The Process of Naming Something (timed writing exercise, September 2005)

Her name was Madison Murphy Black. She was black, a black Labrador Retriever, so the choice seemed fitting. And in looking at her registration papers, I also noticed it was part of her mother’s name. I decided to keep it.”Madison” was for James Madison University, my alma mater. Not too many years had passed since I’d been connected to that place. Memories were good and strong. Especially good. It seemed a fine choice.“Murphy” for Murphy Brown, my favorite television persona of the day. Candace Bergin was wonderful in that role. And beautiful. Is there anyone more naturally beautiful than Candace Bergin?

So all together she became Madison Murphy Black, my most loyal and trusted companion for the better part of the next 10 years. Her coat was as black as the night, but she offered great light during what was to be the darkest period of my life. I loved her dearly and deciding to part with her on that July day remains the hardest decision I’ve ever made.

Then came Tanner, who was already named when we brought him home from the Coastal Animal Shelter. He was “dog of the month” we we met him and held the dubious honor of having endured the longest stay of anyone at the shelter up to that time.

Tanner is a good name for him, for it matches his tan-colored feet. But I also have multiple nicknames for him and he answers to them all. Murphy was Boo. He is, by default, Poo. Poodle. Pooka Shell. Peanut Butter. Buds. Horatio. The names just flow with that fellow. He smiles and wags his tale and lives a happy life. Mr. Funny.

And I dread losing him. He is getting older. Last week he limped for days after a hike. Lynn and I both fretted over it. It’s part of the relationship. We outlive our pets more times than not, but it makes it no more easy to accept or easier to take when the inevitable parting comes.

It is hardest to be left behind. This I know for a fact. It’s the essence of much of who I am, who I grew up to be after my mother died unexpectedly. No excuses, just a fact. Picking up the pieces is no easy task. Putting them back together even harder.

Still, I cannot live without pets, without a dog in particular. The companionship they bring is simply unequaled by the other relationships in which I take part, even the whole and healthy marriage which I’m fortunate and blessed to enjoy. My dogs just seem to know me in a way no one else ever does.

I name my pets and thus, as is believed in many religious traditions, supposedly know their essence. But truthfully, they know mine. And perhaps that is what makes me need them all the more.

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