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DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Man's best friend is a little girl's, too



Published: Thu, April 11, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



When I return home, I hear the jubilant voice of my dog shouting what unmistakably sounds like a human "hello," drawn out lyrically and with purpose. "He-e-ll-ohhh." This is accompanied by barking and howls and unbounded, certainly undeserved, joy.

Author Elizabeth von Arnim wrote, "Though parents, husbands, children, lovers, and friends are all very well, they are not dogs."

One poet went so far as to say that while humans spend their lives searching for their God, dogs have found him in man. Well, they certainly act like it.

Lately, because I stumbled into the Dewey Decimal area where dogs are featured, I've been reading books about dogs. And, aside from giving me some rather interesting authors and poets to quote, it's gotten me thinking about all the dogs of my youth.

First mutt: My first was a black Lab mutt -- smaller, thinner and more long-snooted than the purebred version. We named him Manfred.

If you're old enough, you'll recognize it from the cartoon "Tom Terrific." Our Manfred did not, however, battle Crabby Appleton, rotten to the core. He was simply my first dog.

In fact, were it not for a photo and one specific thing, I wouldn't remember Manfred at all.

One day, we caught him standing on the kitchen table eating grapes from the fruit bowl. I remember that. I surely do.

A short while later, my parents gave Manfred to a farmer, who employed him as a duck guard -- certainly better duty than a grape thief.

Stray pooch: My next dog was a stray. The pooch had long, curly hair, so we named her Mopsy. I was barely a kindergartner when Mopsy had a litter. I remember waiting as each pup emerged. One, two, three ... all the way up to 11! I have a photo of each tucked into a sock, clothespinned to a clothesline in our back yard.

My parents gave away every last one, including the only one whose name I remember -- Pepper. Then, when a new house loomed on the horizon, we gave Mopsy away as well.

Dogs, it seems, were more things to us at that point. Molly, our next pup, changed all that.

After coming home from school for lunch one day, I was sent to the back porch by my mother. I found, beneath the glider, cowering, tail thumping the floor, a lovely short-haired white mongrel with a huge black dot on her back and Dalmatian ears.

It was love at first sight. Molly and I played football together and dress up and tag. She raced around the detached garage whenever I returned from anywhere.

She whined and assumed a supine position for the elderly neighbor lady, who always put all her groceries down to pet Molly's quivering belly.

She hid her accidents beneath towels or aprons on those rare occasions she had them. She could spell the word walk. She found gum a delightful toy if ever she was clever enough to sneak it from the trash, then fling it into the air.

She shed like crazy, but this time, love could accommodate it.

Busy dog: Molly was clever enough to go on walks leashless and wait at the corners for us to catch up. She was rebellious enough to necessitate phone calls from my friends: "Di, did you know Molly is near the Dumpster at the Beef Corral?"

And she was lucky enough to survive two car accidents -- one of which left a scar smack dab between her eyes.

Molly lived to be 17, I think, keeping my parents company long after my sister and I had gone away and gotten married. I begged my mother not to tell me when Molly died, and she didn't. It was better that way.

One day, I returned home and the greeting was, well, simply human. No bells, no whistles, no big brass bands -- all the things dogs do that assure us we are wonderful beyond what anyone else imagines. The last dog of my youth was gone

murphy@vindy.com




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