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Goodbye, My Friend

Teddy

            A good friend of mine died recently. He was a black-haired, gentle-souled miniature poodle named Teddy and I miss him very much. I hadn’t seen him in a while, but just knowing that he was still there, still climbing through his doggy door and sleeping on his Mommy’s lap, was reassuring and made the world feel whole.

            He was fifteen and a half, I think, two and a half years older than Cricket, my cocker spaniel/miniature poodle mix, who adored him from the get-go. He was long-legged and skinny, with hair that quickly covered his eyes between grooming session. He could leap like a ballet dancer, pointed toes and all, or just race full steam ahead to play with a toy. He was full of joy, and love, and seriousness. He was a gentleman, in the way he held himself and in the boundaries he set around himself. If he could have spoken, he would have had a faint French accent, nothing too broad, more like the head waiter at a high-end restaurant.

Gentleman Pose

            Over the past few years he grew blind and deaf, relying on his younger sister to alert him to noises he needed to respond to, and by the end, to alert him to meal time as well. He had been slowing down for a while, but took great joy in his resurgence on CBD oil, it gave him a zest for life and an appetite and the energy to be his athletic self once again. But his final illness came on quickly, shutting down his kidneys. Treatment only relieved his symptoms temporarily, and when the symptoms inevitably returned he was even more confused than before, and unable to feel like his true self. When he stopped eating, his sister stopped eating too, to keep him company, to express her grief at what she instinctively knew was coming, and because when your loved ones are in pain, you feel the pain too.

            He died with dignity, in a way we don’t often allow our human loved ones to do, surrounded by love and by the knowledge that he had lived a full life, a generous life, and a satisfying life. I imagine that when he crossed the rainbow bridge he did a few leaps and arabesques and then raced towards his two golden sisters who were waiting for him on the other side. He would have had so much to tell them about the world they’d left behind, and they would have had so much to tell him about what comes after.

            We tend to think that our role models and teachers will be human, but Teddy was one of my best teachers, and he was truly, and fully, a dog, in the best possible way.

            Teddy was my therapy dog. Not only because he was my therapist’s dog, but because he offered his own version of therapy: a nonverbal, relationship-based therapeutic technique that they don’t teach in school. He modeled for me how to respect your own emotions and your own boundaries even while reaching out to others. He modeled how to be fully yourself and respectful of others at the same time. He, like Cricket, taught me that there is no shame in speaking up when you feel strongly about something. And that there is honor and strength in accepting your own limitations and not forcing yourself into situations where you don’t feel safe.

“I want out!”

            He was a picky little man, with specific tastes in food and people and dog friends, and he chose me. He trusted me, and I felt the honor of that deeply. Teddy taught me that it’s not arrogant or selfish to hold your own views, or to love only who you love. He showed me that you can have those preferences, and know yourself, while still being respectful and polite to those who don’t fit for you – unless they scare you or piss you off, and then you can scream.

“Let’s get ready to rumble!”

            He showed me that you can express your fear and pain, and if you express it fully and truthfully, there is then room for other feelings to come in. He taught me that there is no shame in asking for affection when you need it, and he taught me that there are people, and dogs, who will be honored that you’ve asked for their affection.

            His acceptance of me, his love for me, and his trust of me, was healing on a very deep level. He reflected me back to myself as I really am. He told me that I am kind, I am trustworthy, and I am loveable. And I believed it, from him. I think the fact that he could never communicate in words, which are my stock in trade, also played a role. He reached the parts of me that can’t speak and they heard him and felt comforted by him.

            I know there were times when it wasn’t easy being Teddy. There were a limited number of people that made him feel comfortable, and when he couldn’t be with those people he suffered. I can relate to that, completely.

            He stayed with me a couple of times, in the period after Butterfly died and before Ellie arrived, and after a short period of vocal grief and longing for his Mom, he settled in with us. He set his boundaries with Cricket early on, and she respected those boundaries, and appreciated his respect for her space too. They went on walks together, and ate dinner together and took naps together peacefully, as long as I was there to referee. By the time he had to leave Cricket was forlorn, sleeping in his makeshift bed until the scent of him dissipated.

Teddy on his bed

            The most important lesson I learned from Teddy is that love is a gift. His love for me was a gift. And the love I felt for him in return made me feel strong enough to raise Cricket with love, and then Butterfly, and now Ellie. He taught me that having enough of what you need makes you feel like you are enough.

            Dogs, maybe because they live such short lives, focus in on the most important things: love, food, joy, and safety. They don’t get distracted by appearances or wear the masks we humans wear to get through our days.

Cricket and Teddy napping with Grandma

            I will miss Teddy, but I will also keep Teddy with me, as part of me, for the rest of my life, as a guide, and as a source of energy for the lessons I still want and need to learn.

            Goodbye, my friend. May you feel all of the love you have inspired throughout your short life, and find peace and community on the other side.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Thanksgiving with Teddy

 

Teddy arrived on Thanksgiving afternoon, and ran to greet Cricket, while Cricket ran to greet Teddy’s Mom. After that inauspicious beginning, Teddy and Cricket sniffed each other thoroughly and were so busy reacquainting themselves that Teddy almost missed his Mom’s exit. Almost. When she was barely a dot in the distance, he turned and saw her and cried out and tried to jump out of his collar to get to her. But his collar is very well made.

 

We pushed on with our efforts to distract Teddy, using all of the wonderful sniffies the backyard could offer, and by the time we reached our front door, Teddy knew exactly where he was. He ran up the stairs, and then stopped short in front of our neighbor’s door, where remnants of Hazel the visiting mini-Golden-Doodle-puppy’s pee wafted up to his nose. It took a while to get his attention back, but then he followed Cricket into our apartment, did a reconnaissance trip through every room, and satisfied himself that things were pretty much as they should be.

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Teddy adapted much more quickly on this visit, crying only one or two little mews while sniffing under the front door for signs of his Mom, before settling onto my lap to watch the rest of the National Dog Show on TV. I had hopes that Cricket and Teddy would chime in with some dog recommendations for me as we watched, but they kept their opinions to themselves. I, on the other hand, started to swoon over a little French Bulldog, with bat ears, who looked like he could have been one of Butterfly’s long lost puppies, just without the hair.

french bulldog

He looked a little bit like this cutie (not my picture)

Cricket was back in full health so she was able to jump up on the couch and let Teddy know that he would not be usurping her space. It worked out well for me, because I ended up surrounded by fluffy puppy dogs, vying for my attention. Cricket had her haircut last week, and Teddy’s hair has been growing back in, so they look closer in size now, and with Cricket back to full power they’re also acting more like equals on this visit. We all celebrated Thanksgiving together, with chicken treats (for the dogs) and chocolate cake (for the humans).

Rachel and the dogs

My attempt at dog whispering.

When I made a detour to sit at the computer, Teddy discovered the makeshift doggy bed we’d put together for him, to avoid the arguments over ownership of Cricket’s bed that had made Cricket so grumpy on Teddy’s last visit. The bed was made out of a cardboard box, bubble wrap, quilting supplies and a few pillow cases and thread. He knew it was his right away, and only pulled it apart three times before we figured out how to make it more durable.

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“Why does her bed look more comfy than mine?”

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“My bed is taller than yours, Cricket. Just sayin'”

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“This is more like it.”

Teddy has clearly been practicing his pooping-outdoors skills to get ready for this visit, and Cricket has been thoroughly impressed by his new and innovative ideas for who and what to bark at, and at which (very) early hours of the morning.

I know Teddy misses his Mom, but he’s doing well, and we’re all very glad he’s here to warm up the house in the cold weather.

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After Teddy

 

Cricket is feeling better. I don’t know if it’s because her back has healed enough to let her jump on beds and couches again, or if she’s relieved that the course of steroids is over, or if it’s all because Teddy is no longer trying to steal her bed, or her people. She seemed extra tired for the first day or two after Teddy left, barely lifting her head from hang dog position, but then she went back to full tilt play mode, trying to taunt her humans with her stuffed birthday cake.

Whatever Cricket says now, I think she was getting used to having Teddy around. On the last night of his visit, Teddy and Cricket did a tandem poop (perfectly timed, walking in sync in the same direction three feet apart, and then, poop), and during their final shared nap they squashed together on my bed, butt to butt, despite having a lot of space to spread out on.

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Nap time

After Teddy left, and I was clearly bereft, Mom asked if I’d be ready to look for another dog over Thanksgiving, or maybe Christmas break, but I still don’t know. Cricket seems to have recognized my need for extra company, and has been offering up her belly for more frequent scratching, but she’s not willing to go so far as to sit on my lap and stare at me adoringly, the way Teddy did.

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“Harrumph.”

What I really need is an emotional support dog; one who can come to work with me, and listen to all my problems, and sit on my lap to keep my legs from shaking when I’m anxious. If she could also have some social work training, then we could even hire out as a team, once I graduate and get my license.

But I feel guilty even considering a new dog when Cricket is just settling back into her only dog role. It doesn’t seem fair to bring in yet another dog who wants to challenge her position in the family, and share her food. Though it’s possible that I am underestimating Miss Cricket. However grumpily she may have responded to Teddy’s attempts to play with her, and sleep in her bed, she got used to him pretty quickly. She may have even enjoyed having him around. But shh, don’t tell her I know.

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Cricket quickly reclaimed her bed after Teddy left.

p.s. Teddy may be coming back for another short visit soon. It turns out that he misses us as much as we miss him.

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“This is my kingdom. Of course I’m coming back.”

Teddy!

Teddy arrived two weeks ago, on Friday the 20th at three o’clock, freshly groomed and trotting like a tiny horse. Without his fluff, he looks like a black-haired miniature greyhound, or a tall spider, or a stuffed animal made out of black pipe cleaners. But when he was a puppy he was just a ball of black cotton with eyes.

His mom told me that he wouldn’t need to pee outside, would never eat Cricket’s kibble, and he wouldn’t need a pet bed, because he would be on my lap or on my bed constantly. She gave me his duffle bag full of food and wee wee pads and toys, and specific instructions on when and how to feed him, but she forgot to tell me when she was coming home. Oops!

Teddy was anxious and pacing around the apartment after his Mom left and I decided to take both dogs outside, to help Teddy work off some of his anxiety and to get him used to the particular smells of our neighborhood. On our way back, he raced up the walkway, and found our door on the first try, just like Butterfly did when we first moved here. Then he raced up the stairs and sat down next to me on the couch to get his petting. Within five minutes, though, he’d returned to pacing, and crying at the front door of the apartment. Cricket sniffed his butt a few times and watched his pacing from afar, but mostly she kept her thoughts to herself. Eventually, between bouts of pacing, Teddy chose to sit on the second couch, where I’d spread out Butterfly’s pink blanket and all of his toys. He especially liked putting his head up next to the fan and sniffing the air.

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Teddy, on Miss Butterfly’s blanket.

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“Ahh!”

At dinner time, I put out Teddy’s special food, in his special silver bowl, but he was still too anxious to eat. He sniffed his food, went to the door to cry, came back and ate a little bit, and then went back to the door to cry.

When we went outside for the final trip of the day, Teddy followed Cricket carefully, watched where she peed, and studiously aimed his pee stream onto the same spot. It had taken him six hours to be ready to pee in this strange new place.

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“It’ll be okay, Teddy.”

He cried extra hard at bed time, scratching at the front door for almost fifteen minutes, but then he came to my room, jumped up on my bed, did his nesting ritual (eerily similar to Cricket’s), and smooshed himself down as close to me as possible.

In the quiet, my fears got louder: that Teddy wouldn’t get used to being at my house, and would continue to cry at the door for the whole visit; that Teddy and Cricket wouldn’t get along, and Cricket’s feelings would be hurt; that I would disappointment Teddy, and his Mom, in some fundamental way; that Teddy would have some unexpected health crisis, caused by something I did wrong, or have a health crisis that I didn’t notice until too late (though I was at least reassured by the fact that he goes to the same vet as Cricket, so I’d know where to go if there was trouble); I worried especially that I’d be so busy with my school work that I wouldn’t be entertaining enough, and Teddy would be bored.

I finally fell asleep, but woke up a few hours later when Cricket came to visit during the night, and Teddy growled at her. I had to talk them both through it, convincing Cricket that she still belongs with me, even with Teddy nearby. It took what felt like hours of dual scratching to calm them down, and I fell asleep still scratching them and trying to convince myself that everything would be okay.

By the next morning, things were calmer. I started to notice that my normally athletic, tall Cricket looked like a little matzo ball next to skinny black-haired Teddy. His long legs make him an incredible athlete, taking the stairs like a speed demon, and doing all kinds of ballet poses when he stops to pee or to scratch his head.

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My little matzo ball

My original hope, that Teddy would help Cricket, by teaching her better manners, and calming her anxiety, and easing her loneliness, were pretty much smashed. If anything, it was Cricket who was teaching Teddy: when to bark, and where to pee, why doggy beds are so comfy. And she was trying, admirably, to tolerate his quirks.

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Resting with Grandma

Food times were one of my anxiety zones, because Cricket eats kibble and Teddy eats homemade food (frozen in Ziploc bags by his mom and kept in the freezer). Cricket eats whenever she’s hungry, because the food bowl is kept full all day. Teddy has definite meal times, and when he’s done eating the leftovers are picked up and put away in the fridge. (His mom told me he doesn’t even know what kibble is, but within a week he was sneaking over to crickets bowl for kibble. Shh.) Even Teddy’s treats are home cooked (chicken livers), while Cricket’s treats come from a bag (two bags, actually, one for dental chews and one for chicken jerky).

But already by that Sunday morning, we had meal time down to a science. I put a little bit of Teddy’s fresh food into Cricket’s kibble, and then I sat between them while they ate, and I used the chicken livers as an additive to Teddy’s meal, mixing it in carefully, so that Teddy wouldn’t be able to pick it out (which he’d done on previous attempts). He would eat chicken livers all day long if he could. Cricket, on the other hand, thinks everything in his meals is gourmet, and even likes the wet food from a can that I had to add in.

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Teddy had taken to following me everywhere by then. He would even bark when I went into the bathroom, and stand at the door to wait for me. There was something about Teddy’s need to follow me everywhere, and be as close to me as possible, that puffed up my ego to almost normal size.

He even started to play! He’d brought his own squeaky throw toy, but he also took an interest in Moose, a gift from my brother’s family, for Butterfly, that she’d never had a chance to use. It was nice to see Moose getting some attention.

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Teddy and the squeaky man.

But then Teddy started to sit in Cricket’s doggy bed. He even tried to sit in it when Cricket was already there, and Cricket demurred and escaped under my computer chair to give him the evil eye from a distance. I haven’t been able to figure out how much of Cricket’s submissive grumpiness over the past two weeks has been caused by Teddy’s presence, and how much is from her back injury. A few days before Teddy arrived, she hurt her back and had to go to the vet. She’s been on steroids ever since, and can’t jump up on the beds or the couches without an assist. Watching Teddy spring up and down like a bouncing ball could not have helped her mood.

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That’s Cricket’s bed.

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That’s Moose, on the doggy bed.

Teddy continued to carefully watch where Cricket peed and aimed for the same pee spot. I could see the angles forming and reforming in his head as he did the math. He loved running up the stairs, and jumping on the bed, and climbing up onto the couch. He, like Cricket, thought that tug was supposed to be about taunting humans and never letting go of his toy. He and Cricket both scratched their heads on the rug, contorting themselves into pretzels to find the itchy spots.

He’s still going to be here for another day or two, and I’ll be interested to see how Cricket reacts when he goes home. Will she miss him? Will she get back to being more like herself? She’s only played with her toys once or twice in the past two weeks, preferring instead to hide under my computer chair while he runs around and plays tug and scratches his head on the rug. She still thinks he’s in charge of her bed, and mine, no matter what I say to her. We may have to make her some more chicken livers, and chopped meat with rice, to help smooth the transition back to her only dog life.

But I know that I will miss Teddy. He’s been my guardian and constant companion for two weeks. He reminds me of Butterfly, the way he takes a piece of food over to the rug, to savor it. And he reminds me of Cricket, with his crazy pretzel shapes as he scratches his face and back on the rug. The only problem with Teddy is that he is so unrelentingly black that I can’t see him in the dark, and I worry that I’m going to smoosh him. But he’s a resilient fellow, and he wears a shiny collar, just in case.

I don’t know how I’m going to tell his Mom that, in two short weeks, her baby has discovered that he likes kibble, doggy beds, and, even though he still prefers wee wee pads for bathroom purposes, he loves to follow Cricket around in the great outdoors and pee on all of her pee spots. Maybe I’ll leave all of that unsaid, and let Teddy do the talking.

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“So it’s like this…”

Cricket’s Anxiety Disorder

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Cricket’s anxiety has increased tenfold since Miss Butterfly died this summer. It’s been five years since we’ve seen Cricket quite this clingy and over the top; not that she was calm and pleasant during Butterfly’s tenure, but she was at least demonstrably better. She’s at a level ten now (or an eleven, really), but for a few years she managed to get down to a seven, or even a six on occasion, with Miss B’s help. Now, Cricket is bullying her Grandma more than ever: physically pushing Grandma around, instead of just moping, and leaning on her, and making puppy dog eyes. If Grandma dares to eat something, Cricket will sit in front of her and yell – “Where’s mine!” – endlessly, until she gets her share. She doesn’t do this with me, partly because she knows I’m a harder nut to crack, but also because I know how to deploy “the look,” persistently, until she loses hope and hides under her couch in frustration. But giving that look wears me out, and the effect is only temporary.

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“Harrumph.”

 

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Cricket has her own version of “the look.”

 

The fact is, Miss Butterfly was the best medicine for all of us. She brought happiness and peace with her everywhere she went. Cricket was pretty sure Butterfly radiated calm from her butt, and therefore sniffed it regularly. Butterfly could even get in Cricket’s face, in a non-threatening way, and interrupt a tantrum.

butterfly front feet on floor copy

It seems obvious that my only option, for the sake of Cricket’s sanity, and Mom’s, is to go out and look for another dog, someone mature and generous and compassionate, to act as Cricket’s therapy dog when needed, and her friend the rest of the time. But I’m not ready. When I try to think about finding a replacement for Miss B, I fall apart. I know I‘m being selfish. I feel cruel leaving Cricket in her current state, just because I’m not ready to let go of Butterfly, and the illusion that she could come back, somehow.

butterfly hair askew

In the near future, we will be pet sitting for an old friend of Cricket’s, a nice old gentleman who used to be my therapy dog, and will now make an effort to bark Cricket into shape, if he can. And then we’ll see. Hopefully having Teddy around will also help me become ready for a new dog, but his Mom made me promise that I won’t try to keep him.

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We’ll see.

My Therapy Dog is Leaving Me

My therapist is moving. For as long I’ve known her she’s had an office in her house, with her husband occasionally vacuuming above our heads, and a dog barking to let us know if someone is coming up the driveway to kill us. But now, she and her husband are getting older, and the house is too big, and the driveway is a hell-scape in the winter. So they are moving into an apartment. There’s no office attached to this apartment, or even nearby, so my therapist will now be sharing office space at a building with elevators and valet parking. A building that does not allow dogs.

I’m fine with the move in every other way – no more climbing up their mountain of a driveway, no more feeling like I’m invading her husband’s life by being in his house when he’s watching TV – but not having the dogs there for therapy is inconceivable. Her miniature poodle, Teddy, and her Golden retriever, Delilah, offer the kind of comfort and approval no human can supply. They love me. They know me. They offer themselves up for petting. Teddy, especially, is one of my best friends.

Teddy!

Teddy!

Teddy is a ten year old miniature poodle, and I have known him since he was a ball of black fluff curled on his mom’s lap. Teddy greets me at the door, and ushers me to my seat, and sits on my lap, and gives me kisses, and listens carefully to everything I have to say. Delilah, the Golden Retriever, is a more recent addition, but she offers comfort whenever she can, when she’s not busy taking care of her Dad. In fact, the closer we get to the move, the more time she chooses to spend in the office, as if she knows something is about to change and she wants to soak up as much therapy time as possible. I don’t think I’d have survived therapy this long without my buddies there, letting me know that I’m wonderful and special no matter what I talk about.

Delilah!

Delilah!

I’m worried that it will be strange not going to the house anymore. Will I feel like saying different things in the new office? Will my therapist seem like a stranger in different surroundings? Will I even recognize her without Teddy in the room?

The new office is in a building full of other therapists, and yet they don’t allow dogs. How can this be? What is with this overwhelming prejudice against dogs, especially in places where they can do the most good?! My therapist is considering sneaking Teddy in on Saturday mornings when the building is mostly empty, but, Shh, don’t tell anyone. It would be harder to sneak Delilah into the building. Maybe in a very big suitcase, on wheels, with air holes?

Delilah looks concerned.

“Are you sure about this, Rachel?”

I worry about Teddy, actually. He has been a co-therapist for most of his life. He looks forward to telling people when to come in, and when to leave. He has meaning and purpose in his life from his work. What will he do in an apartment all day? He might actually have to play with other dogs! I think Delilah with her Golden temperament will be able to adapt, but Teddy takes things to heart. He gets depressed when his mom goes away. He loses weight and has tummy troubles. He loses his spark. How will he feel knowing his Mom is going to work without him?

“How will the humans know where to sit without my help?”

I offered to have him over for visits with me and my dogs, for my sake as much as his, but my therapist said it wouldn’t work, because Teddy would be outraged to see me with other dogs. Because I belong to him.

What will I do without him?

Don't worry. Cricket and Butterfly are coming up with a plan.

Cricket and Butterfly are working on a plan.