26: The Eyes Have It

26: The Eyes Have It

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

The Eyes Have It

An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.

~Martin Buber

A soft rain was falling the day we buried Sergeant Murphy. The weather seemed appropriate for a funeral, although it was unusually warm for late February in the Willamette Valley. Gary and I stood in the shelter of an old oak tree and shared memories of how Murphy had impacted our lives.

I thought back to the years he had been my partner, sitting beside me with his alert brown eyes taking in every movement outside our vehicle. Nothing escaped his notice. His casual demeanor, with his elbow on the armrest, belied the speed with which he could leap from our ride when the situation demanded. He even put up with my singing along with the local country music station.

The day we first met it had also been raining. This rain was far more typical of a Northwest spring. Hard, driving rain, with the wind blowing branches from the trees. It was a depressing Sunday afternoon. I had no desire to leave my warm house and go to work, but knew I must. When I parked and ran into the office, my co-workers were standing in a huddle discussing one of our inmates.

Looking through his door, we watched him stretched out on his blanket, calmly looking back at us. Gail unlocked the door and we both went inside. We wanted to treat his wounds one last time. He was a solid mass of infected bite wounds from his muzzle to his tail. Murphy was a Pit Bull, not long from the fight ring. Despite his obvious discomfort as we worked on him, he made no attempt to bite. He would cry and push us away with his paws, but never gave the slightest indication that he was even thinking of biting us.

Gail looked at me and shook her head. “I can’t do it.” We both looked at the kennel manager, who just shook his head. I looked into Murphy’s eyes and I am still not sure exactly what I saw in them, but I knew it was something special. I filled out the adoption papers, clipped the fee to the forms, and buried them deep in the stack from the previous week.

I called my vet, and she agreed to meet me at her clinic. The first thing she did when she saw him was ask why I wanted a Pit Bull. I told her that I hadn’t the foggiest, but when all three of us were unable to put him down, there had to be something about him that was worth saving. She sedated him, and we worked together for the next hour and a half cleaning and dressing his wounds. He was still groggy when we got home, and he crawled under a table and went back to sleep.

A few weeks later, we went to an animal control conference in Seattle. One of the officers demonstrated what could be accomplished with the aid of a dog specially trained for animal control work. My co-workers and I discussed the idea on our drive home. We decided to see what Murphy could do.

I enrolled him in the next K-9 program, and he passed with flying colors. We had to teach him to bark, and he would only do it on command, but that was deemed acceptable. Next he got his advanced training, learning how to lure dogs within range of my catchpole. With most strays, he didn’t even need my help. I would open the big cage, and Murphy would trot out to the dog and engage it in play. They would circle back toward the truck, and Murphy would jump in, usually followed by the stray. Then Murphy would jump out and I would slam the door.

One night I received a call about a dog running in and out of traffic on a busy street near the park. When I arrived on the scene, I saw a large mixed breed running along the edge of the park. No owner was in sight, so I got out and called the dog. He came right to me, and I put a lead on his neck and started back to my truck. At that moment, the owner jumped from the bushes and ran toward me brandishing a large knife. Murphy leapt from the truck and took the man down, but received a punctured lung in the process.

I rushed him to the emergency clinic where we worked to stabilize him. We transferred him to the regular vet the next day. During the time he spent in the hospital, he refused to eat or drink unless I hand fed him. I spent the next two weeks camped on the floor of the recovery area, hand feeding Murphy bites of steak and chicken while he recovered enough to go home.

About a year later, I accepted a position in Oregon, and Murphy was no longer allowed to work with me due to county insurance regulations. He was, however, allowed to come in when a new officer was being trained in the use of the catchpole. Final score: Murphy 4, trainees 0.

Oregon summers can be brutally hot, with high humidity, and I frequently left windows open while I was at work. One afternoon some deputies were chasing a suspect through the yard. Murphy leapt through the window and joined the pursuit, bringing down the suspect. Without command, he went to heel at the nearest deputy’s side, still focused on the suspect. From that day on, the local deputies would ask to borrow Murphy if a county K-9 was not available.

Life went on in this manner for several years. Murphy had pretty much retired except for his training classes with the City and County K-9s on weekends.

As he got older, we dropped out of the classes too. I worked with him at home on tracking, which is not nearly as hard on his body. My neighbor’s five-year-old was our usual victim, and Murphy would literally jump with joy when he found her. I had seven acres of heavily wooded field to train in, so the training was quite realistic.

One morning about 2:00, I received call from dispatch asking if Murphy was available to search for a missing child. I explained that he was now fourteen years old and hadn’t tracked for several years. When the dispatcher explained that a two-year-old was lost in the mountains in freezing rain, I agreed that we would try. I pulled Murphy’s old tracking harness out of the closet, and the moment he saw it I swear that dog lost ten years. His eyes glowed and he danced in place while I buckled it on. We arrived on the scene just as the report came in that the child had been found in a far pasture, and was safe but cold. I put Murphy on the trail to go out and meet the rescuers so he would have the experience of “finding” the child. The little boy got lots of Pit Bull kisses, and Murphy got a hug for his reward. When we got home, he went straight to bed and stayed there until the next afternoon.

We knew the time was approaching when we would have to say goodbye. On a Wednesday afternoon in February, he had a massive stroke and could no longer walk. He would drink a bit of water if I handed it to him, but he refused all food. I had to carry him out to the yard to relieve himself. His vet came on Friday evening and released him from his worn-out body. It was the first time I had seen the vet cry while euthanizing a dog. I sat on the floor holding Murphy while he went to sleep for the last time. For nearly an hour afterwards, we sat around talking about him and the life he had lived.

Murphy was more than just a dog. He was destined for great things, and his expressive brown eyes told all of us that on that rainy Sunday in the kennel.

~Kathryn Hackett Bales

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