My daughter has flat out asked me many times, “Teddy’s your favorite, isn’t he?” and as much as I hate to discuss this topic in front of the other dogs, I’ll just confess now – yes, he is. But there is a good reason. During what has been one of the most difficult transitions in my life, when I was at my most selfish and insecure, he reminded me to consider other people’s feelings, or other beings’ feelings.
Elle and I came here to Oklahoma City with barely anything of our own. No furniture and no idea of what was to come, only our clothes and photographs, a gift set of new silverware, and other personal items we couldn’t bear to leave with my folks in Florida. I even said goodbye to my cat, leaving Polly with my parents because there is no way she’d survive the busy road in front of our house. Soon after, my tiny compact car that got us here was traded in for a family minivan.
We moved into Matt’s house, a house I had no part in choosing, filled with furniture I would never have bought for myself. The walls were already painted and decorated with framed photos of people I didn’t know and prints I didn’t buy. And the kitchen was already stocked with food I don’t usually eat and with cookware and dishes I didn’t pick out.
There was a great deal of change going on this summer: My daughter got a dad, I got a husband, my husband became a stepfather, and Elle and I inherited a house, a new city, and two dogs, Abbey and Chimay. I love them dearly, I do (the veterinarian’s office was one of the first places I became familiar with), but feeling unattached and lost, very few things felt like mine.
And then, two months ago, for my daughter’s birthday (and per her request), we brought Teddy home and he completely ransacked any idea of normalcy I thought I was coming to find in my short time here in Oklahoma. By the second day of knowing this dog, I wanted to take him back to the pound. He’d already escaped twice, tried to bite me when I attempted to safely bring him back home, and caused so much chaos in my life in just those short 48 hours that I called Matt at work that Friday afternoon (my daughter’s actual birthday) and cried to him, “We’re taking him back. I think I hate him.”
This was the weekend I think I experienced the worst emotional breakdown of my thirties. (This one peaked while I was crumpled into a ball in the back of our minivan at the 24-hour dog wash. It was obviously unplanned.)
We decided to wait a few days before returning Teddy to the pound, mostly because I was feeling guilty about having brought this dog into our home and already wanting to throw him back into the stressful world of dog adoptions. He was rambunctious, muscular, and aggressive when only slightly provoked – the exact opposite of the docile, quiet, floppy-eared darling we’d seen all sad-eyed in the pound. But the worst thought kept nagging at me – what if we took him back and he didn’t get adopted by another family? I hated knowing that I could be the reason he would be…oh, I can’t even think about it.
Elle was so nervous around him that she wanted nothing to do with him. It was apparent that, if we kept Teddy, he would become my dog since the whole point of bringing him home with us was to provide Elle with a canine companion, to feed and care for and be best friends with, and she had already decided she was over him. My brother helped calm me down over the phone on that second day (while I cried in the minivan) and suggested that Teddy was confused by all the newness and was simply trying to find his place in our family.
That was my Eureka moment.
Before Teddy, we were just this new little family of three people and two dogs, some of us already in established relationships with the others and some of us trying to connect, attempting to find our way through the day without feeling lost because of all the changes going on around us. I still didn’t feel like this was home to me – the city, the house, the paint on the walls, not any of it. It is why I was finally able to look at Teddy one day and say to him, “You don’t trust me any more than I trust you, huh? New house? New family? I know it’s hard, buddy. I know.” A little scratch under his floppy ears, his paw on my leg, and our bond was solidified. We decided to be nicer to each other and see what each day brought us.
So we bought Teddy a bed and put it in our bedroom where he sleeps, just like the other two dogs. He never smiles but he constantly wags his tail. He’s happy here, I think.
The two of us are nearly inseparable as Teddy has become my four-legged shadow. Whenever I get up from the couch or from my work desk, he’s up with me. Whenever he hears my keys jingle, he’s out the door and ready to walk me to my car. When I’m in the kitchen cooking dinner, he lays on the floor next to my feet, sometimes to keep me company and sometimes to catch scraps. Teddy escorts me to the mailbox where he is learning to stay in the yard when I leave the gate open. He wakes me up every weekend morning by resting his face on the bed until I acknowledge him and allow him to put his paws on the bed for a head scratch.
Elle and Teddy are working on trusting each other and the cuddling between those two happens more often these days. Even Abbey and Chimay have learned to tolerate his puppy-ness, which regularly interferes with their middle-agedness. Abbey actually plays with Teddy sometimes and Chimay has learned to be more tolerant.
In the end, though, it’s just a different bond I have with him that I don’t have with the other two. Perhaps Abbey and Chimay didn’t need me the way Teddy did and that goes both ways. Teddy made me realize that comfort can come from those who need comforting themselves.