My Movie – Small

‘How can you tell them apart?’ The oft asked question from other walkers. Three dogs, then two, now one — so the task is not so hard. . . now. Morag died today. And so it seems time to reflect on what made her unique and memorable and irreplaceable.

She and brother Oban joined our household twelve years ago. The calculated indifference of her sib and the casual arrogance of adopted ‘mother’, Martha were never a part of Morag. Alert, attentive, always questing for the ‘right answer’, she strove to please — hardly a Westie hallmark. Ears erect long before her sib’s, at mere weeks of age, signalled that she was already ‘on duty’. And never stood down.

The ‘C’mon pups’ or rattle of the treat jar saw her first to the door — as brother ambled up behind, in his own time. Heart on her paw, no secrets in her. The understated held no interest for her. Walks were never complete without the Westie equivalents of snow angels in Winter, dewy grass baths when the seasons warmed. On her back, wriggling, thrilled with the sensation, beyond content to be outside and with her people. The ‘abundant’, embracing, perpetual puppy.

Food was so figural to Morag. Larger, stronger, more athletic than her brother, she fuelled her body to the max, ‘eating for two’ — and often eating twice, the waste not, want not motto regularly seeing her clean up Obie’s leavings. At those rare times when appetite was off, a guttural growl would warn off anyone eyeing her supper: ‘If I can’t have it, neither will you’ the clear message. Instinctive or just proactive, the ritual ‘burying’ of the uneaten was a frequent sacrament, against a day or time when she would choose to ‘dig it up’, to ‘unearth’ from under the placemat or rug. And this was a dog who drank as she lived, with her whole being. Nothing dainty or tentative here, gulping as if parched for days.

Pavlov’s puppies haven’t a patch on Morag. The (obviously) distinctive rustle of romaine packaging or rice cake wrapper would pull sister and brother from the farthest reaches, happy to sit, stay, or perform any other required price of admission, for the lettuce spine (leaves always chewed and rejected) or the 10 p.m. bedtime wafer.

‘Westie TV’, to the uninitiated, the picture window facing the street, was a favourite perch, occupying sister and brother endlessly. At times, territorial — warning the interloper with her piercing bark — or just curious about the world’s projection on her screen, she catalogued and guarded against and observed lifetimes of kids, dogs and owners, squirrels, and seasons.

And she loved. To cuddle on couches at nap time; her longtime Westie friend Kirby; long, river walks; car rides. And to greet, be it her characteristic, rapid fire bark as an adult or an enthusiastic puddle as a puppy, it was no secret that you’d arrived and had been sorely missed. And most of all, the family together. Her people on separate floors would find Morag halfway placed on stairs, the glue that held us as one.

As with any sibs, the pendulum swung from a mutually protective solidarity — a don’t mess with my brother fierceness — thru’ literal ‘dog fights’ should Morag inadvertently disturb her brother’s sleep; or pique his moody bully. ‘Tip toeing’ down the hallway, surrendering her bed to him, or just choosing to ‘sleep elsewhere’ betrayed a lifelong deferral to her grumpier sib. And I’m sure it’s not just we who grieve and miss Morag. The flat-out races round the house and yard, jubilant puppies again, will be her brother’s loss as well.

Morag’s courage and desire not to disappoint marked her character to the end. If a brave front is in a dog’s repertoire, her attempts to rally, to uncomplainingly comply with the probes and prods, pills, needles (even acupuncture!), and pictures were proof of it. And finally her acceptance and trust in her people’s judgment allowed her dignity to survive.

How do we tell them apart? It’s easy. She’s uniquely all these things.

September 10, 2018