Canine Family & Friends

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Muffin the Good-Time Dog

Copyright © Judith Shaw

Muffin had pizzazz. She could take charge of a situation better than any dog I’ve ever known, and she was always on her game. Consider, for instance, how she adopted us.

We’d been back in Australia for only a few days when we paid the RSPCA a visit. After nearly twelve years without a dog I didn’t want to wait another minute. It was the usual animal shelter experience: cages of dogs lining the corridors, all barking, whining, scratching the wire mesh and doing whatever they could to attract human attention. Muffin just sat there, looking adorable and waiting to be picked out of the crowd.

She was a yellow Lab puppy, four months old, surrendered by a family with three children and a fourth on the way—an unexpected Christmas gift that ended up in the pound. It took us about 15 seconds to make up our minds.

We got our first clue about her personality when we opened the car door and she flatly refused to get in. Ron tried to pick her up. She gained an instant hundred pounds and transformed into an immovable object.

We won that battle and took her home. She won the next as soon as she got out of the car. Ron had decreed that any dog of ours would live outside. She took care of that in no time, waltzing in and making herself at home.

I stayed with her while Ron drove to the train station to pick up the children. When Jessica got out of the car, Muffin sat down and politely offered her paw. Then Barnaby got out. She ran over, knocked him flat and sat on him. She wanted to begin as she meant to go on. Barnaby never managed to rise in the pack order so far as Muffin was concerned.

Even as a puppy she had a few quirks. She hated sticks, for instance, especially if carried by a man. Her hackles would go up, a growl would come from deep in her chest, and we would have to grab her collar and drag her away. It was a little awkward on walks in the national park, because a lot of men carried walking sticks.

She loved water, but it had to be in the right place. Streams didn’t count, nor did dams (small man-made ponds used to water livestock in Australia). Her favorite was Tom the Wonder Horse’s water trough, an old claw-footed bathtub outside his little barn. After every walk she would throw herself into the tub, then shake the water off on whomever was nearby.

She was a fun-loving party girl who didn’t believe in rules. She did it her way and mostly got away with it. Then we brought 10-week-old Zelda home and Muffin became a mother. They were inseparable and, although we anxiously kept a close eye out, Muffin was never aggressive towards the pup. She didn’t need to be. She had management skills.

Image copyright Judith Shaw

Muffin wrestling with baby Zelda

Imagine this scenario. Zelda is in the back yard gnawing on a bone as big as she is. Muffin sits and salivates, but knows she can’t just take it. She’s not allowed to Monster the Baby. So what does she do? She picks up a Hula Hoop lying on the grass and starts to throw it in the air. She dances around the puppy, throwing the hoop and catching it in her mouth. Zelda abandons the bone and runs for the toy, which Muffin graciously relinquishes. While Zelda plays with the hoop, Muffin quietly picks up the bone and starts chewing. Problem solved. Everyone happy.

Muffin was our first family dog. She ruled our lives and we loved her devotedly. She was a good mother to Zelda, teaching her the ropes and keeping her happy and safe. When the neighbor’s crazy German shepherd grabbed Zelda by the neck, Muffin put her in hospital for a week. Nobody was going to hurt her baby.

She took care of the family, sometimes in surprising ways. The father of one of Barnaby’s friends came to call while we were out. Muffin wouldn’t let him on the verandah. She was quite adamant and scared him badly. We couldn’t understand it—she was a friendly dog and knew the man. We found out he’d recently started beating up his wife. Muffin could sense a difference and went on high alert.

Barnaby, Tom the Wonder Horse & Judith, Ron & Muffin, Barnaby's pony Blue Boy, Jessica

Barnaby, Tom the Wonder Horse & Judith, Ron & Muffin, Barnaby’s pony Blue Boy & Jessica

She had a happy life, but it was short. At age three she ate something—probably chocolate—that destroyed her kidneys and liver. The vet couldn’t save her and we had to let her go. Typing these words twenty-five years later still makes me cry.

We don’t have many photos of Muffin. In the days before cell phones we took mental snapshots instead. In one of my favorites, Tom lies flat on the ground asleep, with Barnaby’s pony Blue Boy sleeping in exactly the same position between Tom’s legs. Muffin sleeps cuddled against Blue Boy’s belly. They make three C’s, one inside the other, three good friends napping together in the grass.

That’s how I like to remember them.

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