By: Marilyn L. Davis
“May I tell you a wonderful truth about your dog? … You have been given stewardship of what you in your faith might call a holy soul.” ― Dean Koontz, A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog
Today is the first day in seventeen years that Morgan is not sleeping beside my bed when I get up. There’s no immediate rush to get her outside.
I’ve simply made the coffee and taken care of Jackson, satisfying his insistent purring demand that he get his wet food. Now he’s in his confiscated spot, the top of the letter tray, next to my computer.
I don’t know that I realized how quiet it would be writing without Morgan. She’s not sleeping next to my desk and dreaming her dog dreams and making her sleep noises. She’s not barking to go outside. She’s not checking to see if I’m getting a treat for her when I refill my coffee mug.
I’m writing today to pay tribute to a dog who loved others and me with a fierce devotion and understanding of what humans need.
I moved to Dahlonega, GA .Its appeal was the quiet solitude. I’d opened a women’s recovery home in 1990 and drama, chaos, and acting out behaviors typified any given day. So when a friend told me about a little ramshackle cabin across the road from him, I quickly took advantage of the opportunity to remove myself at least for a few hours every day from the demands of others.
The cabin sat on 250 acres of woods, off the main road into Dahlonega. Deer, ducks, traveling to and from other climates, squirrels, and chipmunks seemed to accept the house as part of the landscape and frequented the yard. Eight miles up the side of the mountain was the town; the typical southern square with the courthouse in the middle, upscale and down-home eateries, and quaint smell-good fudge, candle, and bath product shops lining the side streets. There’s a college there, so bicycles are a common form of transportation. Since Dahlonega was the first source of gold in Georgia, there are the requisite festivals and leaf changing celebrations in October.
Then there was the Walmart, same as you’d find anywhere. Weekly groceries gotten, I approached my truck, and heard crying. At first, I couldn’t identify where the sound was coming from; but as I walked around to the passenger’s side, there was a tiny puppy huddled under a cart in the return section. All caramel fur, shaking, eyes wide and afraid. When I knelt down to pick up the puppy, I did so because I thought it would get run over, and that there was probably some poor child looking for their lost dog. All I had to do was find them.
I walked the entire lot that night then finally put her in my truck and went in to see if anyone had come to the service desk about losing a puppy. No one had, but I left my phone number.
When I got home, I called a friend who volunteered at the animal shelter. I knew that she took rescues, and I would either give the puppy to her or, at least, find out what to do with her. Janet told me to bathe her, dry her and then let her sleep with me that night.
I never had a dog, except one when I was a small child and too young to appreciate the love and responsibility of a pet. She started chasing chickens when we moved to Tennessee and was promptly shipped back to Indiana. So, now, forty-five years later, I had this ball of fur, all clean, wrapped in a towel with brown eyes staring up at me.
Without thinking, I gave her the Eskimo greeting and rubbed my nose on her snout. She then licked my face, and I knew that I would not give her away. I can’t explain the bond that those simple gestures created that night.
The next day I made an appointment with the vet and was now officially a dog owner. Back to the Walmart for treats, rope pulls, balls, and squeaky toys. She didn’t like any of the toys, but she did like the treats.
What she liked was to be as close to me as possible. On the couch if I was reading or watching a movie, on the bed if I was sleeping, under my feet if I was cooking, or laying next to the tub if I was bathing.
I knew she needed a name, but I couldn’t come up with one, so I asked my granddaughter, Bailey if she had a name. She named her, Morgan, after her best friend. She was four and thought a puppy was just one more thing that made visiting me special.
Morgan started coming to work with me. Now she had playmates around the clock, people to walk her in the park, and she demonstrated that uncanny ability of dogs to sense when someone needs love and attention.
Each woman at the house was asked in process groups how she was doing. Whether from years of denial, inability to articulate a problem or shame, many women would just answer, “I’m all right.” Morgan had a sense of who was not all right, or who needed to talk even when they were hesitant. On more than one occasion, I took her chosen spot on the floor as an indication of who needed more time to share, or who would need extra encouragement to open up and talk about what was bothering them.
When some women perceived the question as threatening and gave a defensive answer, Morgan would sometimes get up and put her head on their knees as if to say, “I’m with you, go ahead and talk.” I can’t remember a time that the woman didn’t immediately pet her and then pour out their heart. Morgan didn’t err in her assessments.
I learned to share her love because I knew that no matter who Morgan paired up with that day or who she singled out for extra support, she would come home with me.
When the house closed in 2011, Morgan and I began a time where it was just the two of us. Again, she didn’t leave my side. I learned about living in the moment and enjoying the present from her. No matter that I’d seen her that morning, when I returned from a group or other work responsibilities, she would jump up and greet me and those eyes that let me know I was special to her.
At 17, that didn’t happen every time, but enough to let me know she was still glad to see me and her life was good.
That changed this week, she collapsed, couldn’t walk and overnight more of her face was white. Her eyes looked sad and tired, and then she wouldn’t eat or drink. Tests ruled out certain things, but not others. I felt guilty leaving her alone on Christmas to spend time with my family, so that night, I slept on the floor with her as she couldn’t make it to the bedroom without falling. At fifty pounds, she hadn’t slept in my bed for years, but always beside it.
I talked to her during the night to let her know how much she had enriched my life and how her loving spirit helped other women recover. She was too weak to roll over for her favorite belly rubs, so I moved to accommodate her, just as she had for countless others during her life.
I could not wish her well nor prolong her life; Morgan was tired and passed. Her grave is newly dug thanks to my two sons-in-laws and it’s at the edge of the woods that she liked to view.
One of the last pictures I took of her was when she just stopped in the yard and looked into the woods. I know there’s a connection to it for her. Our nighttime bathroom breaks were extended if the owl was hooting, so I know Morgan rests near sounds and smells and creatures of interest.
I intend to get a marker to honor her. I’m crying as I write this, but it is important to pay tribute to that caramel puppy who brought me such joy over the years. Thank you, Morgan, for being you. Goodbye.
When I posted the news of Morgan’s passing on Facebook, many of the graduates of North House relayed their Morgan stories of how she helped them open up about their secrets, their shame, and suffering.
My daughter talked about Morgan crossing over the Rainbow Bridge. I was not familiar with that poem, nor calling our animals our fur babies, so if you have lost a fur baby, perhaps the Rainbow Bridge poem can help ease the pain of their passing.