Years ago, I wrote a column about my sweet dog Terri. She had been hit by a car on a quiet snowy evening the week before, an accident that left her with a broken neck and my family with broken hearts. I wrote of my grief, my guilt, and my astonishment at the depth of my love for this furry little friend.
But Terri the Terrific Terrier recovered, and a year or so later, I wrote another column, this one alongside a photograph of her trotting jauntily towards the camera, ears erect, a Frisbee in her mouth. Her recovery was remarkable. Her vet marveled. When I took her with me to public places on the island, I was sometimes stopped by complete strangers. “Is this the dog who broke her neck?”
I write now to tell a different story. Terri has left us, 10 years after that accident, 16 years after she entered our lives. And I find myself again astonished by my grief.
It’s audacious to think I have anything to add to the canon of dog lore. About the fonts of love they are. About how they live without guile. About their brightness, sweetness, and loyalty to those who love and, yes, feed them. I have nothing new to add, and yet this is what I do — I write. And so I’m again sharing the story of Terri, a nutty, adorable, sometimes curmudgeonly dog who occupied our hearts and home for nearly a generation.
We got Terri when my son Peter was nine, worn down by his multi-month campaign for a furry companion. Guinea pigs hadn’t done much for him. My husband was deeply allergic to cats. I didn’t know how we could work a dog into our busy lives, but I was determined to try. So accompanied by a dog-whisperer of a friend, I visited the local Humane Society without a word to my son, decided she might be the one, and put her on a 24-hour hold. We came back the next day and took her home.
She was wild and unruly those first few months, and we were novices at dog ownership. There were a few times when I thought we were going to lose her. Once at the beach, we let her off-leash to chase the waves, and she wouldn’t stop running down and back the long expanse of beach, barking at the waves’ edge, crazed with excitement. My husband had to tackle her in the surf to get her to stop. We eventually learned how to let her run with the waves, doing so only in safe and somewhat constrained spots. We also learned that she would always, eventually, come back.
She wasn’t a perfect dog. She bit a child once. She guarded our door with a xenophobic fierceness that grew tiresome. She was anxious in our absence. But she also had an emotional intelligence that both touched and amazed me, and during a few tough stretches in our family life, she offered me a comfort that only the wordless love of a dog could provide.
Terri left us on the day my son graduated from college. She was very ill, and we knew it was time. I consider myself a rationalist who rarely views life through the lens of portents or signs. And yet, as we prepared our goodbyes, I couldn’t help but marvel at the arc of her life: This dog who we adopted in large part because of our son, who helped to make our family whole, died the day our son crossed a threshold into adulthood. It was as if her job was done, as if she could go in peace.
But Terri was not simply our pet, a part of our lives for our pleasure. She was her own being, a bright, fierce, and funny creature — soulful, individualistic, and surprisingly complex. We did our best to give her a good life, and she returned our kindness with a capacious love that defies easy explanation.
I often think of a line from one of Mary Oliver’s poems, “How many summers does a little dog have?” Terri had 16 summers with us, and she ran, played, barked, and lived with gusto. She chased waves. She pounced at the spray from geoducks. She carried sticks so large they were more like logs. And when we called her, she would always come back, eyes bright, ears erect, ready for the next adventure.
Leslie Brown is the former editor of The Beachcomber.