My life chapters are defined by pets. As the first essay on how my dogs have sustained me, here is the story of my first puppy, Teddy, bought when I was 34 to make my dog-loving husband happy.
Teddy taught me how to forgive, truly forgive, and turn the worst pain and anger into a gentler, bearable sorrow. Teddy allowed me to understand what my parents had long since told me to do, to forgive and forget.
I don’t remember many of my childhood quarrels, so I must have forgotten, if not forgiven. By my teens, I knew that “I’m sorry” ended most quarrels, but I knew it didn’t necessarily mean I had confessed responsibility or error. I had learned how to end a difficult moment.
Our elderly cats died a year after we moved into our house from a marriage-time of apartment living, and we got our first dog, the little guy who raised himself and his novice dog parents. When Teddy was a year old, Joseph was born. At first, it was hard to lure Ted away from the bassinet. Joseph learned to walk pulling on Teddy’s long bearded collie hair, Ted walking steadily beside him.
Then, Teddy became very ill with the autoimmune disease lupus. His earliest signs were ulcers around his mouth and eyes. One evening I could tell time by how long it took a drop to form at the corner of his eye and drop to his muzzle.
His pain was considerable, but he looked after Joseph, whose autism (and in hindsight, anxiety about Ted’s illness) acted out in tantrum after tantrum. Joseph’s relief was to hold onto Teddy as if he were a long bolster pillow, arms and legs curled around Teddy’s body. They quieted together.
Despite the novel, love does not mean you never have to say you are sorry. Love helps you realize that if others love you as you are, you can love yourself. If you love yourself, you can realize that you make errors, sometimes even horrible ones, but that does not make you a horror. We are human, capable of greatness in both the gifts we give and the hatreds and greediness we know, sometimes in others, sometimes in ourselves.
Teddy’s last gift to me was the grace with which he died. We had shown 6-year-old Joseph the sores on Ted’s skin (the hair had long since been removed by a patient and kind groomer), the toes twisted by rheumatoid arthritis, the liver the size of a basketball. He knew Teddy would die before he came home.
Teddy greeted his vet (who volunteered to come to the house while Joseph was at school) with a chew toy in his mouth and then limped to his bed. She asked if we were sure, and a few minutes later, Teddy was gone.
That night, I told Joseph that Teddy would look down on him from the stars, and, in a very long time, he would see him again in Heaven. Joseph looked at me and said “Don’t worry, Mommy. Teddy has a perfect body now,” and I wept.
Teddy came from a litter that was tightly bred for successive generations, something I had told the breeder worried me, but I had accepted it when she said genetics in dogs are different. They aren’t, but she probably believed it. She did the best she could with what she knew at the time. As clearly as I see Teddy, he was born 22 years ago.
There is no known autism in my family history or my husband’s, but there are individuals with depression, bipolar disorder, and severe ADHD, all disorders that research suggests have some genetic roots in common.
Teddy’s breeder could not select which genes to give him. My husband and I planned Joseph’s conception and did everything right prenatally, but Joseph was born with complex medical challenges that have multiplied over time, or at least been diagnosed steadily over the years from his birth to now.
Teddy and the four dogs that followed him are wonderful. Joseph is wonderful. I have been blessed to love and be loved by all of them.
So with all loving remembrance and thankfulness to Teddy, I learned this:
We all make mistakes, we do not always listen. At times we can be cruel. These are the imperfections we lose in Heaven. But until we get there, we should try to forgive, truly forgive, and with the distance of time, allow the anger to soften, even if we are not able to let go and forget.
Live well, laugh often, say “I’m sorry” even when you do not have to, and forgive people for making the same mistakes you do. Perhaps someday not only our bodies, but our souls, will be perfect. Teddy’s surely are. Someday, Joseph’s will be.
I grew to love Ted so much two more bearded collies followed him, and then realized I loved the breed so much I wanted to help with health matters and import dogs with sound type and less common pedigrees. Teddy was a service dog, although we didn’t realize it. Lily predicted my seizures, Tucket introduced me to both dog shows and therapy work, Angus taught me how to deal with a special needs dog, and Bjorn is my intimate companion, my service dog, and a lovely show champion and herding dog as well.
Thank you, Teddy. From you I learned how to raise a baby, accept disability in others and myself, and appreciate that it isn’t the length of a life that matters, but whether one loves and is loved. At age 21 Joseph still knows Heaven is where you are waiting for him.
Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) healingwoman.net