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Pawprints On Our Hearts

Pawprints On Our Hearts

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The story of a boy whose life is saved by the love of dogs—and grows up to return the favor.

Main Tropes

  • Coming-of-Age
  • Animal companionship
  • Hope and Healing

Synopsis

#1 International Bestseller and 8x Literary Award Winner

In his debut memoir, Kerk Murray shares his coming-of-age journey, paying tribute to the animals that touch our lives and the compassion that drives us forward. It's a story of love, loss, and the courage to start anew. Through poignant and evocative writing, he recalls the defining moments with the animals of his past and present, and the hope that lies beyond the pain. His story is a reminder of the possibilities living within us all.

Pawprints On Our Hearts is heartfelt and inspiring memoir that will strike a chord with animal lovers and stay with you long after the final page.

------------------------------------------------------⭐2022 Royal Dragonfly 4x Book Award Winner

⭐2022 The BookFest 3x Award Winner

⭐2022 Reader's Favorite Book Award Winner

⭐2022 Reader's Choice Book Award Finalist

Intro Into Chapter 1

On the morning of March 15, 2020, it was still dark outside when I pulled the covers over my head, as if it would somehow deafen me to the echoes of reverberating barks throughout the house. It was the familiar sound of our dogs, Maximus and Spartacus, engaging in their morning ritual. I suppose this early morning barking was their way of letting us know it was time to get up. Or, better yet, it was their way of disregarding our attempt to sleep in after checking off several items from the never-ending list of to-dos after a long workweek.

Maximus is a thirteen-pound, dark-haired Yorkie-poo with an attitude, but he has moments when he can be sweet. His counterpart, Spartacus, is a thirteen-pound, white and copper Morkie—a peacemaker—who mostly follows Maximus’s lead. While their statures are small, their persistence is not. My wife, Crystal, and I tried our best to ignore them, but as we lay there, the decibel levels of the barking only intensified.

This is a normal occurrence for us.

There was nothing special about this day, except that it was Sunday—the one morning I looked forward to all week, mostly because it didn’t require me to set an alarm. Yet, here we were, all at once exhausted, but fully alert, resisting the demands of our four-legged furry companions. It was a battle of wills we were convinced we’d win if we could do one thing: simply wait it out.

I slowly rolled over to squint at the alarm clock—as if I would have been able to see it. It was only sitting a few feet from me, but my vision is so poor that I couldn’t see what time it was without my glasses. I surprise myself each morning because I always seem to forget this fact. As I reached over for my glasses, I found myself disappointed once again. They were on the nightstand; but about two inches out of my grasp.

Frustrated, I thought to myself, Dammit! I’m too blind to see but too tired to get up.

I rolled back over and put my arm around Crystal. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the fortifications of our human will were no match for the siege of our dogs’ barks. Their constant barrage of high-pitched yelps forced us to wave the white flag of surrender. After fully accepting defeat, Crystal and I both stared at each other, eyes half-open, wondering the same thing.

Are you gonna let them out?

We both paused, waiting for the other to budge. Usually Crystal would concede first if I lay there long enough, but that day, something overcame me, quickly forcing me up and out of bed. It was my bladder screaming at me to find the nearest toilet—and by some miracle, I made it just in time.

Stumbling out of the bathroom, barely holding my eyes open, I fought the temptation to lie back down.

“Well hell, I’m already up. Might as well get the day started,” I grumbled to myself, but not silently enough.

“What was that?” Crystal mumbled.

Surprised that she’d heard me, I responded, “Nothing at all. I suppose I’ll get the boys ready this morning.”

“It’s about time you do something around here,” she said, half-joking.

I laughed, acknowledging the truth in her statement, and walked out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind me. As I headed down the hall toward the kitchen, their barking ceased. The very moment they saw me, Maximus and Spartacus sprinted toward me with a familiar excitement that never fails to make me smile. Even though it’s only been a handful of hours since they last saw me, I was greeted like a long-lost friend they hadn’t seen in years.

Still half-asleep, I squatted down to embrace them as they jumped all over me and smothered me with their kisses. Unable to contain their joy, they ended up scratching me—as usual. Forget coffee; there’s nothing like getting clawed by an animal early in the morning to completely wake you up.

With every bit of willpower left in me, I restrained myself from cursing—a vice I’ve tried to eliminate over the years, although I still slip up every now and then.

“Dang it, boys! Watch your nails. That freaking’ hurt!”

I knew they meant well, and I wasn’t really mad at them. It was just a knee-jerk reaction to the pain. If anything, I should’ve been grateful that they help me practice self-control.

But that morning, they didn’t just scratch me. Their paws found an old tear on my favorite pajamas I was wearing, and they had made the tear even larger.

I let out a sigh. “Why am I even surprised?”

Noticing the severity of the rip, I doubted these pajamas could be saved—hell, the left pant leg was barely hanging on. I began to wonder if I could find another pair that I’d love just as much. It’s funny to think I had become so attached to a pair of Budweiser pajamas, considering I hate beer, but they were just so comfortable.

When the dogs finally calmed down, I held together what was left of my favorite pajamas and headed toward the kitchen to cook their breakfast. As strange as that may sound, we do cook meals for our dogs—even though we rarely cook for ourselves—and they think we’re the best chefs in the world. By simply combining peanut butter with beans, rice, and blueberries, they’re as happy as can be.

As the stove was heating, the familiar sound of coconut oil sizzling in the pan got them excited once again. They paced hastily back and forth, paws pattering on the kitchen tile, knowing it was almost time to eat. While their food was cooking, I took a moment to make myself some tea in the microwave. I grabbed an old mug from the cupboard printed with faded text, “Enjoy the little things”—a reminder to love the present moment so I don’t miss out on the real treasures of life.

When the kitchen timer went off, I grabbed their bowls and set them on the counter. The scraping of the spoon against the pan as I filled their bowls really got their attention. Anticipating their upcoming meal, they began jumping around and all over me, as if they hadn’t had food in days.

In my attempt to take control of the situation, I gave them the command, “Sit, boys. Sit.”

They rarely ever listen the first time, and that day was no exception. I had to say it once again but differently. This time, I took a deep breath and held it out a little longer.

“Siiiiiit.”

As they sat in complete obedience, a false sense of confidence came over me. I felt just as capable of training dogs as Caesar Milan, the famed Dog Whisperer.

“Good boys, good boys,” I reaffirmed, careful to use positive reinforcement.

Feeling satisfied with their compliance and in myself as the new unofficial Dog Whisperer, I rewarded them by placing their food bowls on the kitchen floor. Maximus and Spartacus spared no time reconnecting with their wolf ancestry, ravaging the food as if it were the spoils from their hunt in the wild.

Though, let’s face the facts: they wouldn’t survive a day out in the wilderness, despite the ferocity they display during feeding time.

We have to supervise them during this daily event. Maximus always finishes his food first and often finds himself slowly creeping toward Spartacus’s bowl. He appears innocent but really is waiting for his opportunity to get more than his fair share. Although this has caused some issues between the dogs in the past, it’s been easily corrected with some coaching.

“No, no, Maximus.”

Most of the time he listens, even when I use a tone that sounds like he’s being rewarded rather than reprimanded. My wife often reminds me of this, telling me to be more firm with him.

The thing is, Spartacus won’t stand his ground. He’s just a kind, down-to-earth homebody. A pacifist, even to his own detriment. Maximus, on the other hand, is also kind, but mischievous. He’s always ready to push the limits of any boundaries. If we’ve learned anything from them, it’s that they’re two different individuals—and we treat them as such.

After Spartacus finished eating, I grabbed my tea from the microwave and opened the back door to let them run in the yard. Leaning against the door frame, I inhaled the wonderful scent of my peppermint tea, slowly sipping and watching them play. The steam from the mug dissipated into the air, but the scent of peppermint continued to linger, initiating a sense of gratitude for all simple pleasures in life.

It was just past seven in the morning, the perfect time to witness a spring sunrise over the South Georgia horizon. Beams of sunshine peeked through the gaps in our fence as they magnified the morning mist on the grass. The dogs were chasing each other and prancing around without a worry in the world, the dew splashing on them. I couldn’t help but smile.

Upon glancing back inside, I looked at what was hanging on the living room wall, which caused me to pause in reverence. It’s a hand-painted portrait of Maximus and Spartacus. To the left of it hangs Lexi’s pink bandanna along with Chelsea’s green collar. And to the right is a photo of me holding Gunner the day I rescued him. All of these things—the portrait, the bandanna, the collar, and the photo—are reminders of the brevity of life.

More often than not, I’m overwhelmed with emotions when I look at what’s hanging on the living room wall. It captures what has passed and what cannot be again—this fact is a hard pill to swallow. Some days, I’ll look at the wall and smile, thinking of all the wonderful moments we shared together. But other days, I break down and sob uncontrollably. In those distressing moments, one particular line from Brushstrokes of a Gadfly, a novel written by E. A. Bucchianeri, resonates so deeply: “So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.”

Although it’s painful to view at times, those things that hang on the wall force me to slow down and consider what’s really important in life. I’ve wasted countless years chasing things that ultimately didn’t matter. But life will always find ways to compel us so we can be still and look up from its distractions for even a moment. This is what it takes for us to leave behind who we are so we can arrive at who we’re meant to be.

What I’ve discovered matters most to me in life has certainly changed over the years. I’ve lost all ambition toward the empty pursuits of money, status, and approval. Alternatively, I want nothing more than to become a person who views others through the lens of compassion. To guide me, I’ve adopted this lyric by the late River Phoenix as my life mantra: “Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.”

That’s what these dogs did for me, and it’s what I set out to do for all living beings—humans and animals. I often fall short of exemplifying this lyric and realize I have much to learn about love from these beautiful creatures.

Perhaps I was mistaken earlier when I claimed there was nothing special about that particular March day; for that was the day I finally picked up a pen to write the fairy tale I lived alongside these incredible dogs—the ones who changed me forever and left their pawprints on my heart.

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