“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling the emptiness we didn’t ever know we had” – Thom Jones
This quote by writer Thom Jones truly explains how it felt when Murphy and I first met. I was in my early twenties in graduate school at the University of Miami. He was a few months old, spunky little puppy from a litter of four Beagles. He had the most personality from all of them, even at that young age. My girlfriend at the time actually noticed him first, but I fell for him hard. We had gone to “just take a look” at puppies, and of course ended up leaving with him. We had been talking about dogs for months, but the stars aligned and Murphy found us that day, that moment. I remember how he curled up in my lap as I drove home to our house in Miami.
I grew up with animals – cats, dogs, hamsters, birds, rabbits – but they were family pets that we all shared. Something felt different about this one – he was mine (and hers) and we were solely responsible for him. I could feel the love bubbling up minutes after we left with him, I was hooked.
Many are curious how we named him…it’s a silly story, but it is what it is. Growing up with a lot of pets, we usually named them based on some physical quality or personality trait. When we sat down to name him, I noticed that the shape of his puppy head looked just like Eddie Murphy’s head (I’m a huge fan of 1980s/90s Eddie Murphy!). We first considered ‘Eddie’, but decided that didn’t work. When we said ‘Murphy’ out loud, it was perfect.
MURPHY THE PUPPY
For any Beagle parents out there, you know the challenges we faced, but at the time we didn’t quite fully understand what we had gotten ourselves into until we were in it. Beagles are arguably the most adorable puppies with their puppy eyes, prominent little snouts, and massive ears, but wow are they rambunctious and curious beyond anything I had ever encountered. The first couple of nights were brutal because we were “crate training” and he howled almost the entire night. We finally gave in and he ended up in bed with us. Little did I know, almost 18 years later I’d still be snuggling up with my furry best friend.
We were diligent with his puppy training – potty training, obedience training, etc. He would run loose in puppy class and all the other dogs would follow suit. The little guy loved to play and loved being chased, which would carry on throughout his life. But one thing started to stand out – this guy was smart, like really clever. He outsmarted our backyard and dug under a fence to escape – my mom referred to him as our “little rascal Houdini”. He knew just how to work us to get what he wanted – a lesson I’d learn from him and apply to my acting years later. He had become our guide, both physically as well as spiritually. There was a soul and life behind his eyes unlike I had ever noticed in an animal friend before. There was a playful buoyancy to him that was just like a little boy around 5 years old but mixed with a sage elder statesman who knew about life, love, and the beyond. He tapped into a part of my soul and heart that I didn’t know was there and brought out a side of me that I didn’t know I was capable of.
While I always knew I wanted to be a dad one day, aside from helping out a lot with my younger sister growing up, Murphy was my first foray into this phase of life. Not long after he joined us, 9/11 happened. I remember sitting there on my sofa holding him tight wondering what would happen to our world, to society. I wanted to protect him from the potential dangers. Watching the towers falls, the tears from my eyes landed on his little puppy head as I caressed him and promised him I’d keep him safe forever.
MURPHY THE YOUNG BUCK
A couple of years later, Murphy had grown into a strapping lad, clever as can be. He had become quite adept at begging for treats, and tricking us into leaving our food unattended then snatching a bite or two in a moment when we weren’t looking. By that time the relationship with my girlfriend ended, but we both moved to Los Angeles and co-parented him. I was lucky enough to find a house in the middle of Hollywood with a pretty big yard, so his Hollywood years were filled with running around baying (the specific sound only a Beagle makes!) at squirrels and possums.
We’d run to Runyon Canyon and back, go on jogs, hikes, cafes, restaurants, you name it, this dog and I were all over LA attached at the hip. A couple of times he did manage to escape the fence enclosure of our yard and I caught him prancing on the sidewalk next to Sunset Boulevard like a show pony or digging through the neighbor’s cat food. But for the most part, we were buds that spent days and nights together. I remember cuddling with him at night and by the next morning he had claimed 90% of the bed while I was pushed into a little sliver at the edge almost falling off. But I’d wake up smiling every day and for that it was worth it!
One of the most unique aspects about Murphy and our relationship was how we affected other people. While he was still alive, but also after he passed, many people sent me messages about how we inspired them to get a dog. They saw our palpable connection and wanted to find that as well – because I think in life, it’s what we all strive for anyway, isn’t it? Whether it’s to other humans or animals or whatever… that deep love, that prescient bond – isn’t that what life’s about? I haven’t counted, but it’s got to be close to twenty or so, and that’s just the people that told me, I’m sure there are more that haven’t yet mentioned it to me. I’m so moved at how he and I had that kind of affect for people.
Murphy was one of those beings that had a distinct presence; you knew when he entered a room, unless he didn’t want you to know and he was in spy-mode, gathering reconnaissance for his latest “Operation Steal Food” mission. At any moment he was capable of loving on you, coercing for a neck rub, begging for a morsel of your food, or prompting you to chase him. But it’s the tough times he was there for me that I’ll always remember.
When my mom got diagnosed with cancer, I was in shock and denial as many people are when that happens. But my brother and I cancelled our lease in LA, put our stuff in storage, hopped in the car with Murphy and drove cross country back to St. Louis to be with her. Those 4 months were some of the toughest I’ve had thus far in my life and Murphy kept me solid through all of it. Knowing I had to be responsible for him, walks, feeding, exercise, and more – it kept me going. He was that bright beacon of life when I was cloaked in despair. I even took him to the hospice facility she was in a few times to cheer her up, and some of the other patients too.
When I came back to the house in the middle of the night after she passed, I held him tight and cried my heart out. It was a private moment, one of countless, that I had shared with him, and only him. I hugged him tight because of the grief of having just lost my mother whom I was very close to, but also because being freshly faced with the finality and permanence of death reminded me that one day I’d live to lose him too, and I couldn’t bear the thought of it.
Fast forward a couple more years… I meet Anna, who unbeknownst to me at the time would become my life partner and mother to my children. When he first met her he went bonkers – he’d put on shows for her, running around the room, jumping on the sofa, chasing his tail – it was hilarious. Then he’d nuzzle up to her. Murphy had become somewhat of a litmus test for my dating life – if he didn’t like someone or someone didn’t like him, it was never going to happen. But he definitely gave his “bone-a-fied”, “paw of approval” with her! ;-P
When we got pregnant and planned to move in with each other, we hit a snag. Anna was allergic to most dogs, and while she did love Murphy, she could only take him in doses and being in a house all day with him would prove to be extremely difficult. It had become a situation that I didn’t know how we’d get through. Murphy and I were a package deal, he was an extension of me, so he goes where I go, but this concept was a bit tough for someone who has never had a pet to understand. We tried keeping him outside in the yard for longer stretches, but that lasted barely a day due to his incessant barking and howling – he belonged inside with his family and he and I both knew it! I promised her I’d figure it out.
I bought very fancy air purifiers and had her try a bunch of homeopathic pet allergy treatments. We kept him quarantined to one part of the house and over the course of a month, widened out that area to where he eventually had free reign, except for the master bedroom. By the grace of the universe, Anna acclimated to him and disaster averted! While I had to give up the night snuggles with him, it was a compromise and our family is better for it. She had thought she could never have a pet, and this gift he gave her was truly beautiful. She grew to love him and built her own connection with him and it was lovely to witness.
When my father passed away a few months before Amalya was born and right in the thick of Anna and I trying to figure out this situation, Murphy once again was there for me. I had to leave him with a friend while I went back to St. Louis to deal with the aftermath of my father’s affairs, but when I came back I really leaned on him emotionally. I was becoming a father, but no father to look to for guidance. It was a terrifying time and the holidays were upon us by then. I remember locking myself in a room with Murphy and refusing to come out…I didn’t want to deal with anyone or anything except him. He was the only thing I felt I could rely on in that dark time, and we were a team, us against the world.
I’m still trying to get my bearings without him. Adjusting to life without someone that I’ve been basically inseparable from and shared intimate parts of my life with for almost 18 years is tough. It’s difficult to capture in words, but it’s like losing an arm or something. Life will go on and I’ll figure it out, but a piece of me will always be aching, I’ll just learn to live with that ache.
As Murphy got up there in age, I had always thought the ship had sailed for him to ever meet my kids. But as some may know, our first little bundle of joy was a bit of a surprise. So not only was I ecstatic (and terrified!) about becoming a dad, I was even more excited for that child to meet my best friend and it filled me with such joy.
The relationship that Amalya developed with Murphy was amazing. From the beginning she loved him so much she’d smother him with love and hugs and kisses. He was a bit standoffish, not crazy about her, but he tolerated her. She affectionately referred to him as “Boppy” when she was learning to speak. Over the course of a few years, he steadily warmed up to her and by the end of his life he truly did love her, I saw it and loved every second of it. Our second child, Kaspyan, also grew to love him. He called Murphy “Gaga”, so adorable. He lay with him, pet him, it was so sweet. I’m grateful he got to meet and be affected by Murphy, however I can’t help but be a little sad about him not getting more time with my best friend.
Murphy had a plethora of nicknames. ‘Murph-dog’ or ‘The Gentleman’ were the most common. He’s also been known as ‘Man’, ‘the Monkey’, ‘Murphalufugus’, Murph-its, or simply Murph as many knew him as. One friend used to bizarrely refer to him as ‘Bruce’. Aside from the silly names, he was just my main dude, my little man.
Oh, the outfits I put this guy in, despite his “Are you f-ing kidding me Dad?” looks, ha! But he did love his sweaters when he was older and we went to snowy areas. I always had a fantasy of making a calendar of him as different characters from movies – like the ridiculous dog owners do in the movie “Best in Show”. I envisioned him dressed as Indiana Jones – aka “Indiana Bones” – but I could never find the right outfit anywhere, and never motivated enough to make my own. I guess some other dog in the future will have to bear the brunt of my dog-dress up obsession. For now torturing my kids with dress up photo shoots will suffice.
At one point when I was still in Miami, a “dog agent” spotted Murphy at a park and thought he had some great markings and wanted to get him trained to be a set dog. We looked into it, but the time and financial investment wasn’t worth it. But a few years later when I was in LA producing and starring in my first short film in 2005, the director and I stuck Murphy in a scene and he was great! (you can view the short here: https://vimeo.com/nevinmillan/balance)
Several years later he was in the opening credits sequence of a comedy pilot I co-produced starring Fred Savage and Stephen Weber called “Being Bin Laden”. And finally, he was most recently in a project I acted in this summer. They were viral marketing videos connected to a movie called “Alien Theory”. The videos haven’t been released yet, but when they are, I’ll be sure to link to them here. You can view his IMDb page here: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2385243/
I’d also rehearse acting scenes with him – dogs are quite present and in the moment, so I’d read to him with a voice recording of the other lines and he would be right there with me, haha…maybe a little confused, but super interested!
I’ve taken road trips all over this country and even some of Europe. I think the only places in the US I haven’t driven extensively is the Northwest, Alaska and very north Northeast. For many of those US trips, I had my furry co-pilot in tow.
One of the most epic road trips of my life was one I took with him a few months after my mother passed away. I was making my way back to Los Angeles after being gone for awhile. Two road warriors taking on the American west, we even had matching collar/wrist cuff!
I left St. Louis, Missouri, went up through Iowa, Minnesota, and into South Dakota where my car broke down. The adventures we had during this road trip were so significant that I’ve written a screenplay and working on a novel loosely inspired by our experience. It’s too long to get into on this post, but due to the car breaking down we ended up being stranded in South Dakota for much longer than I had planned and we hiked all over the Black Hills, saw Mount Rushmore, slept under the stars together, communed with strangers, made friends, ran alongside a Bison farm, toured Custer State Park, went to Deadwood and got caught up in the famous Sturgis Bike Rally. After that we hiked the Rocky Mountains, Badlands, Grand Canyon, quick hike in Utah, Joshua Tree, and we even stopped in Vegas for a few nights (a friend was staying in a dog-friendly hotel and we met up). All in all, the journey was epic and he was my partner through all of it.
One time when we were hiking in the Rocky Mountains – we were on a trail in one of the National Forests and I guess the trail wasn’t the best marked, so I got kind of lost. The sun was going to set soon and I was trying to find my way back down to the trailhead, but kept getting turned around. This was in 2010 so cell phone signals weren’t as good and GPS wasn’t working. I kept trying to go in one direction, but Murphy kept leading me the opposite way. I was certain I was headed the right direction but he refused to follow me. He literally pulled me the other way. I finally gave in and followed him…low and behold, he was right! He guided me out of a sticky situation that could’ve ended up much worse; we were in the middle of nowhere Rocky Mountains outside of Boulder.
Other than that mishap and dealing with the broken down car, some of the best times I’ve ever had in my life were on that trip. Sleeping in the open air with my best friend, pondering life, wondering what the future would bring. I don’t know what else could come close to that level of simple bliss. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that level of loyalty and companionship with another being or soul in my life, thus far. He knew I needed this experience, and he stepped up to the plate and knocked my life back into place.
CARS & BOATS
When I arrived back to LA after my mom passed, and after that epic road trip adventure, our journey back to normalcy was just beginning. I had arranged to crash at a friend’s place for a few months while I got back on my feet. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, that arrangement fell through last minute, leaving me high and dry. I had spent most of my savings on alternative treatments for my mother (which are not covered by insurance) and sustaining my family and myself during that time and I was not bringing in any income, so the coffers were pretty low. To make matters worse, that time was shortly after the financial collapse of 2008, which my family did not come out of very well. Things were tight all around, financially. And as anyone who has lived in LA knows, finding a place to live is not easy, especially if you’re a jobless thespian. I ended up finding a perfect place, but it wasn’t going to become available for another 5 months or so.
I managed to couch surf for a few weeks at friends’ places that were dog friendly, but those opportunities eventually dried up. I popped into a cheap motel every now and then, but in LA they are not that “cheap” and most are not dog friendly. So for about a month and a half, I ended up living out of my car. Yes, Murphy and I were basically homeless.
It’s illegal in LA to sleep in your car, so I’d have to drive up into the Hollywood Hills and stealthily sleep in my car on small side streets amongst the uber-affluent (ironically). I made a bed of blankets in the back of my beat up old Jeep Grand Cherokee on top of my belongings and Murphy and I cuddled up together night after night. I never told anyone about this, I was too ashamed.
Many friends had places I could crash, but none of them were dog friendly. Every now and then a night or two would work out somewhere, but it was never a long stretch. And I didn’t want to put him up in a boarding place either, nor could I have afforded it at the time. He was my responsibility and I’d stick with him no matter what, that’s how we rolled.
I would wake up and workout at parks in the morning, freshen up in park bathrooms, post up at a coffee shop and apply to jobs from my computer, do graphic/web/design work, go to meetings, auditions, making sure everywhere I went was dog friendly. Aside from dealing with the fallout of loved ones dying, it was the most challenging time of my life.
Finally after about six weeks of that, a friend’s dad allowed me to stay on his sailboat in Marina Del Rey in exchange for graphic and web design work. So for about another six weeks, Murphy and I lived on a boat together, and it was pretty damn amazing. Little trivia here – the boat we lived on was the very same boat that was used at the end of the movie “50 First Dates”. Anyway, he and I slept so well rocking to sleep on the water and as small as that boat cabin was, I was so appreciative to not be sleeping in the back of my car.
When that arrangement ended, some lovely friends who I hadn’t been in contact with reconnected with me and they let me crash at their dog friendly house for a couple of months until the apartment I had been waiting for became available. Life has had many ups and downs, and this experience was filled with many downs, but through all of it Murphy and I were a team, inseparable, unrelenting, indivisible. I shed many tears of shame clutching him tightly at night under the covers in the back of that Jeep, questioning every decision I had made in life that had led me to that situation. I’ve grown now to appreciate those moments, as tough as they were.
While Murphy was generally a really healthy dog for most of his life, he did have his share of health scares. In 2012 a weird growth that popped up on his neck tested positive as cancerous. He had an operation to have it removed. It went well and he survived and thrived for another 6 years! He had a couple of bouts with pancreatitis, which I subsequently circumvented by giving him digestive enzymes for the last 5 or 6 years of his life, along with a low fat diet. In addition I switched him to a raw diet, which helped tremendously – most people couldn’t believe his age when I told them and I attribute it to his diet and supplements. There’s also a seaweed based supplement (GreenMin by Dr. Dobias – https://www.amazon.com/DR-DOBIAS-GreenMin-Dogs-Supplement/dp/B01AB643UK ) I had him on as well as a turmeric paste recipe that I’d mix into his food (join this FB group for details on how to make it: https://www.facebook.com/groups/415313751866609/?fref=nf ).
The last few years of his life he dealt with blindness and hip dysplasia that were getting progressively worse. The last year we had a dog chiropractor do adjustments on him, which really helped a lot with his mobility. All in all, I was lucky he was so healthy and ultimately in the end his physical body just gave out from old age.
Using a “dog year estimator” online that calculates the approximate age based on breed, gender, and geographic location, his dog year equivalent was roughly 100 years old…now THAT’s a good life indeed.
As a musician, naturally music has always been a major part of my life. From his puppy stages, I began playing guitar, piano, and singing around him. At first he was a little scared and apprehensive of the loud sounds, but then he grew used to it and sat near me whenever I played. As he got a little older, the music soothed him. For the remainder of his life, whenever I’d play he would curl up and nap near me, snoring away. If I would stop playing he would lift his head and look at me with an expression that read, “Why’d you stop??” I’d continue playing and he would lay his head back down and go back to sleep. It was adorable. I have so many fond memories of just serenading him and both of us in blissful peace. No judgments or other complexities, just two best friends innocently loving music together and enjoying each other’s company. Not sure if that experience is possible with a human (other than small babies).
The night before Murphy’s memorial service I could not sleep at all. We had the remains of his physical vessel (for private reasons, I won’t be sharing any details as to what form those remains were in) readied for burial, so it was the last night I would be under the same roof with that physical representation of my best friend. At around 2 AM I took my guitar, sat next to the container and played for him one last time. The session went until about 5 AM. I was in tears the whole time and even learned parts of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”. It was therapeutic for me and I know somewhere Murphy heard me and enjoyed it in peaceful bliss as always.
I’ve always found that focusing on gratitude has helped so much during times of deep pain, like a warm, uplifting blanket against the dark, cold abyss of guilt ridden grief. To the universe, the mysterious unknown force that brought us together, I am eternally grateful. I am forever thankful for all my friends, roommates, family, veterinarians, and kind strangers who helped and loved Murphy through the years. And most of all, thank you to Murphy, the kind, loving, adventurous soul who taught me so much about love, life, responsibility, and loyalty. I’ve learned more about being human from him than any other living thing in my life…although my (human) kids are probably tied with him at this point. I am one lucky dude to have received the gift of his companionship and love for as long as I did. I’m a better man, father, and all around human because of Murphy and fewer experiences in this world are more profound than that. What more could one ask for?
What does it mean to be a loyal companion? How does one truly practice unconditional love? Murphy taught me the answers to these questions. I don’t know that I will ever live up to those answers the way he did, but I will certainly spend the rest of my life honoring him by attempting to.
The love shared with a pet is unlike any other kind of relationship in our lives. It’s pure, symbiotic and reciprocal in a way that is so personal, private and straight through the center of your heart without any of the baggage. While the love for a human child is the closest thing to it, it’s different because a) you don’t expect to outlive your children and b) the kids grow to become independent adults that aren’t as reliant on the parent. To lie down next to your pet and stare deep into each other’s eyes is like having your souls shake hands and embrace in that moment with no worries or interference from anything else. Staring into a newborn baby’s eyes is quite similar, actually, but they grow so quickly out of that stage, whereas you can connect to a pet like this for the duration of their way too short, but wonderfully significant lives.
The loss of this deep connection is real and it is tough. I’m honestly struggling more with it than when I lost my father. For anyone going through a similar loss, I highly recommend pet loss grief support groups – I’m going to one every 2 weeks. And speaking to a pet loss therapist privately is helpful during the more acute bouts with grief – I had 3 private sessions in the weeks right after Murphy passed. The memorial service we held for him helped a ton in saying goodbye, not only for me, but also for the whole family and some close friends who knew him well. I’ve ordered mementos and keepsakes from Etsy.com and photos that I’m starting to hang up around the house. I’m also developing a children’s book series based on him. I’ve found that looking at photos and videos of him has been super helpful as well.
Some days are good and I’m at peace with the circle of life and happy that he is no longer struggling to walk and see, no longer in pain. But other days I can barely go 30 min without drowning in tears. And that’s how it goes with grief. I often think about my parents, and others I’ve lost along the way, and now Murphy will be part of those reminiscings too. I’ve found that the only solace to losing loved ones is knowing I’ll have quite the welcome party when it’s my turn to transition to the other side. Somehow the idea of that ever so slightly chips away at the fear of my own mortality.
There’s a poem by an unknown author about a “Rainbow Bridge” that I came across shortly after he passed that I’d like to share. It’s a lovely sentiment that brings such warmth to my heart when I think of it.
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor.
Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance.
His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers.
Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again.
The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….
See you at the Rainbow Bridge, Murph.