After we bury a loved one, were far from done. They visit us in dreams; personal effects and photos remain; we expect to see them when we return home and of course their memories live in our hearts. So it can be even with dogs. Especially those who live a long time, say 19 years.
Thus it was with Teddy the tiny poodle we buried last month after his adventurous life. Last weekend as I pried loose the chicken wire at the porch perimeter that had finally kept Teddy from sneaking out, I came to grips with the finality of the loss.
My first meetings Teddy and his person, Rebekah, who is now my wife, were not auspicious.
Like many men I d always felt anything less than 20 pounds was not a real dog.
My skepticism was reinforced by the fact that Teddy sat in Rebekahs lap or worse, draped over her arm while we ate. Ted and his tiny wife Tootsie, also a toy poodle, shared the couch, the bed and morning walks. I gradually came around.
One turning point came on a winters day hike along Morgan Creek. Tootsie, ever the athlete, hopped from rock to rock at each stream crossing, bounding over fallen logs like a tiny deer. Teddy, with only one eye and going blind in it, intrepidly plowed through the underbrush, following his packs scent. At the stream crossing he put one leg in the cold rushing water, but could not navigate it. I turned around and scooped him up, wet and shivering. As soon as he warmed, I put him on the ground and the little guy trotted along like it was nothing.
About that one eye. Long before I met Ted, he was part of a bigger animal and human family that included a husky and a German shepherd who had grown up around Teddy. One unfortunate day the little guy got between the Zeke the shepherd, who was ailing, and his food. As Rebekah told it, next thing she knew, Teddys head was in Zekes mouth and before he could be extracted, a sharp tooth took out Teds right eye. After that Rebekah modified his doggie tonsure to ensure the hair draped rakishly over his missing orb.
Along with chasing off coyotes who had just taken a serious bite out his hind end, leading the shepherd and husky on the avenging charge, fathering seven offspring with Tootsie and devouring most of the childrens Easter chicks that were sequestered supposedly safely in the bathtub, Teddy had a more exciting life than your average 8-pound poodle.
Even when I met him at age 11, he remained capable, surprising and a scamp. Shortly after moving to Blackwood Mountain, Ted disappeared. Id left the gate open bad husband. How far could the little guy have gotten in 15 minutes? We began searching the neighborhood.
It did no good calling him because by this time he had gone deaf. He could not see us because his blindness had increased. Making it worse, hed morphed from solid black to a shade of gray eerily close to that of the asphalt road. After a frantic search we found him in our neighborhood pond, neck deep in the muck at the edge, a bit confused, but not too upset. The following winter he again snuck off, having defeated a barrier we put next to the gate. Our sharp-eyed neighbor Rick brought him home from where he spied Teddy atop the manure pile at the adjoining horse farm. According to Rick the dog did not look happy. He didnt smell so great either.
My gate-closing diligence sharply increased, but no matter. A few years afterward when Ted was 16, I got a call at work from a caring neighbor who had heard him howling in the woods. The sound emanating from his tiny lungs had pierced the usually tranquil air. Mehgan followed the horrible noise to find him suspended by his ear hairs from a branch where he dangled half in the pond. He was soaked, muddy and traumatized. The gate had been closed. Our forensic investigation determined that Ted had wriggled under the perimeter fence around the porch dropped 10 feet to the ground and headed inevitably downhill to the water.
That evening I stapled chicken wire to the wooden fence and floor, closing off his last means of escape. The final years were a bit more peaceful. He continued to go on walks well into the 18th year, though by the end I carried him halfway til his little legs got engaged. Then he could still make it up Blackwood Mountain Drive to the peak, going back down was easy. His sense of smell and muscle memory helped him the last 30 yards to the gate.
Its always hard when the end comes but it was quick. We didnt let him linger once it was clear he had completed his life on Earth. As his two-legged brother Josh put it in the family eulogy, Loyal and steadfast, a true companion, a father, a leader, and a lover, we remember ol Ted fondly. He was one tough son of a gun.
Contact Blair Pollock at email@example.com.