When most Little League games ended, I’d settle into my postgame routine – take off the cleats, throw on the flops, stab the yellow straw through the bottom of the Capri Sun, and start chowing down on the oranges the Team Mom brought.
But on May 19, 1994, there was no time for any of that. As the third strike was called, I sprinted from centerfield straight to my mother’s Nissan Quest. No Capri Sun. No oranges. We were going to see a dog.
With my brother and sister in tow, we drove from Collins Hill Park to a nearby apartment complex in Duluth to meet Muffin, a dog my mother found in the newspaper, which is apparently where the classifieds lived before Craigslist.
The first thing that stood out about Muffin was she was a really ugly dog. SUPER ugly. She was a Lhasa Apso-Shitzu mix with a snaggletooth coming out of the left side of her mouth and eyes the same shade as her coat. Of course, she didn’t let it get her down. Muffin had spunk! She could fetch, shake, and sit on command. But she really stole our hearts when she began showing off her incredible jumping ability.
I got one of her toys and put it directly in front of my nose. She leaped right up and snatched it. No problem. I grabbed another toy. I put it a couple inches higher. She got that one, too.
I was in love. We all were. Muffin left with us in that Nissan Quest and became the LaRoche family dog.
Of course, there was one small problem – 11 year old boys that love baseball and acting cool in front of their friends don’t exactly want a dog named Muffin. It’s a really embarrassing name.
“Mom, I think we should change Muffin’s name,” I proposed on our drive home.
“Austin, it’s her name. She knows it. When you say ‘Muffin,’ she understands you’re talking to her,” my pragmatic mother replied.
“But if she learned a new name, she could go by that, and then we wouldn’t have to be the family with the dog named Muffin.”
“I think we’ll stick with Muffin.”
The next morning started what would be many funny adventures I would have with Muffin. My job was to take her on her morning walk. I put the leash on my new dog, walked out the door, and followed Muffin’s lead. The humane bone in my body didn’t want to pull the leash because it was connected to a collar wrapped around her neck. Muffin quickly realized she could do whatever she wanted and proceeded to drag my 67 pound body across the neighborhood – through the Little’s backyard, down near the creek, and into the woods.
Over the years, Muffin gave us much to laugh about. There was the time she ate half a dozen chocolate glazed donuts and diarrhea-ed throughout the night in my room, creating her own field of land mines I had to navigate through to exit. There was our epic battle when she got ahold of my pack of peanut-butter crackers that led me to taking a broom and trying to poke the crackers from her mouth. And there was simply the site of her in pigtails after being pampered at the groomer that still makes me smile.
As I transformed from an 11 year old boy to an 18 year old high school graduate, the time came for me to leave for college. Living without a dog was tough (to be fair, I was waaaay too irresponsible to care for another creature at the time), but Muffin always made coming home feel good. I’d walk through the door, and she’d go into Protector-of-the-House mode, darting at the “intruder,” only to realize halfway through her sprint that it was me. Then she’d start barking excitedly as if to say, “He’s BACK! He’s back everybody! Get over here and see him! WOOHOO!” It was the best “Welcome Home” you could ask for.
Muffin lived to be 17 years old. She died in the arms of the woman who protected her namesake about four months later than she should have. It’s not easy saying goodbye to the family dog. Even when she’s howling through the night, can’t see anymore, and has to wear a diaper 24/7. But we had a hard time letting Muffin go. After all, she was the only family dog we’d ever have.
Sure, we’re older now and my brother has his dog, my sister has hers, and I have mine. But Muffin was ours. She was loyal, funny, and really, really ugly. I also like to think she was incredibly bright. After all, she totally knew what I meant every time I said, “Come here, Blade. Blade, come.”
Have a great first dog experience and want to share it with us? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us all about it! And if you need to book your first pup for his first vacay, be sure to browse through our awesome DogVacay hosts.