperwork.
I squeezed Joshua’s hand, that was three days before our anniversary. Meant to be!
“My birthday’s the 18th! Are those their papers? Who’s the stud?” Mom asked, reaching for the stack.
Josh and I chose two puppies to come out of the kennel and play in the yard. One of the puppies was fluffier than the other, and also more exuberant. He raced around the yard, crashing into us intermittently for pets, with a giant smile on his face.
“That’s a wild one.” Mom said, appearing at my side, “Look the stud is an apricot Poodle! He’s gorgeous!” she lowered her voice, “Although this really isn’t a good situation here,”
The crazed puppy boomed past us and jumped directly into a shallow creek at the edge of the property. The water splashed over him and he turned and looked at us with a giant smile. He jumped directly up into the air and came back down with another large splash.
Josh rumbled with laughter, “Wow,”.
“He’s so happy! I want him. He’s definitely a Murphy.”
“JONAH, TOWEL!” the woman commanded.
Her husband appeared in the horizon on a riding lawn mower. He was wearing two tone denim and chewing on straw. As he approached a sinister energy entered the yard, my intuition prickled.
“This dog is staying, huh?” He said as a greeting as he swung the second puppy we had asked to be released into the air. The gesture was reminiscent of the way one handles livestock, holding the animal by it’s limbs.
I felt a sudden pang of guilt. The puppies were getting older, what would happen to them if they couldn’t be sold? This kennel was clearly used for breeding multiple breeds of puppies, and did not have room to spare for any additional animals growing into adults. A dramatic vision of the scowl faced lawn mower cowboy shooting all the puppies and making poor Jonah bury them sprang to life in my mind. I glanced around, could there already be unwanted puppy graves here?
I whispered my worries into Joshua’s ear only to be met with absolute horror, “Stop yourself,” he commanded.
“This is the country, people do things like that!”
“Stop yourself.” he repeated, cracking a laugh as he shook his head. This is a phrase that Joshua says to me often.
Jonah returned struggling to carry the wiggling puppy in a blackened towel, “What are you gonna name him? I named him Riley when he was born.”
“Oh, Riley is cute, but I think we’re gonna go with Murphy”.
“Hmm. Ok.” Jonah didn’t approve, and patted Murphy on the head without sentiment before returning indoors.
Annalee smiled, “He loves to name them. This litter had all R names.”
We headed to the garage to look over the paperwork and wrangle the puppy into a collar. The one we had brought was too small. Annalee disappeared inside, citing she would send him off with some of his food.
“He’s definitely a Murphy,” Josh said.
“He’s filthy. God. He’s probably never had a bath.” Mom surveyed the puppy with disappointment.
“Mom… none of his vaccinations are up to date. Apparently he had a hernia or something? The doctor wrote that he needed to be seen again,” The paperwork was dirty and wrinkled and filled with concerning information.
“Oh, this is not good Tasha.”
“I can’t leave him here. I really can’t. It’s too awful.”
“He could be sick. You might have to deal with worms, which are totally disgusting, or even Parvo.”
I looked at the puppy licking Joshua’s face. These people did not care about his health, the paperwork clearly outlined the dates he needed to be seen again, but the appointments were never kept.
“I can’t leave him here.”
Annalee re-entered the garage, “We don’t have a printer, but here’s another picture of the stud. Big guy, ninety pounds”.
I asked about the hernia, and the other medical concerns, already knowing her answers wouldn’t change my mind. In the end I gave her just two hundred dollars for my Murph, which, in hindsight, was totally appropriate given the vet expenses we would accrue shortly. Spoiler: Murphy was full of worms.
I sat in the front seat and Josh lowered the puppy, still in the towel, into my lap.
“Hi, Murphy! Your name is Murphy now! Hello! I love you!”
As the Subaru rumbled to life and took to the road, Murphy scrambled around in my arms, howling and crying. His nails burrowed into my skin.
“Guys, this hurts.”
“Poor thing, he’s never left that yard you know. Probably scared out of his mind.”
“I can’t breathe, God he smells.”
Josh rolled the windows down to ventilate the car. Murphy scrambled to exit the car through the window. This continued for thirty minutes. My arms were now bleeding. I would have to wear long sleeves to work.
“He doesn’t want to be with us! He won’t stop crying!” I was starting to question our rescue mission. Maybe we should have driven the extra hour for the other puppies?
“No, Tash, this is totally normal. When I brought Weasley home he cried the whole way too. Pull over Josh, we’ll put him in the back.” Mom tapped Joshua’s shoulder and gestured to a small store coming up on the right.
Once placed in the hatchback area of the subaru, which was separated from the rest of the car by a metal gate, Murphy’s howls just grew louder and more desperate. For brief periods he would quiet down and curl up on the blankets, then would abruptly let out a few hysterical hiccups and begin again. We were all silent, our faces leaning into the whipping fresh air.
We pulled into a PetSmart and deposited Murphy in the grooming salon. He appeared to be in an absolute panic as he was carried away, but it had to be done.
A cheerful groomer reported he was twenty-four pounds!
We spent the two hour waiting time loading a shopping cart with puppy supplies, trying to anticipate what we would need. We painstakingly landed on a beautiful wooden crate, that Murphy would eat, plush adorable toys, that Murphy would eat, and charming food bowls, that Murphy would eat. We spent twice as much on supplies in that day alone than we had paid for Murphy!
We loaded the supplies in the hatchback and returned to the lone bench in the grooming salon.
“Well kids, this had been a very long day.” My mother stated.
“I really, really need a shower.”
“We all do.”
Finally, the door swung open and Murphy bounded toward us, dragging his groomer behind him. Visibly lighter in color, and still smelling vaguely awful, he propelled himself directly into my arms.
And in that moment, I loved him enormously, forever.