My dog’s favorite song is “Shake It Off,” by Taylor Swift. When the single first dropped in the summer of 2014, he was about 8 months old — a ball of gold hair and boundless energy.
I’d play it from my phone in the mornings as I got ready for work and Teddy zoomed around the apartment he and I shared. But I’d always put down my hairbrush for the best part about the players playing, the haters hating and the shakers — like Teddy and me — shaking. I’d grab his puppy paws, still too large for his body then, and hold them in front of my hips as we danced. Just two best friends and our special song.
Six years later, when my husband and I had to change our wedding plans to a small, 10-person (and one dog) ceremony, our reception was light on dancing. There was the song I danced to with my husband, the Tom Petty song my dad and I swayed to, and then the surprise:
“Teddy wanted to ask you to dance,” my husband said, as he hit play on my laptop and the opening clangs and bangs of Ted’s favorite song filled the barn my father had built for the occasion.
I grabbed Teddy’s paws the way I always do. I even let him get a bit of dirt on my wedding dress. And I laughed until tears squeaked out as I watched his tongue loll from his mouth in glee. My two-legged friends hadn’t been able to come to the wedding. But here was Ted, shaking it off with me.
Teddy’s not allowed to dance to that song anymore.
My husband — who entered our lives when Teddy was the same age our daughter is now, about 19 months old — made that declaration one evening during the latter half of the pandemic, as Teddy and I danced in our living room. Ted had tried to put his paws, now a perfect fit for his body, into my hands. But in his exuberance, he missed. He landed hard, and though he tried to hide the limp, we saw it.
My husband is right: Teddy’s body doesn’t rebound the way it used to. And it’s our job to take care of him, and keep him safe and healthy. I stopped playing “Shake It Off” around the house.
I don’t remember the day or the month that we retired Teddy’s favorite song. I’m not even sure if it was 2020 or 2021. Was Teddy 6 then? Or 7? I do know that it was the first step in coming to terms with a heart-wrenching truth: The time we are gifted with our dogs pales in comparison to the infinite love we give them.
Soon came the prescription food and treats. The thyroid medicine. The arthritis medicine. The immunotherapy pills, and the weekly shots we administer in our kitchen. A year ago, I had to amend our post-vet-visit tradition of stopping at Starbucks for a “pup cup” full of whipped cream. Now that Ted requires a set of fold-out stairs to climb in and out of my Subaru, he has to sit in the very back, and I can’t reach him from the drive-in line. We don’t go to Starbucks as much.
We should, though.
It hit me a couple nights ago, as Teddy snuggled into my side in bed: The shaggy, waggy little boy I’d affectionately referred to as my “Forever Puppy” is no longer a puppy; nor will he be mine forever.
It’s one of life’s great injustices that humans share our houses and hearts with companions that live their lives seven times as fast as we do. And that in that time, they teach us an unconditional love that I continue to marvel at and learn from. It’s a cliche to say that my dog is my best friend. But to call him anything else would be like calling my husband an acquaintance. There are no corners of my heart that Teddy doesn’t occupy. No part of me he hasn’t somehow made better just by being here this past decade, steadfast and sweet. As I write this, Teddy continues to shift his position near me — curled at my feet, then sitting by my side and, in the moments when typing this column made me cry, his nose in my lap. He’s always ready to lick away tears.
Journalists are taught not to speak in absolutes with words like “always”, because we can’t possibly know everything. But I can use that word about Ted: Always. Because I have been there for his beginning, and I will be here for his end — even though he will only ever know the me that existed in my middle.
We went to the vet the other day. That used to be a once-every-few-months occasion, but somewhere along the line, we started making these visits more and more. When our vet renovated their building a couple years ago, we joked they should put Ted’s name over one of the wings.
The vet and I walked through some of Teddy’s chronic issues — his allergies and skin flare-ups — and we talked about the fat nodes and growths that have started popping up more frequently. We’ve always had a plan for the future in which, when the doctor thinks something looks particularly frightening, we’ll schedule a surgery, and the surgeon can address several issues at once while Teddy’s sedated.
The future hit us last Friday when the vet announced she didn’t like the look of a fast-growing spot on Teddy’s back paw. It’s time, she said, to schedule that surgery. “He’s almost 10,” she said. “I’d like to get him to 15.”
I might never get to keep Teddy long enough to hear “Shake It Off” referred to as a classic or an oldie. But I’d at least like my daughter — who spent her first weeks of life under his constant supervision as he refused to leave the side of her bassinet — to be able to recall memories of him when she’s my age. I’d like her to see his unconditional love, loyalty and patience in action, so he can help me shape her to have a heart like his. Honestly, I’d just like to enjoy as many days as possible with his chin resting on my lap as I type my columns.
So we’re booking the surgery. And on the way home, we’ll stop for a pup cup.
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