Mufasa came into our lives the way many dogs do. He needed a home. When I married at 30 I wanted the whole Norman Rockwell image of the American family instantly – the husband, suburban home, fence, yard on a park with a neighborhood school, kids and a dog. I got all of it within one month. And a new job, too. (Fight the urge to exclaim, “What were you thinking?”)
A couple of weeks after the wedding I had an interview at a high-tech company in Boulder. It was just down the street from the Humane Society. Since it was on the way home and now I had a fenced yard, I thought I’d just stop by and look. Note to self: Do not stop by to look at the puppies in Boulder, Colorado in summer if you are not chock full of willpower or some other really good reason for not getting one… unless you’re actually ready to have a puppy.
Boulder’s is a no-kill shelter with a 100% adoption rate, so people actually drive to other parts of the United States to get puppies and bring them there. That’s what happened to Mufasa. His was a litter of eight puppies. Six looked like tiny German Shepherds, one was a light brown ball of fur with white marks and then there was a puppy like an oversized cotton ball with brown spots and little clawed feet sticking out. Clearly a paternity test was in order. Mufasa, as the nice women there named him, was the cotton ball with freckles.
He was sound asleep wrapped around two of his siblings. There was a waiting list three deep for him, he was so cute. He was perfect. I had to put my name down. I wrote our new number quickly, not thinking I’d hear back. My husband didn’t really want a dog.
They called. We went to meet him. My husband was skeptical. It was clear no one had any idea what kind of dog this would be (Maybe Saint Bernard? Akita?). He was extremely young (maybe six weeks old) and barrel-chested. His eyes were still blue.
“How big do you think he’ll get?” my husband asked as we walked down the long corridor toward the back of the building.
“About a hundred pounds,” the young woman said. She was holding him flat on his back with his spotted belly pointed straight up toward the roof.
“Well, what if he turns out to be a kind of dog we don’t want, or really ugly…”
“Puppies this cute,” she said as she opened the door to the bright Boulder sun, his four tiny legs splayed toward the sky, “do not turn into ugly dogs.”
We put Mufasa down in the grass and watched him waddle off.
“Let’s be clear,” my husband said. “The dog is yours.”
She showed us he was extremely easy going; we could do anything to him and he didn’t care. The woman explained that would be important since he’d be gigantic. She said we’d be required to go to puppy classes because he’d get big fast and would be a lot to handle, especially for my six-year-old stepson.
She had no idea. She could not have known that he would eat everyone’s stocking candy his first Christmas morning, metal wrappers and all. She could not have known about the morning Mufasa decided he’d like bacon and eggs for breakfast too and proceeded to climb up onto his lap and eat my stepson’s entire meal right off his plate on the kitchen table. She could never have imagined that he would eat half a pan of chicken enchiladas (someone else made and brought), carving his claws into the middle of the formal dining room table during a party. He was a growing boy and to this day loves food.
And that was all before he hit the road. Mufasa’s World Tour has entertained elderly residents in retirement communities in Florida, schoolchildren in a gym in Nashville and hotel guests across two continents. Planes, trains, automobiles, ferryboats, funiculars, cable cars… Mufasa’s done them all.
Raising and travelling with Mufasa has taught me a lot about life. He knows what’s important (the next meal, enjoying the moment, sloppy kisses) and what isn’t (maintaining one’s dignity and looking good at all costs). He knows to hang on and enjoy the ride. Certain things, Mufasa is clear, warrant a quick escape. If someone’s after you, by all means, turn, tuck tail and run.
“What would Mufasa do?” has become a good, all-purpose question. It will serve you well.
This post is in honor of Sydney, Mufasa’s sister, who died this week. Mufasa was curled up with her the first time I saw him. My best friend Beth adopted her. We took them home together ten years ago this summer.