In the Margins: Live your life like Hurley did

Posted on April 19th, 2023 By: Chris Phillips

Christopher Phillips

Christopher Phillips, a Gig Harbor community member since 1981 and former managing editor of The Peninsula Gateway, is a retired journalist and communications executive who worked for Russell Investments, the Port of Tacoma, and the Washington State Investment Board. His column, In the Margins, explores our community’s people, places and experiences, some of which might not otherwise come to our attention. Suggestions are welcome at [email protected].



Eleven years ago, after our 20-something daughter left her nest in Gig Harbor, she hesitantly entered early adulthood and immediately fell victim to her first pangs of maternal instinct — and a listing on Craigslist. She and her future husband landed in Portland and impulsively adopted a small brown puppy that looked like those silly prizes they give out at the Puyallup Fair. Big eyes, floppy ears, massive paws, and four remarkably short legs — this was Hurley.

We first met Hurley during a Thanksgiving stay in Cannon Beach, where our extended family gathered for turkey dinner and some necessary beach walks. At one point during the weekend, my daughter enlisted us for puppy-sitting in our beachfront hotel room – just my wife and I, Hurley, and a romantic view of Haystack Rock on the Pacific horizon.

During this stint at puppy parenting, I came to realize that Hurley was two dogs in one. Mostly he was adorable, playful, smart, and painfully cute. We cuddled in front of the fireplace and played tug-of-war games with his new toys. Afterward I sank into an overstuffed sofa with a full dose of puppy bliss.

Zero to 60

Then, with absolutely no warning or any triggering event, Hurley transformed into a hyper-energized, ankle-height tornado from another planet. He barked with the ferocity of DEA-trained guard dog, and his oversized paws dug into the carpet like a miniature grizzly grabbing fresh-caught salmon. He tore around the small hotel room in a series of tight laps like he was chasing down a family of taunting rabbits.

Never had I seen any creature move this fast in so little space. I was terrified, powerless to calm him. I could only watch until his adrenal glands gradually emptied of their jet fuel. A moment later, he stopped as quickly as he had started. He looked up at me with great satisfaction and innocently snuggled up for a reassuring hug. Apparently, the demon rabbits had been vanquished.

Over the years, Hurley grew into a unique fixture in our family. He stayed with us in Gig Harbor when his parents traveled overseas for a full year. He was loving, lovable, and occasionally exasperating. He was loyal yet headstrong, gentle but with a donkey-like stubborn streak. He loved tennis balls, dirtier the better. He hated thunder, fireworks, and crows. He sprinted the fenced perimeter of our backyard acreage in 17 seconds flat, then annoyingly dug holes in our garden to celebrate his feat.

A true mutt

His most endearing quality was his cartoonish physical stature. As an adult dog, he was a three-foot sandbag with six-inch legs and wide-profile paws that resembled the high-performance tires on an Indy race car. His head was large and Lab-like, his body a stretch limo, and his legs appeared to have been sourced from a canine lost-and-found bin.

The DNA technicians reported genetic traces of every breed from Saint Bernard to Aussie Shepherd. None of us believed the science. My theory is that he was sketched into life by a renegade Disney artist who had been fired for creating an unaccepted sidekick character for the Lion King movie. Pumba the warthog got hired for the part. Hurley could have totally nailed that role, given a chance.

I often walked Hurley on the Harbor’s wooded pathways west of Hallstrom Drive or along the Cushman Trail. He and our shepherd-mix Jules became exploration partners. They were Lewis and Clark, sniffing out every trace of squirrel, coyote, deer, or schnauzer.

Whenever we came across other humans, Hurley was the cheery advance man, the scout. Jules preferred the role of protector or playmate depending on Hurley’s scouting report. Humans would stare at Hurley with awe and wonder. “What is he?” they would ask. Jules and I would tolerantly nod and explain that our charming companion was an undiscovered cartoon character. “This is Hurley,” we would reply. “He’s one of a kind.”

The oddly-proportioned, lovable and excitable Hurley.

Unbridled joy

When the walking conditions in the woods were just right – soft footing on moist ground, a few leaves, a bit squishy but not too muddy – I could sometimes see the storm coming. Hurley would deploy his paws, flex his muscular haunches, lower his already low stance, and turn on something akin to turbo boost.

Just as that day in the hotel room, he would launch himself into unrecognizable hyper speed. He would sprint down the path like a blazing rocket, turn on a dime, fully balanced, and race back at me with his ears flying like a pair of wobbly stabilizer wings on the side of his head. He was impossibly fast, uncannily agile, and nothing close to aerodynamic.

Other dogs, including our Jules, could only watch in confusion or get lost in his jet wash. Any dog that attempted to match his pace would get totally flummoxed when he unexpectedly turned hard left, right, or reverse. No one could anticipate his moves or predict such racy performance from such an oddly shaped vehicle.

These sudden, unprompted bursts of energy were shocking at first, until I realized that his turbo mode was simply an unbridled expression of pure joy. This was Hurley having his moment — free and full of gusto. This was his way of living the best part of a dog’s life in full glory.

Slowing down

Last month Hurley came to visit us again while his parents and our two granddaughters went on a much-deserved vacation. We enjoyed some short walks in the woods. It was cold and wet outside, and eventually the paths would be just right for some turbo sprints.

This time Hurley’s back and hips were uncooperative, so he had to be content with a tame pace and lots of sniffing of the brush. His head was fully in the game, but unfortunately his chassis was no longer able to match his desire. Later that week we could tell his turbo days were done, if not forgotten.

We sat quietly with a warm blanket on the hill under a large fir tree, one of his favorite spots. The skies looked like snow. He patiently listened to me tell stories about that memorable day in the hotel room. He rested his heavy head on my leg, all the while keeping a wary side eye on some misbehaving squirrels.

One last trip

The next day, I took him home to his parents in Oregon. He never liked car rides, but he didn’t complain. He was very happy when he got home. He loved his humans. He wanted to chase the birds in the back yard, but sadly his rear legs would never again let that happen. Right to the end, he was two dogs — one ready to go full throttle, the other unable to do so.

Even in his final moments, Hurley was reminding us to live our lives free and full of gusto. This spring we will watch the path in the woods. Eventually the conditions will be just right for an unrestrained run. We will never be able to match Hurley’s turbo pace, but we might just give it a try in his honor.

Christopher Phillips writes a monthly column for Gig Harbor Now. Contact him at [email protected].