Species Stories: Life & Love with a Dog Named Mungo

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A dog named Mungo sat in the animal shelter after Christmas, a rangy adolescent. He had big feet and already weighed forty pounds. He wasn’t the small dog a lot of people were looking for and he wasn’t a charming puppy bouncing in the shredded paper. Mungo was my own dog and part of the inspiration in myself starting Species Spectrum™ . He was one of Species Spectrum’s first greeting cards.

I met Mungo on my very first visit to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, back when the staff wore blue jeans and t-shirts. Mungo sat leaning against the chain link kennel when a volunteer offered me a slip lead to take him out. I hoisted Mungo onto my lap in the courtyard. He was black and tan with floppy ears and a long, curly tail that looked like a cinnamon roll. I told the front desk “This was the dog for me”.

In the old days of animal shelters, the adoption questionnaires were brief. “Where would the dog sleep?” “Would he be kept indoors or outdoors?”

I was a young college student, hell bent on improving the world. It was before I became cynical and before I found my place in the world. No matter what, dogs would always be at my side. I had been the child who flayed on the floor of the dining room whining and begging, “I need a dog, I need a dog” until finally, I got my own dog.

Mungo would not be like Sadie, the golden retriever puppy I had raised as a kid. She was the typical happy go lucky retriever. Everyone was a friend and she hoped everyone would throw her ball, even a burglar. The golden retriever’s only fears were the vacuum cleaner and my pet hedgehog.

Mungo wasn’t the confident type. On his fist night he slept in a tight ball on the bare floor beside the bed I’d bought him. I hiked with him often and volunteered with the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. I spent Monday afternoons at PetSmart with a friendly retired woman who watched Monday night football and always wore a flower in her hair. Sometimes I brought Mungo because she loved him so much. “Oh” she would say, “Mungo is just beautiful”. Mungo always behaved better in public than at home.

Mungo hiked in the slot canyon of Tent Rocks before dogs were banned. He stayed with me on my dog sitting jobs before dog sitting was in vogue and considered to be “A professional occupation”. Mungo only had a few human friends, but he had many dog friends. He loved for other dogs to chase him. He ran and wrestled in the mountains with a German Short Haired pointer called Hank. Mungo triumphed over his apprehension about staircases at a cabin in Glorieta. If Hank could do it, so could he.

Mungo went with me through all the boyfriends of my twenties and he never liked any of them until I found my husband. Mungo typically bellowed when anyone stood in front of him and leaned forward (unless the stranger had a dog to play with).

The first boyfriend was a ‘dog person’ because who would date anyone that was not a self-proclaimed dog person? It still took Mungo months to get to know another human, but only a moment to make friends with another dog.

The second boyfriend said “You’re dog isn’t right, he’s mean and aggressive like you”.

The third boyfriend cooked special meals for Mungo, but both spent the early days suspicious of the other. I have a photo of Mungo giving that boyfriend the “evil eye”.

Mungo spent his geriatric days with the fourth boyfriend, now husband. Mungo never had a problem and the two got along famously. The test of a good man is one that can understand not only you, but you’re dog too. It was obvious when one had entered the human friendship circle of the ‘Mungo Fan Club’ because Mungo would always pick up one of his toys or a shoe and carry it with delight at seeing someone he actually liked.

No one saw Mungo as a dog of high intelligence, but Mungo’s loyalty was steadfast and he had many skills. Mungo enjoyed launching his big paws onto kitchen counters everywhere. He stole many loaves of bread and whatever else he could grab. He was smart enough to pretend that he really was just passing through the kitchen and had no intention of repeating what he knew was wrong. It only took me saying, “I’m sorry Sir, can I help you?” Mungo would look at the floor and keep walking, only to wait for the opportunity to strike again.

Then there was the joy of shredding a trash bag, this pastime ranks high in the world of dog activities. Mungo could bounce the lid off a trash can with his famous nose ‘pop’. Barrier gates and puppy gates were futile from the beginning. Mungo plowed through and I hoped that the smart heeler puppy would never notice that the power of the puppy gate was only illusory. Mungo was like a T-rex when he wanted to open a door; scratch and plow through until you get your way. So much for all that dog training I preach. Leadership, consistency, don’t baby the pooch, don’t affirm unwanted behaviors.

“Woof woof woof”. When I came home, when UPS was at the door, but they were different woofs. One was “I’m so happy”. The other was “I’m scared, I’m booming, don’t call my bluff”. In the car, “Woof, woof, woof”. Translation: “I’m going hiking!” or “There’s a car parked next to us!”

Mungo was happiest at my side. My Uncle once said, “That dog ‘ain’t’ right, I can ‘git’ you a better dog”. It’s true Mungo wasn’t a cowboy’s dog. Mungo slept on blankets and couches. He wasn’t apologetic about loving his basket of plush dog toys. When I rode horseback, my cowboy Uncle gave Mungo one more chance. Mungo was supposed to emulate a working dog. Track. Hunt. Herd. Sleep in the dirt. Mungo could do none of these things. Mungo just wanted to climb up on the horse to be nearer to me. His eyes grew desperate, even as he partially enjoyed running aside the horse.

One day I went swimming and climbed onto a boulder in the middle of a river. Mungo was never a gifted swimmer. Mungo splashed his paws in panic as he swam out to me, all eighty pounds of him clambering for me to keep him afloat when he realized his paws failed to find terra firma.

I had never needed to teach my golden retriever how to swim. She placidly dog paddled, the tips of her ears resting on the glassy surface as she glided effortlessly even in deep water. But Mungo, the whites of his eyes showed, even as he did manage to keep himself afloat, he didn’t believe he could do it.

Mungo bellowed at strangers and couldn’t swim, but he could climb rocks on the hiking trail with zeal until his knee gave out at age six. Sewn back up he ran again for years more with his crazy border collie friends, Rosie & Gracie. They were almost my dogs because I took care of them for seven years all the time. We did the fun stuff together and Mungo was there. Three dog noses sliming my car windows on the way to the trailhead.

We often hiked at dusk until it was dark looking out at the sunset and climbing boulders. Mungo was with me through every important part of my life until this year. He outlived what many would assume to be an old big dog. He had the genetic diversity of a true mutt giving him longevity and health. As Mungo turned gray, I would kiss his face goodnight and lay with him and feel his heart beat. (What husband?)

The new dog in town, Bravo the Blue Heeler was a diligent caretaker of Mungo. Bravo checked on Mungo every night and every morning, licking his face and telling him it was time to wake up. We pitied the predator that would dare break entry because Bravo wouldn’t let anything happen to Mungo.

Mungo wanted to sleep late as he always enjoyed his sleep. At night in the winter Mungo liked to sleep covered with a blanket.

At the vet Mungo was always well behaved and even there he was remembered fondly. I remember the first day I met Mungo, the whites of his eyes showing in a shelter. I remember the last day Mungo looked at me fourteen and half years later. If anyone could share a telepathic conversation with a dog, this was our moment. It had been a good life together. Years, later we both still had our foibles, but it didn’t matter. We were great friends who understand one another’s idiosyncrasies.

I was channeling Walter Brennan’s “Tribute to a Dog”. Even Walter Brennan cried about “Old Shep”. I thought of how many times over the years I’ve told people the grief will pass and that the joy of sharing life with a dog always outweighs the pain of loss. The grief in saying goodbye to Mungo was surreal and yet I felt like my heart was bigger than it had ever been.

When Mungo went to rainbow bridge on a rainy day in May we drove into the mountains, where Mungo used to hike. Bravo the blue heeler ran like the wind diving into the streams. I too felt fearless and alive. It was a reminder that the best places in the world are in the wild with dogs. I’ll always love my Mungo, one day we’ll meet again in a place just like this.   -JES

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