I was going to post all this memories I have. Now, I don’t know. We’ll see.
I mentioned this last year: we adopted Morgan in November. They estimated she was 8 months old, so that meant March. We thought the best day to pick for her birthday would be this day. Fun and easy to remember. So she could have been born in early March or later in the month; but this is the day we picked.
I came home from work the Tuesday before Thanksgiving that year, and John suggested we take a ride. “All of us! Bring the dogs.” I thought it was a great way to kick off the holiday weekend. We had Casey and a black lab mix named Cinder then; I jumped in the car with them, just as excited… and then John pulled up at a new vet’s office in town. I told him, “That’s a lousy trick to play on the dogs.” I knew we were looking for a new vet; we loved ours, but we had moved and wanted someone close by in case of emergencies. John told me to just come in; I figured we were signing paperwork. A nurse looked up:
“Hi, Mr. Blackwell! We’ll bring her right out!”
John turned to me. “I want you to take a look at this puppy.”
And out she came. John had seen a sign in the vet’s window earlier in the day, met this one pup, and fell in love. Of course, he knew I had to come see her, and the vets suggested bringing the other dogs to see if everyone got along.
“Do you know how many pets we’d have?” I whispered. I held up a hand: 5. 2 cats, 2 dogs now, and with this new one, 5.
“That’s okay,” he said, the man who always would yell No More Pets!
The vet slipped in: “We neutered her and gave her all her shots since she’s been here. You wouldn’t have to pay for any of that.”
“She’s got some big paws,” I noticed.
“She’s not going to grow into them,” they hastened to say. “She’s reached just about full growth now.”
This new pup hesitated, and walked up sniffing Casey and Cinder. All 3 took wary looks and sniffing, and at one point, the pup growled. The one nurse almost wailed: No! I really wanted this to work out for her.
But all the dogs settled down and the pup gave John a kiss and came up to me. That utterly sweet, beautiful face: warm, hesitating, waiting to be rejected, and her soft fur against my hand… Obviously, she had me already.
We gave references and I think they were afraid I wasn’t sure because they worked double-time to check us out. Little did they know we already picked out a name. We started with our usual going back and forth, each rejecting the other suggestions, until I decided to end that fast. (It took us almost a whole day to name Casey.) I had written a murder mystery dinner theater and got a name for one of my strong female characters from a baby name book: Morgan. Casually, John and I had both said how much we liked that name. So I cut in with: “Listen, we both like the name Morgan. Let’s name her that.” And John smiled.
The day before Thanksgiving — I still remember the phone call.
“Mrs. Blackwell? Come get your dog! She’s waiting for you!”
I got there fast. And there she was: Morgan. Wagging, running around excited, giving goodbye kisses to the wonderful people who took her in and saved her, and now had found her a home. A new collar, a new leash, bowls… and we were in the car.
And my happy new pup lost all her joy and cowered on the floor; shaking, fearful, staring at me with sad, scared eyes.
Morgan, her mother, and the mother’s new litter of pups had been thrown out of a car. Luckily, the new vet’s office saw them and took them in. But now, she waited for me to do the same thing. Nothing I said, no matter how gently, helped. She came into the house that way, shrunk into a corner. Waiting to be hit? She stayed in the yard that way, moving a bit finally, but it took awhile. She wouldn’t make a noise, in case it angered us and we threw her out.
I called John at work and let him know she was home. Our Thanksgiving present.
The day after, we bundled them all in the car, and Morgan again became terrified. She cringed down on the floor, certain this was it. And I saw, in no uncertain terms, dogs talk to each other. Loving, wonderful Cinder, a fantastic leader, leaned down and spoke silently (to my ears) to Morgan. Instantly, she was on the seat next to Cinder, wagging her tail, excited all over again. She never was afraid again. Cinder, another abandoned dog who found us, had told her that it was okay. So Morgan never doubted us.
She was born to be a therapy dog; we always thought so, but never knew how to go about it. When you were sad, aggravated, at your rope’s end…. Morgan got you through it. She could hug, stay with you for hours if you needed it, a smiling, soothing friend. We have friends who would call me and say they needed to visit her, their therapy dog. Last year, I finally found a way for her to fulfill that destiny: she’d go into hospitals, nursing homes, all the places that needed that big, loving, gentle soul with fur of softest silk to brighten the day. But then she got her first bad case of pneumonia and it left with her with a huffing cough when she got excited. I thought it would put people off… and so a lot of people got cheated of never having her come to visit.
She was the most fabulous athlete. The previous owners of our house put an indoor/outdoor kennel off the garage surrounded by a 7 foot fence. Morgan got over it, leaping high, and then scaling the remaining bit of chain link. She cleared the fence around our yard with room to spare; her speed and agility were fantastic. If we knew how to train her (let’s face it, if we were good at training our dogs at all), she could have won a lot of competitions. As it is, she quickly put her most hated nemesis — squirrels — into not sitting on the other side of the gate, taunting our dogs. Because within a second, she was over it and after them, their faces like a cartoon of bulging eyes and an Awooga! sound effect.
She had a curiosity to always see what was “over there”, and with her ability to jump and run, she’d go exploring in the neighborhood. This first time this happened, we wondered out loud, “where did she go?” and suddenly heard the ducks at the lake making a racket as if an intruder came in. From then on, if Morgan jumped out of the yard and wasn’t in sight, we’d say “Hon, Morgan’s visiting the ducks again!”
This wanderlust backfired when we went to Harrisburg and she cleared my sister’s gate. We chased over highways and into a train yard where my brother-in-law kept her, but she wouldn’t come to him. I came up and she came out to me, exhausted, scared of the cars that missed her, with a look of “I don’t care if you beat me for running away. I’m so glad to see you!”
Maybe because I brought her home, she attached herself to me. We always said there was an invisible string between us. Where I was, there was Morgan. If I left a room, even for a moment, she’d get up and follow, no matter how tired she was. She’d stretch out at my feet, guarding me, and I even brought her to my office when I had to go in late at night. Once, I left our camper for an errand, and she looked for me out a window until I came back.
And she loved John. He’d wrestle with her or throw a ball, and she’d tear after it with that blinding speed, then come back without it, beaming at him like a kid asking, “Did you see me?! Did you see how fast I went?!” She never liked toys. She didn’t play fetch: she played Run! because she loved to stretch out and tear up the ground. The only time she played with a toy is when she and Casey would have their Extreme Sport: Tug of War! She could drag Casey, but that wasn’t the win she wanted, so she’d twist her head in fast whips to shake Casey off — which would never work, and on the battle would go.
She and Casey were typical sisters: battling each other, getting on each other’s nerves at times, utterly protective, and getting into scrapes together. It was Morgan who mouthed off at two HUGE Great Danes, egging them to try something, because she’d take them on. And it was Casey who backed her play, fur on the neck ruffled, feet dug in, and barking low, “Bring it! Come on, you pansies!” Meanwhile, John and I thought someone was going to get killed. (Fortunately, like a cartoon, the Danes were on long leads that yanked them off their feet mere inches from Casey and Morgan. The Great Danes then leaned against the leads, front paws in midair, snapping and barking. And our dogs would have been just a gulp or two, had to be dragged off from starting some barroom brawl.)
She was so smart, but she had the attention span of a tse-tse fly. We told people she was our ADD dog, our special child. She could learn any training quickly, but then you had to hope it got into her memory before she drifted off into dreamland — we called that look, in a sing song voice, “La La La La! I’m in Morganland!” — or something else got her attention away from you. But she once, like Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption, quietly in secret, figure out she could hunch her shoulders and get the chest piece of her harness in her mouth. Slowly, she chewed it until the harness fell off in pieces. She destroyed a second one we got her, after we swore we’d make sure she couldn’t. After that, it was back in a collar; and it had to be one with a buckle because she’d twist her head and neck to stretch the other kind until the collar was loose enough for her to throw off. Coincidentally, Disney online had a sale of a matching collar and leash; they cost like $11 for both. She had them the rest of her life. You can see the collar a bit in that picture.
A cool drink at the Collingswood Book Fair. On her last night, she and I shared a cup of water.
The other day, we decided that Elphie, Morgan’s devoted little sister, will inherit the leash.
She was in Disney World’s records as an escape artist. We had kenneled she and Casey in the Studios’ kennel. When we came back to pick them up, we found out: Morgan had figured out how to open to locked latch. So the staff wrapped a bungee cord around the door jam; she figured out that too, as they found out as she ran by. Finally they won, but only because they put a heavy chain with a padlock on it, and Morgan didn’t have a file. We were mortified and apologized profusely, but the woman at the desk beamed. “Don’t apologize! It’s the most fun we’ve had in a long time!” We gave a glowing report for her to management. But any time we checked into a Disney kennel, they’d look up from the computer and grin at Morgan. “So, you’re a Houdini dog!”
In the last several years, I found out I liked taking the dogs places. So out they would go for drives in the convertible or to the beach, and of course they traveled with us. If I was having fun somewhere, a lot of times, I’d have more fun if they were able to come along. John would take them if he went to a campground early and even on campground trade shows. Sometimes, he took just one of them. I once got a photo of Casey enjoying a deck chair and a PB&J sandwich on the Cape May ferry as I was cooped up at work. Last year, he took Morgan by herself. Now he’s so glad he did.
And with Morgan’s absolute love for people, traveling with her was fun. At Disney, kids would swamp her. Adults would come up to pet her, and we quickly learned we’d be playing what I call the game show: What Kind of Dog is That? It always went like this and always happened whenever we had Morgan somewhere.
Person: What kind of dog is that?
Us: We don’t know. She was abandoned, so no one knows what breeds her parents were. She’s some kind of shepherd mix.
Person: Is she part (border collie/Afghan/husky/insert dog breed here)?
Us: We don’t know. Could be.
Person: She looks it. Are you sure she’s not?
Us: We don’t know, but she might be.
She made friends with people who now, amidst telling us how bad they feel for us, talking about what she meant to them, for herself. Suzanne tells me she would tease her dog, “Why can’t you be more like Morgan?” My brother gave her this eulogy:
“Morgan was so alive. She was fun to be around, kind of made you want to live in “Morgan Land”.”
Someone who worked at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, Gloria, never remembered us, but she and Morgan adored each other. When we came back on vacation, Morgan would hear Gloria coming down the street and would go out with a wagging tail. Gloria would get out of the small truck and rush up for a hug. That’s how Gloria finally knew us: we were Morgan’s family, and she’d leave us little gifts for the dogs that we’d find when we came back to the site.
My friend Becky’s little girl asked me if the dogs could go trick-or-treating with her one Halloween. So out we went, with her walking Casey (“Because she looks like a little cow and I’m dressed like a cowgirl, Auntie Erin.”) while saying to Morgan, “You walk with me too.” And so she did. When Sophia got a bad cold, Morgan laid next to her. I got a photo of them and sent it to Becky. She said Sophia sat in a chair staring at the photo for a half hour as she got better.
And she could shed. I’d joke that I could make another dog from the amount of fur I brushed off of her every Spring. It’d be a few weeks of brushing before her winter coat was off, and the fur would blow across the kitchen like tumbleweeds in a western movie.
Then came the last big change in Morgan’s life: we got Elphie, and she immediately decided that the best person in the house was Morgan. She was instantly attached to her. Did you ever see the Looney Tune cartoons with the bulldog walking with a little terrier jumping around him, going excitedly, “What do you think, Spike? Huh? Wanna do this? Wanna do that? Huh, Spike? Spike is my friend!” Well, here you go:
Casey and Morgan were at first like college kids whose parents suddenly had a baby: disgusted. When they got tired of this puppy jumping all over them, they’d go up on the bed where Elphie couldn’t reach them, and watch her bounce around like a Mexican jumping bean trying to get up there.
And Elphie wanted to do whatever Morgan did. On the first night, Morgan stretched out with a chew, and Elphie anxiously squirmed on the carpet near her. I realized what she wanted and got her a chew, but it was too hard. So I swapped it for a puppy biscuit, and Elphie laid next to Morgan, checking to make sure she had the same pose, and chewed her biscuit.
Morgan accepted and grew into the role of big sister. She was the only one Elphie would listen to sometimes, talking to her in that unknown dog language, just as Cinder once did to her. I watched her tell Elphie to lay down or shut up or knock it off…. and wished I could learn how to speak that language. And when two bigger dogs gave Elphie a hard time at a campground, Morgan was there instantly, putting her smaller sister under her belly as she glared down at the other dogs with that attitude I know from my big sisters: “I can give her a hard time, but if you got something to say, I’m here. Tell it to me.” They backed down.
We’d be at the leash-free park at Fort Wilderness with Morgan going to the gate to greet every newcomer, two legged and four legged. One little girl came just to see the dogs because she missed her own. She didn’t get the words out before Morgan was there, walking right into that hug, and then Elphie and Casey. Then it was runs around again, exploring corners, but suddenly there when she thought one big pup was too rough on Elphie. Then rides on the golf cart, more walks, waiting for us to come back, then sleeping next to me.
She was the only other one in the house who loved having a fan on all year as much as me. She’d lay at the foot of the bed, as close as she could be to it, and just let it flow over her. Sometimes, she’d lay on her back, letting it hit her belly. She could sleep like that forever, and if she started dreaming she was running, her paws would flip in the air as she ran.
Once, in our camper, I woke up with Morgan on top of me like a blanket. I thought that was so sweet, then realized John had turned off the main fan and only left on the one right above me. Morgan was on top of me so she could get the fan. 😉
She could nest for minutes on end, circling, pawing, shoving blankets and pillows back and forth, turning the other way, moving things differently. John would deliberately call her so she would look up with a wag, then start all over, for however long it took.
It’s why Elphie nests, with a different style. And a week ago, as Morgan came tiredly to bed, having eaten something she shouldn’t so she coughed a bit, Casey laid close by, concerned. But Morgan just laid down to sleep – and pillowed her head on Elphie. Her little devotee suddenly stilled, barely blinking, so Morgan wouldn’t be disturbed.
And last year: Morgan in the hospital, maybe cancer, not knowing…. And then she was home, laying on the bed with her sisters around her, so happy to be there again. She never complained, never cried out or snapped, nothing when she was sick. The most she’d do is press tight against me. As she did that last night.
I wish this photo would happen again now. I look at it and think, how could it be true that I’ll never see her again?
Fourteen years. Yes, it’s a lot, but it’s never enough. How can it be? Each of them brings so much to my life; each of them having a unique place. The sad irony is: the best one to help us through this loss would be Morgan.
It’s no wonder so many people have so many quotes like this:
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
And now a big part of that is missing. I’m thankful we had her in our lives, I would never trade that even with the ending. I’m lucky to know that quote is true and to live it. But right now and for some time in the future, we lost her and that’s what I feel.