I’m crazy about my hound dog, and we’ve suddenly been given this singular time to go through every moment of his old age together. No more dog walker. We head out for our very slow stroll, greeting neighbor humans and dogs we know well and some we’ve never seen before. I wash him and brush his coat every Saturday. He tells me when he’s hurting, and I try some soothing aloe on his skin. He’s not on the precipice of his last breath. But he’s aging literally day by day. Teddy and I are in it together, every last step.
Teddy came from Turks and Caicos, as did his sister, Scout. My buddy Bonnie and I were there in 2005 and had read about a dog whisperer named Jane Parker-Rauw, who since the late 1990s has been guiding tourists through the rescue process of street puppies known as potcakes. Dogs that had originally arrived by ship as far back as the early 1800s got that name after the pots with dregs of burned peas and rice put out on the stoops for them at week’s end.
Teddy and Scout were two of a litter of six street puppies. According to street lore, their mother died the night they were born and only three of the litter survived. In came Parker-Rauw to the rescue. Jane charms locals all over the island of Providenciales to foster puppies until she can find visitors to take them home. And so there we were, boarding the plane back to Los Angeles with two adorable, cuddly potcakes. They started out as Turks and Caicos, but by the end of the flight we had settled on Teddy and Scout.
I had been missing my Clark Gable of a chocolate lab, Badger, for five years before that trip. That attachment was so deep that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to go through the pain of that loss again.
One of the lessons our animals teach us is to love even in the throes of grieving. Those of us who value living our lives with animals make the unspoken contract: We will suffer through painful partings all too often, and we accept that sorrow in exchange for mutual, unconditional love. The affection, both ways, is unutterably tender. Teddy sits on the couch next to me, gingerly places his paw on my shoulder. The Beatles sang, “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Not true in our dog universe. I can’t come close to giving as much as I get from Teddy.
Early on, my vet back home delivered the crushing news that Scout had a congenital kidney disease. He guessed she wouldn’t last three months. But she went seven and a half years, the real athlete of the two. I would take them often for sunrise beach runs, imagining they were gleeful in returning to their Caribbean roots, and Scout would leap to the top of the dunes, Teddy clambering behind. Teddy has his unique talents, though. He sings a beautiful, warbly tune. And he smiles. Every time he sees me, or anybody he likes, he lifts the upper gums and displays the whole row of teeth. That smile slays me, every lovey-dovey time.
Now it’s been another seven and a half years without Scout. When I was 60, 10 years ago, Teddy was 35 in dog years. As I’ve been inching along, though, he has aged exponentially. Now that I’ve passed 70, Teddy has passed 100. He’s still strong. He still hears and sees. But, much as I try to focus on what we still have, I have been saying a long goodbye. I remember clearly catching sight of Badger’s tail around a corner for years after he passed. I will someday soon look for Teddy’s speckled paws, his smile, unable to accept that he’s really gone.
I whispered to Teddy recently: “If you just can’t do it any longer, it will be okay.” He understood. And he nearly sprang to his feet to ask for another treat.
Fifteen years is a weighty time to share a life with a being. Any one of us is lucky to know love. There is the love of a parent, sibling, child, friend, life partner. I would say that of all the love I’ve been fortunate enough to give and receive, the love of a dog is as special as it gets.
I’m getting ready to take Teddy through his final hour. Who am I kidding? I’m not ready, not in the least. But I will be forever grateful for this stretch with my smiling, singing hound dog through his twilight year. And, the ultimate irony, I have the pandemic to thank for this precious time.