In the Garden

Whoa. Summer came to Oklahoma with a bang. After all those extra months of freezing weather and our recent weeks of rain, it is finally 90+ degrees and dry. Is there no such thing as a happy medium? Or do those days happen fleetingly? I’m guessing the latter.

Those days have come where I now have to check my flowers and vegetables daily. A simply soaking every evening only seems to make my plants thirstier. When I walked past my potted petunias last night I was shocked by the condition of the soil. It was cracking and parched and it made me feel so silly for proclaiming only last week how hard it was to kill petunias! PUBLIC APOLOGY, PETUNIAS – I take it all back.

I never had an interest in gardening for most of my life, although I have had a lifelong interest in eating food grown in other people’s gardens. When I lost my job nearly two years ago and Florida’s economy failed to provide me with another, I decided to turn my spare time into a useful tool. The following spring and summer, I grew tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, carrots, ground cherries, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, herbs, and edible flowers.

Jack, my parents’ piebald dachshund, accompanied me every morning to the garden space. The two of us made our rounds collecting ground cherries that had fallen or thinning out the carrots and nursing the cucumbers back to health. Actually, I did the work while Jack chased squirrels and investigated the deep roots of a philodendron.

Jack, my garden buddy

Jack, looking especially short next to the lettuce patch

Matt and I decided this year’s garden would be a small and manageable one. Everything we hope will be edible is growing in container pots and recycled whiskey barrels. There are three varieties of potted tomatoes, cucumbers trailing on our iron porch rails, and okra being held upright with a metal trellis. All those mornings I tossed the water out of those saturated pots are paying off and things are finally starting to grow.

sunburst cherry tomatoes

sunburst cherry tomatoes

okra is happening!

okra is happening!

It seems I have a new garden buddy these days to go along with my new garden. As I made my rounds this morning redirecting the cucumber vines and marveling at the height of my still-growing sunflowers, Teddy rarely left my side. There is a story behind this dog and I wish I knew what it was, but for now I’m happy to imagine he was treated well by someone who appreciated his constant presence and liked to take him for long walks outside.

my handsome boy

my handsome boy

More Teddy

For a fairly good sized 60-pound catdog, Teddy somehow manages to gracefully curl himself into a ball or carefully prop himself upright leaving him to rest quite easily on the leather sofa – the back of the leather sofa, where cushions and armrests are not required. Teddy is surprisingly considerate enough to leave those parts of the sofa for the humans (although he is always happy let you know he’s back there by sniffing your hair, licking your head, or by licking himself right next to your head).

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Teddy and Chimay. She is sometimes difficult to see right away in this house with dark brown floors and furniture, but her new reflective collar has kept us from spooking each other more than once.

We are used to finding Teddy like this, resting comfortably on the back of the couch. There is probably a really great view out of the front room windows from this height, too. Even after moving a smaller sofa right up against the front room windows, Teddy still prefers his spot on the leather sofa. Perhaps the cushions and armrests are somewhat confining to a catdog who lies on the floor with his legs outstretched in front of and behind him (we call this his yoga technique).

More boingle yoga with Teddy

The following photographs show how we found Teddy yesterday morning, his legs outstretched and hugging a cushion, his body completely draped over most of the sofa with his tail dangling nonchalantly behind him. I snapped pictures of him for a good minute, in tears from laughing so hard at what a funny cat-slash-dog he continues to be. Teddy didn’t budge, except to move his head to see what so damn funny. He was comfortable.

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How’s Teddy?

My parents often ask, “How’s Teddy doing?”

They don’t ask out of favoritism, but because they are aware of my hysterics months ago upon realizing what a nightmare with four legs we’d brought home. All is good now – Teddy and I are snuggle buddies, which I find surprising for a cat. To clear up any confusion, though, he really is a dog that just acts like a cat: bats the ball around all by himself, rests on the back of the couch, steals socks, licks my hair, and is easily distracted by random strings and stray yarns (anything tassled, like a throw blanket, is just asking for trouble).

This morning, while starting to watch an episode of The Grand (I have no trash television channels and must import the dramatic filth from BBC via Netflix), I was cozying myself on the couch in my bathrobe. Teddy crawled on and up the back of it, put himself down directly behind me, rested his nose right on my shoulder, and proceeded to snooze away.

Here he is just a few hours ago, blissfully asleep at the crook of my neck.

snuggle buddy

I wish there were more moments like this. They do happen quite often, but usually after Teddy has been tuckered out from beating the hell out of me. I pay a price.

Keeping in mind that he is still young and playful, this morning (pre-snuggle) he ran me over with his tennis ball tug toy in his mouth and knocked me to the floor. When I tried to get up, he and his sixty-four pounds jumped on my stomach and swung his toy around, aiming the tennis ball directly for my face and clocking me at least three times. I lost count.

Thankfully my glasses are still intact.

After my daughter came out of her bedroom to rescue me, I stood myself up and was immediately pounced on again by Teddy who, as it happens, likes to spontaneously attack the loose sleeves of my bathrobe. Unfortunately, my arms get in the way. The act might look vicious to a passerby, much like how a K-9 police dog is trained to attack a fleeing perpetrator (we’ve all seen the hilarious videos where the German Shepherd goes for the suspect’s arm), but I know Teddy is playing and he’ll stop as soon as I tell him to be nice. And after a few reminders to stop and be nice, he did, because he’s a good cat, er…dog.

So, Mom and Dad, Teddy is fine. We all are.

Bonding

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.

sleepy Teddy

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.

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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.

Boingle!

For weeks Matt and I have been throwing around the names of different dog breeds, trying to figure out exactly what it is that Teddy is mixed with. We brought our mutt home from the animal shelter that labeled him a “Pointer/Lab mix”, as most mixed breeds in any given animal shelter in any given city are probably carrying some kind of Bull Terrier or Labrador gene (at least in my experience). We could see the Pointer breed in him (his nose is uncontrollably in control) but that Labrador side of him…not so much. Also, neither one of those breeds could explain his big ol’ floppy ears nor why he looks like a giant dachshund (his legs and body are not proportionate to the size of either a Pointer or a Lab).

When a friend came over last week and met Teddy for the first time, I mentioned to him this mystery and he said, “He’s got a big head, like a Beagle.”

Bingo!

I finally got around to looking up images on Google of a Pointer/Beagle mix and all of a sudden my screen filled up with hundreds of Teddies. It seems this is a designer breed called a Boingle. Luckily Matt and I didn’t have to spend too much money on one and simply picked Teddy up at the pound for $25.

And isn’t designer breed just a pretentious way of calling one’s dog a mutt or a mixed breed? Although I will admit that I really get a kick out of saying the word “Boingle”.

Here’s Teddy, our Boingle, in all his bandana glory:

Teddy

Teddy and Abbey. Teddy’s not much of a talker so when he decides to say something, it’s probably important and usually deep (not philosophically, just sound-wise and un-yippy, though I’ve been told the quiet ones are usually deep thinkers).

two happy doggies!

Teddy and Chimay, soaking up some sunshine and grass clippings.

Teddy

I’m not sure why, but this reminds me of Bruce Springsteen. Like the Boss, Teddy here was also born to run. (Get it? Oh, I’m hilarious.)

Teddy

One friend called him “front-heavy”, referring to the size of his head. I’ve also come to appreciate an alternate use of his bandanas as drool wipers.

Teddy

Here’s Teddy getting in touch with nature or, more likely, having been spooked by a butterfly. Have I mentioned he also runs from the kitchen when the coffee maker gurgles?

 

Meet Teddy

He always has that look on his face, like an exasperated cat that cannot seem to get the humans to understand a damn thing. We’ve all noticed it. At times I have called him Eeyore or Grumpy Gus, as if learning that his name is now Teddy isn’t confusing enough for him. His face just tells me that if he were an actual person, he’d be that crotchety old man yelling at the kids to get off his lawn. Or Teddy Roosevelt (Matt seems to think they have a similar look about them and I tend to agree).

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Teddy in his favorite chair wearing his favorite badass bandana.

Then there’s the bandana. When I first took it off of him to wash away the Animal Shelter funk he didn’t seem to mind, but once he saw it again out of the wash he got really happy and wanted me to put it back on (again, Teddy’s face tells you nothing – his happiness is all in the wagging of the tail or his paw on your leg). I will be searching later this week for one or two more bandanas.

Teddy seems to have some anxiety and separation issues, which any one of us can understand. We have had to assume certain things about his former family and the life he had with them. All we were told was that his owner could no longer care for him. Was it financial? A divorce? Did the dog do something the shelter intake people and we are not aware of? These are things we’ll never know.  But a few of the things we can assume are:

  • Teddy must have been a good travel companion for somebody. He loves being in the car and if he could use actual words, I know he would yell “Shotgun!” while knocking down whoever is his greatest competition for the highly coveted front seat.
  • Teddy must have also been a good sleeping companion for somebody. He’s getting better about listening to us when we tell him to get off the bed and stay off the bed, but there have been a few occasions that lead to a battle of the wits. So far, the humans are winning.
  • Teddy already knows a few tricks so his previous owners cared enough to teach him things. He’s good at sitting and shaking paws on command and if I have the right tone in my voice, I can usually get him to stay in one spot.  The thing the melts my heart is when I finish petting him (or haven’t yet started) and he pulls my hand toward him. Dawww…gets me every time.

We are all learning how to live together and no, it is never easy bringing in another family member because everything changes, the whole dynamic of the house is abruptly altered. I have likened it to when I brought my newborn daughter home for the first time (exactly eleven years ago today) and the simplest of tasks were suddenly difficult. Teddy is no infant but he does make it a chore to even get myself into the car (remember, “Shotgun!”), out of the driveway (we have to leash him until we can close the gate again from the outside, then he’s unleashed…yes, unleashed is the perfect word), and into the house with groceries (seriously, I must find a way to transport all cargo from the van into the house without opening car doors, kind of like what Willy Wonka did with his Wonkavision contraption and Mike Teavee).