Merlin the Border Collie
May 17, 2000 – October 6, 2012
Photograph by Ryan McGinley
I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive. ~Gilda Radner
There’s an upside and a downside to the solitude of writing. The writer needs peace, a space to arrange their thoughts, and the willingness to plunge down deep inside those thoughts for story. Equal parts thrilling and terrifying, having the right companion nestled at your feet can make all the difference in the world. For the past 12 years, my companion was a magnificent creature known as Merlin the Border Collie. A Disney character come to life, a shadow through my daily routine, a soul who stayed by my side unconditionally as I wrestled with writing, but also with life and it’s challenges.
Merlin was a very special soul.
On Saturday, we had to make the painful decision to say goodbye. He’d developed cancer and while we had hoped he had time left, the pain had become too much, too quickly. For the past few days, I have searched for ways to express my feelings about his loss, and I come up wanting each and every time. And I think that’s the point. For those who have had a special dog in their lives, they’ll understand. The bond between dog and human exists on a level that goes beyond words. There is a spiritual tie that is inexplicable and yet very real.
Twelve years ago, Merlin’s mom: our first border collie — Jodie — had a litter of pups. Our plan had been to find all of them good homes. We had absolutely no intention of keeping any of them. That is, until one night when I went into my then 11 year-old daughter’s bedroom to tuck her in for the night and discovered that something was moving under her blanket. With a smile that no parent can deny, she pulled back her covers and revealed one of the then three-month old pups wagging his tail in that fierce way only a puppy can do. It was the first born of the litter. Bigger, far whiter than his brothers and sisters, this little guy lifted his big brown eyes up to meet me and that was it. I didn’t even need to hear Ariana’s “Can we keep him, Mom?”
I was hooked.
Jodie passed away two years ago. A beautiful, regal dog loved by all. Whip-smart with an earnest yet obsessive need to play (her tail wagging so hard that I’m still convinced we missed the mark on creating a form of unlimited energy!), she was devoted to my husband and deeply loved in return by us all. But it was her son, Merlin, who snuck his way into my heart from the start. A bit neurotic, yes. Hated thunderstorms, lived to chase cows as well as any ball good enough to grace our backyard… The truth is, Merlin loved to love. Anyone. Students would come over to use our farm to shoot films and he would make it his personal mission to greet each and every one of them as if they were the most important person on the planet. Our youngest cat, Bastet, was a year older than him and watched him be born. He considered her his nanny, loved her unconditionally, and tolerated — no, begged! — for her daily ministrations.
I’ve had several dogs before Merlin. Great dogs and I miss each and every one of them, but Merlin was special. I mentioned above that he was like a Disney character come to life. I’d come home exhausted and wrung out from a long day teaching, ready to collapse. Some times, to be honest, a little fed up — either because of work or just life’s general frustrations. Merlin knew me better than I know myself. He knew that what I really needed was fresh air and another round of kick the ball. Those moments, late at night under the stars, watching my beautiful puppy run free, grounded me. Reminded me to enjoy life as it comes. To savor each moment. To thank life, the universe and everything.
I suspect part of what has made it so difficult to say goodbye to my friend is the fact that he was born here — in the house. He has been an unequivocally key part of what defines home for our family. Every word I’ve written, every story I’ve devised, every book I’ve completed, has been with my 70-pound furry friend nestled at my feet. The dearest of friends, he will be missed for his cheerfulness, his ability to teach me the necessity of play, and most of all…
For his devout companionship.
Sleep well in Elysium, old friend. While the words “thank you” don’t begin to express how grateful we were to have you in our lives, I think you knew the rest.