The Dog Question

Murphy the Portuguese Waterdog was my Marley, my Lassie and my Toto, except for one small thing. He wasn't a very good dog. Our nuclear family adored "The Murph," but outside of our home he wasn't about to win any Mr. Congeniality contests.

We spent a weekend at the beach with some friends a few years ago. Late at night Murph the Smurf stole the brownies they brought with them and then spent the two-hour ride home farting in their faces.

One particularly snowy winter I lost patience with him for dragging his filthy paws all over the hardwood floors and I tried to put booties on his feet. My thumb still bears the scars of the seven stitches it took to sew it back up.

When the Murphinator disliked you he kept his distance. When he felt a connection he scratched your calves until they bled or you fell to the floor, whichever came first. My shins were black and blue for nine out of the eleven short years of his life.

And if I could have him back tomorrow and start all over again, I would. The truth is, my middle son gave me more trouble than The Murphman ever did, and I never stopped loving him. Not for one second.

Yes, this is a dead dog story. Stop reading if you've heard one too many of those. We had to put Murphy down last week after a cancerous tumor caused his spleen to rupture. It was traumatic. Murphy was the only dog I ever owned. I use that word hesitantly because truly, he owned me. Before Murph I had no idea how much I could love a goofball animal or how much I would miss him when he passed on.

Murph saw me through three cancers. Nothing, not even my mother's chicken soup, was as therapeutic as curling up with the dog and running my hands through his ebony curls.

Murph saw my son through unemployment. They slept nose to nose on the sofa in the den for six months. Walking the dog was the only motivation that boy had for getting out of the house.

And Murph helped ease my way into the empty nest. He was home waiting for us when we returned from dropping the youngest off at college. When all the kids moved on to lead independent lives, Murph still couldn't get himself dinner. It's nice to be needed.

All that is waterdog under the bridge. The question now is, do we, at our age, with our newfound freedom and our love of adventure acquire another dog?

It's a Tevye the Dairyman conundrum. On the one hand the dog filled our house with energy. On the other hand, he also filled our house with shmutz. On the other hand, when my husband was away on business, often continents away, Murph kept me company. On the other hand, when my husband travels on business now I could hop a plane to L.A. and visit my granddaughter without having to pay for a sitter. On the other hand, I used to love walking him on the beach. On the other hand, I used to hate walking him in the rain. But those soulful eyes of his youth...but the halitosis of his old age...

My mother says we should take the plunge. My friends say I'd be crazy to tie myself down.

Help please.