Man's Best Friend

“A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his.” – John Grogan

I lost a best friend this week. His name was Ted. It's a small name for such a large personality.

Ted was diagnosed with acute leukemia in September, and I was told he had 4 to 6 months to live. Dr. Brian, Ted's veterinarian, said that Ted's cancer was advanced and did not respond well to chemotherapy under the best of circumstances.

I took Ted home, planning to wallow in my grief and make him sit next to me while I did it, but he raced out of the car and started playing with my other dogs, running around the yard and chasing balls and as I watched him, I realized I needed to stop grieving for him while he still was alive.

And live he did.

Ted made it through Halloween, and he enjoyed his own plate of turkey and mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. We attended a tree lighting ceremony in early December, held by the humane society that rescued him and Laura, the woman who saved him, and I rejoiced that he looked so good.

By Christmas, he was thinner and slowing down a little bit, but medication helped ease his aches and pains and he was the life of my annual Christmas party, patiently waiting next to the dining room table for any appetizers that might mysteriously make their way off the table (unaided by guests, of course!) and into his mouth. The end of December marked our 3-year anniversary together, so Ted got a big piece of carrot cake to celebrate.

Ted died on Feb. 18. When friends found out and called to console me, I realized that while I was sad, I still couldn't grieve for Ted. He had lived a rich life: His photo had appeared in the society pages of a major metropolitan newspaper; he ate brunch at a restaurant featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives; he participated in story hour at our local bookstore, used as a pillow by the kids; and he basked in the attention of his (my) friends and family members, who regularly told him that he was handsome, smart and good.

RISK TAKER

Ted's life before he came to me was bad. You could see it in his eyes and in the scars on his body. And Ted wasn't perfect; he would take risks. Once he jumped over the driveway gate at 7:30 a.m. as kids were walking to school in my urban neighborhood of busy streets. I chased after him for blocks, running up and down until I no longer could see him. I frantically ran back to my house, pulled the car out of the driveway and before I could get back to the car from shutting the gate, Ted was sitting in the front seat, waiting to go for a ride. Another time, he squeezed out of the barely opened car window at Home Depot and strolled into the garden center looking for me, much to the amusement of everyone there. The day he passed his Canine Good Citizen test, he tried to jump out of the car window and I hung onto his back legs until we could stop the car and pull him back in (think of the scene in the film “Marley and Me” and you get the idea). Ted was an accident waiting to happen.

Ted's legacy is substantial: generous friends have donated to local animal shelters in his name and an annual award — the Teddie — has been created to recognize the local person or group that did the most for animal rescue in the previous year. But perhaps his greatest legacy was a lesson he taught everyone who met him: the rewards of patience.

People often were afraid of him when they first saw him — he was a 65-pound American Staffordshire Terrier, one of several breeds commonly referred to as pitbulls — but he patiently would wait for them to realize he was no threat and he would win them over with his gentle manner and huge grin. Everyone who met Ted became his friend if he waited long enough. That's not a bad way to live a life.

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