by Debra Malinics
Many years ago, I rode at Monastery Stables off Kitchen’s Lane in Fairmount Park (West Mt. Airy). Whenever possible, I would take our dog, Mugsy, a beagle-basset mix I adopted in 1984 from Morris Animal Shelter in center city, to the stable with me. He, and my horse, Thunder, developed a beautiful friendship and bond, and it was one of my first experiences with a deep, inter-species friendship.
Whenever Mugsy arrived at the stable, he would immediately go into Thunder’s stall. Thunder would put his head down to Mugsy’s level, and Mugsy would affectionately lick his muzzle. I called it their “hello kiss” as it was very touching and gentle, and always happened when Mugsy first arrived. As I tacked up,
Mugsy would sometimes sit and wait, or if he were “exploring,” I would whistle for Mugsy when I was ready to ride, and he would come bounding into the tack up area, ready to follow us along the trail. If I happened to ride another horse, Mugsy simply refused to go with me, staying instead with Thunder at the stable while I worked in the ring.
On the trail, Mugsy would run behind us, his little legs moving as fast as they could. Thunder would periodically look back to check on Mugsy, and if Thunder didn’t see him, he would stop — suddenly — and wait until Mugsy caught up. Many a bloody nose I got from that show of friendship!
Mugsy was a dog full of mischief — he was part beagle, after all — and he was obsessed with food, any food, anywhere, at any time. He loved to search for anything he could eat, and at the stable he left a trail of turned over wastebaskets, licked clean Dunkin Donuts boxes, candy wrappers and food crumbs. He especially enjoyed stealing sandwiches from the lockers, and I often heard the phrase, “Uhhhhh, Mugsy ate my lunch again.”
This happened so often that I was convinced people purposely left their lockers open for Mugsy so they could get a newer, better sandwich of their choice as I always apologized and offered to replace their eaten sandwich with a sandwich of their choosing. Yes! Bring peanut butter and jelly, but leave with a turkey club on rye. Not a bad deal.
Mugsy especially loved Valley Green, which he viewed as a food center, and he often took the opportunity of passing by to its fullest advantage. On approach, he would run up the steps, assess the layout, plan his strategy, then strike with a quick run across the porch, grabbing any unattended pieces of toast or rolls, then run down the opposite side to catch up with us.
Though his legs were short, they moved fast during his strategic pounce, and I remember hearing “Hey, whose dog was that? He just stole my toast” many times as Mugsy disappeared down the steps and into the distance. I would keep trotting, hoping the diner did not make the connection between my dog and me. I was embarrassed but felt the conversation he created and the laughter I heard overrode the hassle of getting new toast.
Best of all, (or not) Mugsy absolutely loved what we riders affectionately called “Manure Mountain,” a sheer mountain of manure piled in the back of the barn. It got so high that we joked about selling tickets to tourists to “Ski MANURE MOUNTAIN, located in the heart of beautiful Fairmount Park”. Yes, Mugsy loved Manure Mountain…he loved to climb it, spend time on it, run down it, roll on it, and hang out on it. Sometimes a seasoned dog like Mugsy would show new dogs the joys of Manure Mountain to the horror of their owners. Whenever I found Mugsy exploring its peak, however, he knew there would be a price to pay — a bath and brushing when we got home. It was a steep price to pay, but Mugsy felt it was worth it!
When Mugsy died in 1995, our hearts were broken, for he took a piece of our hearts with him. He received many beautiful notes from his many stable fans. They say animals don’t have emotions, but anyone who has had an animal share their life knows that’s not true. After Mugsy died, I would go to the stable, and Thunder looked for Mugsy to arrive; left, and right, where was his little friend? I tried to explain that Mugsy died, but he kept looking for him, and I think he kept looking until he died. I hoped that when that eventually happened, the two of them could be together again, and Thunder would ask on meeting him, “Where have you been, little guy, on Manure Mountain?”
We had Mugsy cremated, and because he loved the stable so much, I wanted to scatter some of his ashes there. My husband, Bernie, and I went to the stable one day to face this task that we felt would help ease our grieving. We walked around, and Bernie asked, “Where would you like to scatter his ashes?” Without hesitation I responded, “On the manure pile; Mugsy loved Manure Mountain.” Bernie was absolutely taken aback, and he looked at me and said, “Debra, I am not scattering Mugsy’s ashes on a pile of manure.”
“But, but Bernie,” I whined, “Mugsy LOVED Manure Mountain, it was his favorite … ” “I don’t care,” Bernie replied, “I do not want Mugsy on a pile of manure.”
Bernie won out, and we scattered his ashes around the stable and in Thunder’s stall while I explained to Thunder that Mugsy died, but that I hoped he could feel Mugsy’s presence there, even for a little while. Though none of Mugsy’s ashes technically made it to the top of Manure Mountain, I figured in doggie heaven, there would be lots of Manure Mountains for Mugsy to climb and all the sandwiches he could steal and lots of porches he could run on and grab food to eat … forever.
Author’s note: A small portion of Mugsy’s ashes did secretly make it to the bottom of Manure Mountain, tossed just when Bernie wasn’t looking!
Chestnut Hill resident Debra Malinics is the founder of Debra Malinics Advertising (DMA Communications), a creative services agency in Philadelphia focusing on brand development, innovative design and strategic communications for clients in healthcare, real estate, education and professional services. DMA’s work has been recognized with over 350 creative awards including a National Silver CASE award of excellence for its work with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). For information, visit dma-adv.com or call 215-627-1348.