Every bull terrier owner has a “how I fell in love with bull terriers in the first place” story, since most people look at a BT and wonder why on earth anyone would choose such an animal. I’ve been told they look prehistoric. Four different times, I’ve been asked whether my dog was an anteater. [...]
Carol’s story: She sees a BT and thinks it’s so extraordinary looking, just from a design perspective, she has to have one. She does some research and discovers that the person most closely associated with bull terriers in the United States is a breeder and show judge named Mary Remer. Carol makes an appointment and goes to see her at her home in Pennsylvania, along suburban Philadelphia’s elite suburban rail corridor known as the Main Line. Carol finds herself outside elaborate wrought-iron gates, which open slowly and majestically to a tree-lined drive. The reveal at the end: Ardrossan, the grand fifty-room mansion that was once home to socialite Hope Montgomery Scott, the inspiration for Katharine Hepburn’s character in the play and Academy Award–winning film The Philadelphia Story. Carol described walking into a house straight out of the English countryside, baronial, filled with antiques and paintings and beautiful woodwork. Mary Remer is Hope Montgomery Scott’s granddaughter and lives in the house with a few of her relatives and many bull terriers. In fact, Carol said, bull terriers were everywhere. In a dining room that suggested Downton Abbey, dog beds and crates were lined up side by side against the walls, like extra chairs. Violet, Carol’s first bull terrier, was the result of her visit. Carol’s story was much better than mine.
I told her I’d met her before, for a few minutes, with Violet at the outdoor restaurant all those years ago. Then she startled me with a revelation of her own, about another curious coincidence, another uncanny bit of serendipity connected with this adventure. Carol was at the vet’s office once with Harry when someone was picking up one of my dogs. Probably Goose, I thought. She heard the vet tech call out my name, looked up, and saw a BT. “Martha Teichner has a bull terrier,” Carol noted to herself. “Huh, what do you know?” She was aware of who I was because she was a fan of CBS Sunday Morning. “When I was diagnosed,” she went on, “when my situation became clear, one of the first things I thought, fantasized really, was ‘Wouldn’t it be great if Martha Teichner took Harry?’ I couldn’t believe it when Stephen called and said that you’d lost Goose and were looking for an older male to keep Minnie company.”
I don’t use the word freaky often, but this was freaky.
Carol explained her Sunday ritual. She and Harry slept in. She recorded CBS Sunday Morning. Late in the day, she watched the show while she assembled Harry’s Tylan capsules. What? One of his “issues” was chronic colitis. At breakfast and dinner, he had to take Tylan, a medication I’d never heard of. At the local compounding pharmacy for animals, Tylan capsules are expensive, Carol told me, so she ordered a capsule-making kit online and bought jars of powdered Tylan from our mutual vet. While watching Sunday Morning on Sunday afternoon, while watching me, she pressed empty capsule shells into holes in two plastic frames, poured in the yellow Tylan powder, then pressed the two frames together. Presto, capsules that pop out onto a plate perfectly formed. Not so hard.
Carol took a plastic bag out of her handbag and pulled out wedges of something orangey-colored, shriveled up, and tinged with black. I noticed the slight tremor in her fingers. “Sweet potato treats. High fiber, good for colitis. I bake them. If you decide to take Harry, I’ll show you how,” she said, then realized she might be scaring me off. She sounded a little desperate, a little sad. “I hope you’ll think about taking him anyway. He’s very sweet.”
I admired Harry’s brass-studded collar. Carol admired Minnie’s “jewels.”
“I want to keep him till the very end,” Carol said abruptly.
When would that be? Dr. Farber said she’d been told six months to a year. Carol had spoken only of her “situation.” She was diagnosed in May. We were at the end of July. Somehow I’d thought that if I agreed to take Harry, it would happen right away. But for Carol, having Harry with her was about hanging on to Life itself. So I said nothing. What was there to say? If I were the one dying, I wouldn’t want to let go, not until I had no choice. Anyway, it was far from clear that I’d take Harry. We didn’t know yet whether the two dogs would even get along.
“By the way, who takes care of Minnie when you travel?” Carol asked. I explained that I had a “dog au pair,” someone who lives in and does dog care when I need it in exchange for room and board. “Of course you do,” she replied, and laughed. I saw a shiny, clear plastic patch stuck to the back of her left forearm and thought . . . Ah, for pain.
Suddenly, Minnie got up and turned around, startling Harry. They settled back down, but now Minnie was side by side with Harry. Carol and Stephen and I shifted a little on the hard steps. We all laughed and began to talk politics, all three of us news junkies. It was an election-year summer. The Republican National Convention had just taken place. Donald Trump had been nominated by the Republican Party to run for president against Hillary Clinton. Lots to talk about and much more fun than talking about death. We relaxed.
It started to rain. Carol and Stephen decided it was time to leave. Before they left, Carol took a cell phone picture of me with Harry and Minnie. Later, it occurred to me that, instead, we should have gotten Stephen to take a picture of both Carol and me with the dogs.
The next day, Harry sent Minnie an email (with Carol’s help) saying how much he liked her, although he wasn’t sure she liked him. He hoped she would invite him back. A courtship of sorts was underway.