By Yvonne Barteau
Things happen for a reason. Everyone hears that at some point in their life and I actually believe it to be true. For some important purpose I was meant to make my husband stop our trailer full of horses, pull off the side of the road on our way home from a hot and sweaty horse show, when everyone was tired, just to investigate a playpen full of puppies. Why? Who knew at that exact moment? We already had dogs and certainly did not need another. But Jessie didn’t have a dog and that must be why I insisted on the stop. Not for a dog, but for Teddy.
Why pick Teddy? Maybe because no one else would have. Not with the other fine displays of canine health and puppiness available as comparison that day. But then again no one else was looking for a dog for my oldest daughter. I knew Jessica. And as soon as I saw Teddy I knew he was hers. A caramel colored, sleepy head propping himself up in the corner of his playpen so he was out of the constant fray his brothers and sisters were causing he sat with his droopy eyes about half open. He had removed himself just enough to not be in direct comparison to his sleek and agile family members. Exhausted from his day in a play pen on the side of the road in the hot summer sun, he waited. For me. To bring him to Jess. So he could have a better life regardless of his circumstances than all the dogs in ten play pens. Or ten pet stores. Or ten counties. And so he did.
He was supposed to be an English Cocker Spaniel. I say supposed to because he did not come with papers and he and his litter mates looked just barely fraternal enough to call them related and get away with it. I did not really care about that. He looked more like a cocker than he did anything else as did his supposed brothers and sisters and that was enough for me. What I did know immediately and at first glance was that this pup was to be Jessie’s dog.
Jessie had always been a cat person. We had dogs she had cats. She made them all into rag dolls or they came that way but she never had a cat that was not content to be draped around the back of her neck or held upside down in her arms like a baby. She liked our dogs and had even loved Brandy our big Ridgeback retriever mix but she always had cats. Teddy would be the first dog she would call hers.
She had mentioned casually that she was thinking of adopting a dog and had done a little research into the spaniel breeds and that is what served as my motivation that day because Jessie rarely mentioned anything casually.
Jessica was at the farm feeding horses when we arrived from the show. I had called ahead to be sure she was on property telling her nothing of the benevolent and seemingly boneless puppy we had procured for her birthday. She had the hose out and was watering horses in the cement barn at Indian Hills when we arrived. I went to the end of the barn aisle, turned the new pup loose and called out to Jessie that she had a new critter to care for.
Toddling through the barn looking for a safe haven in the industrial sized aisle Teddy met Jess. It really was love at first sight. There was no hesitation or wondering on Jessie’s part if this might be the right pick for her. She knew it as soon as she laid eyes on him just as I did. She abandoned her watering chores, scooped up that puppy and was lost to us all for the rest of the day and then some. She named him Theodore as in Roosevelt (she had a thing with presidential names) and he quickly became Teddy to everyone.
I know dogs. I have had many, known hundreds and am a horse trainer for years which also puts me in contact with many, many dogs as most people who like horses also have dogs. If I said Teddy was a happy and friendly dog and then typed it in capital letters one hundred times, it would still be an understatement. Teddy was the happiest and friendliest dog that I had ever met in my life and he NEVER had a cross or a bad day from beginning to end. He was a prince. So much so that in sheer kindness I have never known his equal.
He loved food almost as much as he loved Jessie and was therefore easy to train as it quickly became obvious that he would do anything within his realm of possibilities for a Snausage. If anyone even whispered the word his eyes would light up and he would wag his little stump of a tail vigorously enough to unbalance himself. He was clever and attentive with no plans of his own besides whatever Jessie might want and therefore he quickly started to appear to the rest of our family more as a furry little toddler than he did a growing dog, Jessie dressing him in children’s clothes that she found at Old Navy only added to this image.
She carried him on her hip as a woman will with a child and he was happy to balance loosely on her side while she talked to someone. He liked everyone and every animal he ever met without exception. If he had been required to hunt for his food he would have died or become a vegetarian as he wouldn’t have hurt a fly. Maybe nature gave him his extreme niceness as his one great skill and that certainly served him well in our environment.
His niceness was also his one fault if it can even be called that. Teddy was a submissive urinator, something he never grew out of, and so, when new, strange or possibly intimidating people approached him he would greet them amicably and then squat and pee, wagging his little stump apologetically. He would then look around for Jess to come clean up his mess because that was the pattern. She did try training him out of that behavior and it just never worked. She accepted this first weakness as part of his character and cleaned up after him without reprimand. She loved him and he was hers to care for.
He was, however, quite trainable other than that. Little Teddy learned many dog tricks of course all of the regular sit, stay, etc. variety, but his most noticeable was that he seemed to live in Jessica’s world as more of a best friend than a pet. He listened sympathetically as she talked, apparently following along as she spoke to him in full sentences like the true and loyal companion he was. His eyes would light up or his stump would wag according to her sentence structure and her words and his actions did appear to be linked in conversation.
She realized early on that his somewhat unique and benevolent brand of charm did need to be shared with others and so she did that as a matter of course. She made frequent trips to the local old folks’ home so he could visit the elderly and Teddy and Jess became the delightful respite to many who needed just such a bright moment in their day. Early on she rightly understood that what Teddy gave to her was something others needed as well and so they went, sometimes twice a week, on these “feel good missions” building Teddy’s fan base one lonely person at a time.
She also took him into downtown St. Charles on busy weekends so that children out with their parents or anyone out for a stroll could stop and pet him and he loved those days because he truly did love the children. He was that rare gold mine of a dog that a baby could have crawled on, pulled his ears, stuck their hands in his mouth or pulled him around by his little stump of a tail and there would have been no chance of injury to them. Jessie was the proud and adoring conduit to Teddy’s soft light of happiness and he shone from within with that love.
By the age of two he started to go blind. Jessie was frantic and researched options for eye surgery to prevent his failing eyesight from reaching its much too early natural conclusion. Unfortunately, medical testing confirmed that along with his genetic predisposition towards eye problems, he also came with some heart issues that would preclude him from any surgical intervention. And so his world went dark.
It didn’t change him. Because of Jess. She helped him navigate when he needed to with voice commands and picked him up in uncertain territories. I knew the little guy and even sometimes I
forgot he couldn’t see a dang thing, so well was he managed. She often had to tell people that did not take time to look into his cloudy little eyes that he could not see them. Teddy would still wag his little stump at any voice he heard whether it was familiar or not. People were fascinated all the more by his blindness coupled with his unfailing good spirits and so he became even more liked and adored.
I remember one day letting him out of the club room at the barn and watching him run right smack into and then get tangled up in someone’s bike that had been left on its kickstand in front of the doorway. Because he knew that area he had not expected the road block and so the bike fell over when he hit it and I am sure he was scared a good bit. I untangled him and picked him up to see if he was alright, and he was, but I could tell he was shook up to find a known area suddenly become unknown and therefore scary. I went and found Jess and she surrounded him with her peaceful protective presence and his little world became right again.
He became to all who knew him more of a little happy Yoda in a furry dog suit than he did anything that might be described as an animal. The picture that accompanies this story was him running in the snow towards Jessica’s voice as a photographer lay in his path. Two seconds after the photo was taken he bowled right into her looking for Jess.
And then… he got cancer. He was only four when that came at him and heartbroken Jess did all she could for the current love of her life as he silently slid away from her smiling and wagging his tail apologetically, every day. Jess researched, concocted, prayed and cried but there was no rewinding Teddy’s little time clock on life. It is so dang unfair sometimes, how things do not work out the way we hope and pray they will, and somehow we have to find reason in a drastically unreasonable situation.
I talked Jess into going out to dinner with us one night after a particularly grueling few days at the barn. She deserved a meal out but I had to convince her as she just wanted to be home with Teddy. He was gone when we returned from dinner and Jess was beside herself. She felt she should have been there for him and was devastated that he went on his own.
I think he chose that. His kind little heart might have hung on for a few more days just because Jess was so worth it to him. He might have needed his time alone so he could give up the struggle and find peace from the pain we all knew he was in.
So that is Teddy’s story. A happy dog, a devoted owner and a short but very worthwhile time together. Like I said, things happen for a reason and Teddy and Jess together were one of God’s miracles I happened to be lucky enough to witness.