Travels with Teddy
by Dorothy Dyer
A long time ago, I read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. I was young when I read it but it stuck with me. Steinbeck was in search of America, a worthy quest and a theme in most of his writings. I have a little dog named Teddy and I am not in search of America nor Canada. Yet, I have walked thousands of kilometres with my now, 16 year old pooch. The vet says he is “in good shape for his age” which I credit to the walking. I am waiting for my doctor to say the same of me.
Much has been written about the companionship of a dog. When I was younger yet, I read Old Yeller. The Disney version did not quite measure up to the book but both brought tears to my eyes. Throughout my childhood, if there was a dog on the cover, I read it.
I have always had dogs in my life. Sporty was my first. He was a stray that wandered into my life. My parents said I couldn’t keep him so we left him to find his way home. But in the morning, we found him sitting on the back step. Snow had fallen in the night and he sat with not a single track around him. My dad posted an ad in the Calgary Herald, “Found dog. Red Cocker Spaniel. Forth Worth, Texas dog tag.” I waited for five days praying the phone would not ring. And, it didn’t. Sporty was mine. And so the adventures with a dog in my life began.
Back then it was safe to allow your young daughter to go adventuring. I just had to be home in time for dinner. So Sporty and I would take off to the Nose Creek Valley through which Deerfoot Trail now runs. We would walk the dirt trails braving a little more distance each day. Those walks were a big part of growing up. Sporty, being a bird dog, would flush out various birds including partridge, now long gone. One time he cornered a bobcat who, upon my investigation, hissed and batted at me with his giant paws.
Penetrating the deteriorating barbed wire, I would walk along the railway tracks. I felt so brave but the trestle was the real challenge. I was fearful that a train would come and that would be it for me. I was sure Sporty would make it across as he was much faster and fleet afoot. I conjured many survival strategies as the locomotive bore down on me. It never happened. But it did happen to a horse who had somehow managed to escape the rangeland pasture. The image of the bloodied and scattered remains pressed into my brain. A lesson in death. Death is hard to understand at that age especially when you love animals.
Since Sporty there have been other canine partners. But they were more ‘family dogs’ as I became busy with a teaching job, children, a house, yard, car … the whole enchilada to care for. A dog was just part of the fray. Underfoot sometimes ignored but yet a comfort.
Teddy entered that scene as a supporting actor in the cast of a thousand responsibilities. But as those responsibilities shed from my shoulders, I found myself alone with him. So we talked a lot. Teddy is a good listener. And if his mind wanders the word ‘treat’ regains his full attention. A friend of mine once asked me about having a pet as she contemplated getting one. I highly recommended it as the ‘other heartbeat in the house’.
Experts say that a dog has a vocabulary of about a two year old child. I believe it! And more. A dog studies your every move and knows all of your habits. Teddy knows the routine and reminds me when I waver. He doesn’t like my golf clubs and has a special hatred of my suitcases. Mind you, he hasn’t seen those for over two years. Quite frankly, I don’t know how I would leave him now for a vacation.
In his old age, Teddy has accidents. He is not the welcome guest he used to be. I invested in baby gates to protect the little bit of carpet left in my house. A small price to pay.
As Teddy ages, his eyes turning bluish and bumps and lumps forming under his skin, I know the reckoning will come when I must say good bye. I must remember to be grateful on that day for all he has given. I will remember the distance we have travelled together. And thank him with all of my heart.
My pal has been with me through some of the toughest times in my life. He may not have understood the circumstances but he absorbed my sadness and revelled in my joy. His little black and white face waiting in the front room window testifies to his loyalty and faithfulness. My travels with Teddy may not be literature worthy but to anyone who has loved a dog, I needn’t say more. So Teddy, get your leash!