We said goodbye to our sweet senior dog yesterday. It was a day I’d been dreading but which, owing to his back and hip problems and his general declining health, was a painful but necessary kindness. Despite the inevitable tears from sending a dear friend over the rainbow bridge, I am choosing to focus on all the happy memories and the good he did during his nearly twelve years with us.
I don’t like to say we “adopted” our dogs because, as kindly as that term is meant, I feel it troubles real understanding of the infinitely more intricate process of adoption with children. But I do think the act of bringing another creature into your home, your life and your heart is much more than the words “bought” or “picked-up” can convey. Instead, I like to think that the hubs and I were “introduced” to our first corgi.
We named him Edward, after the corgi in Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist, but he quickly became known as “Teddy” on account of his looking more like a toy bear than a small dog. He was 16 weeks old when we picked him up, late for a pup to go to a new home. He was quite homesick for the first week or so, refusing to eat much and staying close to his crate. But after some gentle snuggling and attempts to play with a ball that fell flat (literally!), we discovered his love of stuffy toys. He had wandered into the closet and emerged moments later with the hubs’ fluffy frog slippers — my husband is a devotee both of frogs and anthropomorphized foot-comfort.
Though we initially tried to reclaim the slipper fearing an ongoing saga of shoe-fetish destruction, Teddy was so determined that this item should be his that we, or rather the now one-slippered hubs, relented. For several weeks thereafter Teddy happily but blindly bumbled around the house with the toe of the slipper covering his muzzle, and the foot over his head. How he ever managed to navigate around the still-new corridors is a mystery, but I suspect he just felt better exploring his new home with a comforting if awkwardly-placed toy. Either that or he was experimenting with a superhero alter-ego — frog-dog to the rescue?
When he was about a year old, Teddy became gravely ill. For a while, we thought we might lose him as he repeatedly battled an unknown stomach complaint that would leave him listless and dehydrated in the emergency vet clinic — and us several thousand dollars poorer each time. Eventually, our vet discovered an antibiotic that allowed his poor inflamed stomach lining to heal. This, coupled with a strict diet of prescription dog food, has allowed our once-sickly puppy to enjoy a full, and relatively long life. I still marvel at the way he continues to be rambunctious, agile and playful even at the relatively ripe of age of nine.
When Teddy was four, we met and brought home our second corgi. At just 9 weeks, she was a 6 1/2 lb ball of grey fluff and needle-sharp teeth. We named her Eleanor, an old family name (since I do agree with the adage that dogs are the family you’re given to make up for your relatives), but she soon became “Ellie”. The first meeting of the new “siblings” was less than a success: at the sight of her, Teddy appeared to ask, “and what fresh hell is this?” and proceeded to wear a look of unmitigated disgust for several weeks thereafter.
It was only when that roly-poly parcel of bumptiousness needed his help that Teddy began to mellow.
When she was threatened by a small flock of magpies that took turns trying to take peck at her, Teddy trundled in all fluff and bluster to warn them off. When Ellie got stuck under the garden steps and was only able to let out a small whine of distress, Teddy found her and gave a long-suffering bark as though to say, “I know I’m going to regret this later” so that she might be rescued. And when her greed and curiosity imprisoned her behind the pantry door for several hours, Teddy put on his best Lassie impression once again to help her. Granted, it was less “Timmy’s down a well!” than “that ridiculous puppy has got herself in trouble again so you should do something because her whining is interrupting my nap”. But still, he was clearly growing fond of her.
Soon, they were defending their garden together against the possible intrusions of squirrels and sparrows, alerting us (and the neighbours, and the neighbours’ neighbours) to every passing pedestrian, car, cat or van.
When our boys were born, Ellie watched them each like a hawk; they couldn’t so much as turn over in their sleep without her checking on them, ears pricked, head tilted. When they cried, she would look at us as though to say, “What shall we do?”. That her lack of opposable thumbs may have hindered her active participation in the care of baby humans never seemed to occur to her.
Predictably, Teddy was less-keen on the small, fur-less creatures who made annoyingly loud noises at too-frequent intervals. Unlike Ellie, we would often see him scuttling away from the shrieks of a newly-awoken infant.
But he did become self-appointed safety-officer. Whenever one of the boys is attempting to do something reckless or in direct opposition to the laws of physics, Teddy will let out a concerned “awrgh” — not quite a bark, but more a registering of concern, a notification that one or other of the household bipeds ought to take a look at the impending disaster unfolding in the family room.
Having our dogs as part our lives has given us so much more than just companionship (and child monitoring). Through our years together, brief though they are, they have shown us that every morning can be greeted with joy, that the simple act of getting out and stretching your (short) legs does wonders for the soul, and that there’s very little a good cuddle can’t fix.