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Just The Other Day

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Just the other day I walked to the shadowy space in the back of my yard, the triangular grove beneath the maples and beech, the grotto where spring runoff forms a June creek.

There, beneath the dark green of an August afternoon, I thought of Teddy and knew I had to put closure to a life we shared.

Teddy and I found each other in the parking lot of the University Plaza in Canton, New York, some 35 miles from home. A family from Morley, proudly showing off a Pekingese mom and a poodle dad, offered me one from their eight-pup litter. Most were either white or black; just one was brown and white and, for five $20 bills, I took that one home.

During the ride, I wondered who this little fellow was and what he would be like, this cute little puppy with the pushed-in face, this furry three-pounder with the docked tail. And where did he get those eyes…eyes that already knew everything there was to know about the world? Big and round and brown and never needing mascara for all his days, his eyes followed us everywhere, watching, waiting, inquiring what was coming next – always hoping for a chase, a run, a new toy.

I’ve had dogs that I’ve cleverly named from books: Freude, Fezziwig, Bilbo, but this one was different. No master’s degree was needed to describe this little boy other than to say how much he looked like a teddy bear and so that’s what he came to be called.

Teddy.

Ted, for short.

Mr. Theodorable, for fancy.

Teddy stood by my side through three jobs, two retirements, the Y2K anxieties, the 9-11 bombings, three American presidencies, two wars, three economic upheavals and the near - Triple Crown win of Funny Cide, the first New York horse to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

He went once to the Labor Day parade in Massena until the bass drums forced us home.

He danced on his hind legs with me as the world greeted each of my grandchildren and then licked their faces whenever he got the chance.

He ran in terror when the Saturday afternoon opera came on, then learned to love it and didn’t seem to mind when I sang aloud with the dying divas.

He was in the middle of housebreaking when the 1998 ice storm roared in from the north and for the rest of his years would only do his business if his feet were standing firmly on a pile of sticks and twigs.

Teddy hated back-up beeps and the driveway plower but he loved the women who shared his home and the young men who came with their families every so often to visit.

These are the facts of his life, the milestones I can point to as markers for his days on earth. What I can’t describe with any clear objectivity is how I felt about him: the joy of his greeting, no matter how long he was alone; the smell of his fur, wet or blown-dry; the sweet kisses he would give anyone who’d allow it; and the glee with which he’d grab underwear from unsuspecting old ladies.

Teddy had the best life of anyone I’ve ever known. He was never ill, never hurt, never hungry, never nutty. If he was lonely during all the years of his people working too much, he never let on. If he had issues with us, he never showed it. And if he was proud of his humans, he never showed that either, despite what we’d do, who we were or what awards we won.

We all know that an animal’s life is finite. If we are lucky, a dog will live 15 or 16 years, yet despite what we know with our heads, our hearts are never ready for the separation, even if the decline is gradual. Suddenly it seemed Mr. Theodorable could no longer hear well, he had to be carried upstairs and down, he would lose controls and hide with embarrassment. He forgot to bark at deliverymen and ignored his stuffed horse. But he was still my dog and we loved each other unconditionally.

Last fall, before the snows came, my friend and I dug a place for Ted out back, just at the point where the maples meet the beech trees, near Fezziwig and Bilbo, in front of Minnie the Cat.

When Teddy died this past January after more than 15 years by my side, my heart shattered into a million pieces.

I know of no pain as achingly acute as the loss of a pet. It sounds dumb to say it out loud, but those whose dogs or cats have left them know exactly what I mean. In the years Teddy was with me, I lost all of my first family and laid a granddaughter to rest. Yet I still feel the absence of Teddy in my life as strongly as anything else I’ve ever known. Some folks start over with a substitute pet, or wait until the hurt subsides to find an alternative, but I can’t. At least not yet. Both Teddy and I grew old together and I’m not sure I have 16 years left to do right by another dog.

And do I really want another animal? I don’t think so. It’s Ted I miss – for he was the perfect little friend, the kind that comes along once in a lifetime.

The other day someone asked about him, asked how he was, “that little dog with the adorable face…” she said. I smiled and told her he was no longer with me but that he was in a sweet place now, a place where he could run and jump with others who had gone before, a place where animals are safe and well, a place where they wait for their people. She smiled, touched my shoulder and nodded.

I’ve been hesitant to spend much time in the back of my land this year, despite the carpets of tulips and daffodils that bloomed in May, even with luscious raspberries that grew in abundance all summer, and the millions of frogs that jump around when someone passes by. But yesterday, when I walked out to that shadowy space beyond the apple trees, that triangular grove beneath the maples and beech, that grotto where the spring runoff forms a June creek, I sat by Teddy’s grave and together we plotted out what I will plant in October and how the spring lilies will bring a palette of glorious color to that very dark place. Perhaps then I can put things to rest.

Yes, I’m positive I can.

Farewell, my little friend; you were one of a kind. I thank you for spending your life with me – and surely we will meet again.

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