WASHINGTON, February 10, 2014 – Last week my wife’s Basset died at the age of ten and a half. Murray was a gentle creature with an unforgettably droopy face, short, stubby legs, and an interminably long torso. He was named for the economist Murray Rothbard, who was a close friend of ours. Since Murray had no offspring, we decided to give our puppy his name, and from what our friends told us, our pet “looked exactly like a Murray.”
The name fitted our Basset to perfection, although he looked nothing like the famous libertarian economist. But I doubt our deceased friend would have taken offense at the posthumous honor that we bestowed on his memory.
Although I’ve owned (or been owned by) many dogs, up until the time we acquired Murray, from what may be the largest Basset kennel in the country, near State College, PA, the only breed I dealt with were Dachshunds. These creatures were a handful and were known in whatever neighborhood we happened to live in to be exceedingly quarrelsome.
The most troublesome of the bunch were the “twins,” as our canine equivalents of Bonnie and Clyde were called. The two were descended from one of my older Doxies, and the young female tried repeatedly to kill her mother out of jealousy. The twins would go on blood-curdling raids whenever we left the gate to our fenced-in yard accidentally open. They would terrorize the locals with their snarls and angry expressions. And they were still fatefully around, when we brought home Murray as a cuddly three-month puppy. (It’s true there are no puppies quite as lovable as baby Bassets.)
Murray survived the bullying tactics of the twins and was soon out of their reach. Within two months of his arrival, he was double the size of his adversaries. Our young Basset grew into my favorite dog, although he was technically my wife’s. And our friends used to comment that I liked Murray so much because he was the first dog I had bonded with who did not behave “like a canine barracuda.”
I’ve never fully understood my fondness for Dachshunds. The ones I had were nippy and loud, even if Max, the progenitor of this grim group, as my late father-in-law once correctly observed, “only bit family members.” We still have a Dachshund who survived Murray, and she’s a total sociopath, who seems elated that the dog with which she was forced to share treats is now gone.
But at least this Dachshund, Minne, doesn’t bite.
What made Murray a thoroughly memorable pet were his kind disposition and unusually sweet face. Everyone in our Pennsylvania Dutch hamlet knew him by sight and would run over to pet him as soon as he ambled by on his morning or late afternoon walk. Although no formal vote was taken, the editors of the local newspaper declared him to be “the most popular dog in town.” If a real election had been called, I’m sure he would have won hands-down.
Murray also did therapy work and visited a variety of nursing homes and hospitals where he moved ponderously among the beds, while the residents tried to touch his soft fur or feel his surprisingly long ears.
He rarely if ever moved in a gingerly fashion for several reasons.
First, he was sedentary by nature, unless he had a rabbit in his sights, and his hunting instinct only persisted for about a two years. Murray was also comically stretched-out even for his elongated breed and because of this flaw, would have been unsuitable for showing, despite his world-class head.
Finally, and most devastatingly, his bones became weak by the time he was six or seven; and this further limited his willingness to go on walks and visit hospitals. My wife, who wished to keep him busy, set up what she styled “reading with Murray” sessions at the local library. Children who were thought to have “reading difficulties” would sit beside our Basset and try to sound out words from a primer.
Murray was never “judgmental” and would sleep placidly throughout the learning exercises.
Unfortunately my most vivid memory of Murray at this time was watching his slow decline, until he died of multiple causes last week. This was especially painful given my deep affection for the dog. It was just one thing after the other that came along, starting with a liver disorder and breathing difficulties and then extending to weakened hind legs and finally, to a tumor on his spleen.
I never before owned a “big dog,” and now it’s clear why I‘ve put up with my noisy little barkers over the last forty years. They’re just hardier and don’t require (de paribus ceteris) as much maintenance as larger animals. Losing one’s animal companions is a draining experience, and if one can delay the trauma by adopting a long-lived pet, there’s good reason to do so.
Although my Dachshunds have not been as virtuous or as sweet as Murray, they’ve also not died as soon. These pets rarely got sick and had a life expectancy of about eighteen years. When they finally departed, they had already caused such a racket that you didn’t weep for weeks over their passing.
And yes, I’m used to these selfish little Wieners.