Teddy wasn’t supposed to be a big dog. Or a furry dog. Or a male dog.
He wasn’t even supposed to be Teddy.
The plan had been to get a little hound after the divorce. For I can no more live without a dog than I can without a pulse.
I was thinking Puggle, a mix of Pugs and beagles. I fell for their faces and wanted a small, smush-faced female, diminutive and bright. Her name would be Henrietta Pugglesworth.
Then I saw Teddy in a forwarded email.
He was born in a litter of 11, an unplanned miracle for a Beverly Hills couple who thought their Golden Retriever was fixed. She wasn’t.
The pups were as small as gerbils when I first saw them, each suckling with vigor on a very fatigued mom.
I chose the smallest girl, the runt of the litter. She would be named Esme. You see, it’s humanly impossible to see a Retriever puppy and not take it home. That’s just science.
The owner put a pink ribbon on her so he could tell the sexes. I waited for my pup to turn six weeks old as impatiently as I did for Christmas morning as a boy. I picked it up, brought it home, showed it the new home, wrestled a little on the floor.
That’s when I noticed the penis. Esme was, in fact, an aptly hung male. I knew the pup looked bigger than expected when I picked it up. But I never looked under the hood.
I called the owner, who was mortified. He apologized profusely, even offered to give me a full refund.
But it was too late. Looking at his tiny maw, chewing on my finger like a rawhide, I realized I would never give him back. To see a Retriever puppy is to fall deep. Again, science and all.
Esme became Teddy, and so we began life together, one often entwined. He was diagnosed with epilepsy in his first year, so we took our meds together. He was once run over by a car, so we both had to sport foreign body parts. We both had shitty eyesight, unreasonable optimism and very keen ears. Though he liked doctors visits more than I.
Which is good, because he went often. He once ate an entire weed brownie he’d swiped off the counter. He ate anything that smelled like me: wallets, pants, underwear. Even a bathrobe. He once ate $86 in cash. ‘What’s mine is yours,’ he seemed to be saying. ‘And, of course, vice versa.’
True to his word, he did share. I did get that smush-faced Esme, who Teddy treated like the little sister she was. She may be the smartest dog I’ve ever seen; he is the kindest. She would routinely place her head in his jaws, unafraid he would dare bite her. He didn’t.
Patience, say hello to Trust.
His body would slow over the years, though never his nature. He still greeted every visitor like a prodigal son, and shed on them like a fur retailer. He still barked in mock anger at the lawn guy, who wielded the Machines of Great Ruckus.But all he’d do if he broke into the yard was run to play with the guy, who would gently walk him back inside. Ted would never pass up a car ride.
Teddy left today.
This afternoon, I sat in the shower to mourn and reflect and let the external rains wash away the internal. I left the bedroom door open for the first time (Teddy would feast on underpants otherwise). Esme came to shower and lay on the bathmat. She knew something was different. And I realized she’d feel the loss as much as I.
One day, I decided, she’ll have a younger brother. I don’t know what breed. I don’t know what size. I certainly don’t know what name.
As long as he’s nothing that he’s supposed to be.