This is MacArthur, my dog from many years ago. I got him when he was about seven weeks old. Found him in a newspaper ad. He was one of four in a litter of pups. He was a tri-colored collie. I chose him because his sisters were all normal collie color. He was different and I thought quite beautiful. This photo doesn’t allow you to see that he had long gold and white hair that ran down the backs of all four legs and some of the same in his tail. I also chose him because he looked a bit like a wolf. And yet, he was the most gentle of creatures, glued to my side, my protector, emotional support, and my friend.
I just finished reading my favorite novel for the third, maybe fourth, time. It’s a dog story written by Dean Koontz and titled Watchers. It always reminds me of Mac and the very special bond we shared. Although the dog in Koontz’s story is a golden retriever, some of the things he does, echo my experiences with Mac. Einstein, the dog in the story is the result of experiments conducted in a lab. His genes have been scientifically manipulated to a degree that he actually understands spoken language, and later in the book, is taught how to spell out messages with the tiles to a scrabble game. Yes, he is Wonder Dog, with a delightful sense of humor. He is also the epitome of fantasy for anyone who has ever loved a dog.
When he was only about six months old, Mac got sick. The Vet said he had an infection and gave me instructions to feed him soft cooked hamburger and daily medication. He was still small, just a puppy, and I kept him close, holding him a lot and even singing to him. He recovered in about two weeks, but I believe that experience was what bonded us so strongly.
When I say that Mac was glued to my side, I mean that literally. When I went out to our huge garden to weed or pick vegetables, he’d go with me and slowly move down the rows, lying down to wait until I moved on to the next row. Although he wasn’t trained to do it, he never left our yard, except to play for short times with the Australian Shepherd that lived next door. And even when he did, he would coax her over to our side of the property line.
Before the folks with the Shepherd moved in, that house was occupied by a family with five kids. They loved to play with my kids and Mac because he would always catch the Frisbee and return it to whoever threw it in the first place. Except when I was outside. Then he only brought it back to me. The kids were aware of that, so they’d knock on the back door and ask if Mac could come out to play, but politely ask that I not do the same.
Mac slept on the floor next to my side of the bed. Back then, I often had repetitive nightmares, moaning and crying in my sleep. Mac would wake up and come to gently lick my fingers in order to awaken me, whining softly as he did so. My husband, sleeping next to me, was never awakened from sleep by my turning and tossing.
One night, when I was experiencing some chest pain, my husband called for an ambulance. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, and Mac was sitting quietly on the floor next to me. When the attendants came to get me, he silently moved in front of me and simply stared both men down. Although I told him it was okay, he wouldn’t move and just kept looking silently at the two men. No growling, just a steady stare and neither man wanted to come near me. My husband had to come in, pick him up bodily and remove him from the room, before they were able to bring in a stretcher to take me out. Got a clean bill of health after being checked out, but when I came back, Mac stuck even closer to me.
He had a friend next door on the other side of our property. She was a full blood collie and her name was Daisy. An older couple owned the house and had two teen-aged children. They had a chain link fence that ran down the property line, but had separated that backyard space into two distinct territories. Half of it was back yard with grass, but the other half was garden. They had put up another fence with a gate to mark the spaces.
When the two dogs were out at the same time, they’d meet at the fence, nose to nose, and then on some private cue, known only to them, they would race down the fence line. Poor Daisy would have to cut away so she could get through the middle gate and back to her side of the long fence line. Mac would slow his steps, and they would dash together to the end of the fence. And somehow they always finished together, sit for a moment and then, again on cue, race back again. They were beautiful together and loved their private game.
For all of his beauty, Mac was clumsy on one level. When he wanted to lie down, he didn’t do what other dogs did. Which was sit down on their back haunches and then slowly stretch out in a prone position. When Mac wanted to lie down, he’d simply drop his entire body to the floor with a thump. I was a voracious reader, even then, and he’d come into the room, and drop down in front of my rocker, bouncing the rocker and me as he landed on the floor. If he wanted to go outside, or simply felt I’d had enough stillness, he’d get up, turn around and place his front paw across whatever I might be reading. And on occasion, would push his nose under the book, toss his head and flip the book out of my hands and over his shoulder.
We lived out in the county at the time. The Petersen kid, from down the road was a bit of a punk, often starting fights and getting into trouble. After letting Mac out one day, I saw him throwing rocks at the dog. I shouted at him, while calling Mac inside. Months later, I was out in the huge garden with Mac, when he suddenly jumped up, snarling, and barking as he ran to the front of the property (just over of an acre). I rushed to the front of the house, to find the kid throwing stones at Mac, who was snarling and holding him from stepping onto the driveway. The kid started swearing at me and saying he’d kill the dog for attacking him. Everyone in the neighborhood knew my dog. I asked the kid if he’d like me to step outside and tell Mac to attack? He dropped the stones and ran for home. Mac wasn’t attack trained, but the kid left him alone after that. I was always amazed that Mac knew the kid was there. We’d been at the far end of the property when he’d leapt to his feet and ran to defend us. Furthermore he’d only done that with one person before.
I do have a startle response and those who knew me, would sometimes creep up and touch me, or yell just to watch me jump and yelp. They thought it was funny. I was sitting at the kitchen table and Mac was sleeping at my feet. Unbeknown by either of us, my husband had sneaked into the house and up the short stairway that led to the kitchen doorway. He burst through the doorway yelling. I jumped, but so did Mac. Lunging straight up from the floor, between us, teeth bared, and snarling. He was aimed directly at my husband’s throat. About halfway to his target, he realized who it was and started back pedaling, dropping in a heap to the floor. All of us were completely startled to stillness for a moment. My husband had gone completely white, and Mac went absolutely still on the floor.
Fighting the grin on my face, I turned to my husband and said, “Maybe you shouldn’t try to do that again?” He angrily left the room and I bent down to pat Mac and tell him he was a “good dog.”
You see, my husband wasn’t always a nice man. Before Mac was a year old, Marty had done something nasty to him, and Mac never forgot it. When it was time to go outside, if Marty stood between him and the door, Mac would refuse to go out. He’d put on his dumb dog look and simply lie down and wouldn’t move. No amount of coaxing could change his mind. If Marty insisted, Mac would go stiff and begin to growl softly in his throat. And for the almost seven years Mac was with me, the occasional slaps and shoving of my person, stopped completely. He was my protector and emotional support during that time and I needed him as much as he needed me.
I was about six months pregnant with our third child, when I let Mac outside for the evening. Brought him back in and sat down in the rocker to continue reading. My husband worked third shift at the time. Mac laid down at my feet, as usual. Within minutes, my eyes were watering profusely, and I realized that it was because Mac wreaked. He’d been sprayed by a skunk while outside. It was late, I was exhausted and had no idea what to do. My two older children were sleeping upstairs with the door up there closed. I put Mac in the back entrance stairway and went to bed. He’d whine, but I didn’t want the whole house to smell like skunk.
In the morning, when my two oldest came down, my nine-year old son, told me that Mac needed to be bathed in tomato juice to get rid of the smell. When I later called the Vet, I was told the same thing. I went downstairs and brought up two quarts of home-made tomato juice. My husband was outside replacing windows, and happened to be working at the bathroom window, when I brought Mac in and got him in the bathtub. He was very still as I began pouring the tomato juice over his body and slowly rubbing it into his fur.
He was very good about it, but when he’d had enough, he slowly stood up, put one paw on my burgeoning belly and leapt clean over my shoulder, running into the middle of the kitchen, where he shook himself out, spraying tomato juice all over the place. I was in shock. I’d barely felt him as he lifted off from my body, and meanwhile my husband was laughing uproariously from the other side of the window. Repressing my own laughter, I chastised Mac briefly and led him back to the bathroom. Got him back in the tub and rinsed him off, then toweled him dry. It worked like a charm, no more skunk smell, but it took two days to clean my tomato sprayed kitchen. And I just couldn’t be angry about it. I would see him sailing over my head and start laughing all over again.
Then came the evening when I walked in from a meeting in town, and looked up to see Mac stand up from the bed where he’d been sleeping and jump to the floor to come and greet me. But his legs caved out from under him and he landed in a limp pile on the floor. I rushed over and it took some time to get him back up on his feet. He was trembling and breathing harshly. I took him to the Vet the next day. She ran some blood tests and told me that his lymph nodes had almost completely disappeared, something we wouldn’t have noticed because he had so much long hair. She called the next day and said the tests revealed that he had something akin to canine leukemia, and didn’t have much time left.
Those last few days were difficult. Mac couldn’t navigate on his own, so I had to carry him outside, and we’d sit quietly in the sunshine feeling the breezes moving around us. He’d lost a lot of weight, and wasn’t heavy. I kept my hand on him and he’d stare into my eyes. I sang to him often and he’d fall asleep with his head resting on my lap.
The Vet had made an early morning appointment and had come in to the office with her assistant. I carried Mac inside and laid him carefully on the examination table. The Vet picked up the syringe and her assistant moved to hold Mac down, but the Vet said softly, “There’s no need for that, this one is a gentleman.” She put out her hand and Mac gave her his paw. She quickly gave him the injection and the two women left the room telling me to take whatever time I needed. I stepped to the front of the table and Mac lifted his paw and I took it in my hand, while I watched the light fade from his eyes. Bent to kiss him one more time and softly whispered, “You go now, and fly free for both of us.”
I walked quietly out to my car and just sat there for a time, not thinking just feeling the emptiness inside. Finally started the vehicle and began the ten minute drive home. When I turned onto our road, I looked up to check the rear view mirror and for one moment, I saw Mac, racing behind the car like he’d race Daisy down the fence-line. Then he was gone.
My kids told me that their father had told them not to mention Mac to me. I supposed that was his attempt to help me through my grief process. But, they would come and tell me when they would hear the click of his dog tags, or feel him brush against them in passing. And I told them of similar experiences as well. Years later, long after the divorce, they told me that at one point, their Dad said that he thought that he and Mac had a very special relationship and that Mac actually loved him more than anyone else. They all just laughed out loud at the idea and he never mentioned it again.
Which reminds me of a favorite quote from another Dean Koontz novel from the Odd Thomas series:
Lots of people rewrite their past
rather than face up to it.
Writing daily has forced me to be honest as nothing else could. But it also has helped me to cherish the good things, like MacArthur, that happened along the way.
Elizabeth Crawford 6/16/2019