“I want a dog,” I pleaded with my parents. We had just moved from South Carolina to Georgia, leaving behind the only world I knew. At four years old, moving away from my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles seemed like the end of the world. My family was my best friends; now suddenly they were so far away.
The move consisted of my parents and I, along with our two cats and elderly dog, Duke. He was a beautiful black and white English springer spaniel who believed wholeheartedly that he was, in fact, a cat. When he passed away a few months later, my four-year-old brain was stuck repeating “dog, dog, dog” until my parents eventually conceded.
Dad was stuck at work while Mom and I traveled back to the warmest place I knew: Grandma’s house. While I visited with my favorite person in the world – Grandma - Mom and Granddad snuck away to “run an errand.” The house phone buzzed. “Jessi, it’s your daddy” grandma said as she handed me the phone.
It was a typical conversation one could have with a four-year-old. He asked me how I was doing; I was at Grandma’s house so I was on top of the world. Sneaking up behind me, Mom carried a swaddled blanket and low and behold, a curly brown puppy was looking at me with her sleepy eyes! “It’s a puppy! A real one that goes ‘ruff, ruff, ruff!’” I excitedly yelled into the phone. For the remainder of that day, I happily pet the little puppy and repeated my new mantra “Thank you Mommy!” “Let’s wait until we get home so we can all name her together,” Mom insisted.
Being the headstrong child, I was having none of that. I was determined to name that little Boykin spaniel puppy Morgan; no one could tell me otherwise, so that dog was named Morgan. Arguing with a four-year-old is futile, after all.
Morgan came home with us and instantaneously fell in love with my father. I never imagined competing for the title “Daddy’s Little Girl” with a dog, but to Morgan, my father was her world. She was his hunting companion for several years until the chaos of life took hold and made leisurely hunting a rarity.
Even as a tiny puppy, we could tell little Morgan had spunk. Training her was not always the easiest, but she was undoubtedly devoted to Dad that she’d eventually do what she could to please him.
As Morgan grew into a beautiful chocolate brown dog, her amber eyes glistened with wisdom. The cogs in that forty-eight pound dog’s mind were always turning. Though she was loyal, she quickly realized that some situations were more fruitful investments than others. “In all my life, I’ve never seen a dog scheme like Morgan” my dad swears to this day.
In the first few years of living in Georgia, many of our family and friends visited us since it was hard to travel with Morgan. She did not fare well on car rides.
Our beloved family friend, Kathy, visited with us for a few days and happened to bring a special cereal she needed to eat. “Just set it against the back of the counter,” Mom assured her. If that bag was any closer to the wall, it would have been the wall. Only a few short hours later, the cereal bag was magically on the floor and its contents presumably gone. Time to line up the usual suspect: Morgan.
To this day we still never figured out how this medium sized dog could reach that far on the counter. “Did you do this?” my parents would say. She’d look up, showing no signs of guilt or remorse. She knew she’d get in trouble and was willing to accept the consequences.
That was the curious thing about Morgan; she’d weigh her options and make a decision depending on what would be of more value to her. In this case, that cereal was irresistible and worth a newspaper swat to her butt.
Other times, we’d purposely set delicious contents on the edge of the counter to egg her on. She never – not even once – took the bait. We even set up a video camera and left the house to see if we could catch the illusive canine Houdini in the act. The evidence was about as conclusive as the stellar footage of Bigfoot.
Morgan also liked to bark, but we thought shock collars were inhumane and using one would be a last resort. At their wits’ end, my parents switched Morgan’s collar for a shock collar in a desperate attempt to stop the barking. The collar was never triggered. Morgan didn’t have a concept of a shock collar as one had never been used on her. As soon as it went on to the moment it was taken off, she never once barked.
It was around the shock collar incident that my family and I finally realized we were living with a being smarter than us. If she had opposable thumbs, Morgan would have been unstoppable.
We didn’t stay in that big house for long. The neighborhood deteriorated and was no longer safe for raising an eight-year-old. Mom and Dad found a place in the country where we remained settled today. After four wonderful antic-filled years, we said goodbye to our first Georgia home but welcomed new beginnings in a rural area with plenty of room for an active dog.
Morgan loved the new house. With a large green backyard and lush woods, Morgan was in her element. She did not, however, enjoy being cooped up in the house as construction on the fence and in-ground pool persisted for months. Settling in to a new house was the perfect time for mischief, and there was an abundance of it.
One day in particular stands out to my mother. She ordered pizzas for the crew working outside and set the six pizzas on the counter. All six pizza boxes were stacked on top of each other as far back on the counter as they could be.
Mom and I go outside to tell the crew that we have pizza, which only takes a matter of seconds to make that short announcement. Returning to the kitchen less than 60 seconds later, we witness Morgan devouring the last of a large pizza.
The top box was knocked to the tile, the five below it unmoved. The height of the stack was too high for her to reach on her hind legs, so it is another mystery that gets debated in my family from time to time.
Sadly, Morgan fell fatally ill when she was nine. This once resilient creature became frail and lost her tenacity.
Her white blood cell count declined exponentially. We were told she showed early signs of cancer. She may have had the brain power to fight, but her body lacked the energy it needed.
She passed away in November 2007, after heartfelt goodbyes from all of us and a life full of love and mischief. Though our little trouble making rebel is no longer with us, she has become a legend in my family.
That little dog was more intelligent than most of the people I’ve encountered in my adult life. Morgan had this incredible ability to reason and scheme, as if she were a Bond villain. The only thing she needed was a set of thumbs. Despite her Houdini-type tricks, she never really was good at opening doors. In a plan to dominate the world, conquering doors is step one.
Jessica Brown is the photographer for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.