Before I moved to Florida, I would visualize my dog, Tess, and myself happily walking along the ocean shoreline, dodging waves and diving birds. Knowing her twilight years would be few and were not that far off, I wanted her to live without pressure to climb mountains, hike, and run down dusty trails, as she had done back in Colorado, but to be able to scamper through life in warmth and ease.
She was a surprise for my children, who were eight and nine at the time. We had just moved to a new house and neighborhood, and I wanted the dog to be a diversion from the shift. She would be the first dog in our family although my husband had previously had a beagle as a kid, just as I had had a childhood dog, named Heather. I knew what I didn’t want now: a big, rowdy Weimaraner like the one I grew up with, even though I’d loved her so.
My childhood family, all eight of us, were crammed into a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath colonial house. We really couldn’t afford Heather, and what’s more, the poor thing kept on getting pregnant, courtesy of the neighborhood stud, who managed to find his way into her pen, out back in the yard.
Eventually my dad gave Heather away to a farmer near where he worked. I was in tears when he told me. My dad tried to ease the pain by telling me she happily jumped into his truck and sat next to him in the passenger seat as they drove off into the cornfields. I just heard how easily I could be replaced. “She needs space to run, Amelie. She’s a bird dog, too. She will be happier living on a farm with other animals.” Even at nine, I knew he was right. But whenever I see one of those dogs, dubbed the “grey ghost,” I have to reach out, chat with the owner, and pet the dog as if it were mine.
Flash forward decades later. I knew I wanted a dog that didn’t shed and was small, just in case the idea I had in mind about my kids learning responsibility through pet ownership backfired, and the responsibility became mine. I had thought of adopting a Bichon pup, but the dog I chose was one of those hybrids: a Pekapap (Pekinese/Papillon) or some silly name like that. It was love at first sight. Move over, Bichon puppies. I’ve changed my mind.
We left together, all four pounds of her in a small cardboard box that I carried to the SUV. I hid her in the back until my kids found her after school by tracing the whimpers to the box in the trunk. To say they loved her like I did would be an understatement. We came to find out she had been born on my younger son’s birthday. I was hoping he would take to her, and that perhaps she would be a therapy pup. At the time he was in therapy for sensory integration and was being singled out at school by teachers and other kids.
When it came time to name her, we noticed she had a spot on the top of her head that looked like a star, so we tried it out for a name.
“Here, Star. Come here, Star.” She didn’t look at any of us and darted in a different direction. I’m not sure why, but I called out, “Tessa Star, come here,” and she stopped in her tracks and looked at us. “Well than, Tessa Star it is!” Eventually, she just became, “Tess.” The star faded away anyhow.
You would be surprised, however, at the names she has been called and the comments she has elicited over the years: a rat dog, a snack for someone’s bigger dog, a gremlin (okay, I get the big ears, but gremlines are evil looking!). I was perturbed when people I passed on paths in Boulder would say to their bigger dog, “Leave it,” and look at me all grumpy, as though my dog were a prima donna and couldn’t make the cut as far as having grit. Just so you know, she has accomplished the hike up to Bear Peak, one of Boulder’s highest peaks that offers great views of Boulder and Denver in the distance. Tess even made it to Mallory’s Cave in Chautauqua Park, where bats live, and back again. So there!
“Papillon” in French means “butterfly,” and to my mind “butterfly wings” describes her ears perfectly when they dance in the wind.
(continued in my next post)