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Wedding Bell Blues
In which Rex meets the love of his life.

Now that Ted and I were engaged, we had two big decisions to make: when to have the wedding and whether to include the dog in the ceremony. Both answers, you’ll be surprised to note, were made with rapid—or shall we say rabid?—certainty. The wedding, we decided, would be held in May rather than September (with the idea that, if we did it sooner rather than later, we would freak out for only 5 months rather than 12). As for Rex, well, since freaking out was a key factor, and since Rex could still not be counted on not to freak out among strangers—not even well-dressed and happily drunk ones—and since none of the members of my family even liked my dog—not even remotely—well, Ted was going to have to find himself another best man.

Because Rex would not be receiving a cream-colored hand calligraphered invitation to our wedding, we were then faced with the task of finding a dog-sitter for him. The dog-sitter we’d hired to take care of him during our trip to France was, understandably, unwilling to take him again, given the number of times he had tried to escape on her (three), and the number of times he had succeeded (two). So she was out. Next, I put an advertisement up on ManhattanDogChat, but apparently Rex’s reputation had preceded him not only to the Upper East Side (where we had just moved), but even into cyberspace, for nobody, to date had written back.

“What will we do?” I said to Ted as the Big Day drew near (“near” to a pre-wedding bride can mean anything from two days to four months). “We can’t take him to Massachusetts. He’s been banished from that state—I think my sister put an all-points bulletin out on him in New Hampshire, too.”

“I'll stay home with him then,” Ted said. “You’d like that wouldn’t you?’ he said to the dog in his happy voice. “If I stayed at home with you during my own wedding?”

“That isn’t funny,” I said. Nothing, I mean nothing, is funny to a pre-wedding bride.

“Well, maybe my father will come stay with him. He doesn’t want to come to the wedding anyway. He doesn’t want to see my mom.”

“That’s not funny either. Have you asked him yet to be your best man?”

“No, not yet.”

“Well, when do you plan to ask him?” I screeched, and then Ted told me, in a raised voice, not to raise my voice at him, and Rex, sensing another Wedding Argument, made himself small and crept off to the back room.

How lucky for all of us, then, to find the very thing we were looking for staggering toward us a few days later on East 82nd Street. Desiree was not staggering because she was drunk; rather, she was being lurched in seven different directions by three separate dogs. “Well, hot damn!” she shouted when she saw Rex. She came toward us with outstretched arms. Three mop-headed bearded collies wrapped around her as she walked, as if she were a Maypole. “Now that there’s a beautiful dog!” Desiree shouted. “What kind of a dog is he? I’ve never seen such a face.” She knelt down in front of Rex and began to coo. “I’m a dog walker,” she said to us. “In case you couldn’t tell. Actually I’m a writer. But I walk dogs on the side. This here’s George, Ringo and Paul.” Rex and the other dogs sniffed one another in that bored, city way, but then they became more animated once they started gossiping about us. Don’t ever let your humans get married, man, Rex was probably saying. She’s not a writer, the Beatles were probably saying. “And don’t even ask about John.

But anyway. Desiree hailed from Texas, and she still carried within her the grand styles and large gestures of that ostentatious state. She was an attractive, even sexy woman in perhaps her sixties who wore flamboyant sunglasses, elaborate velvet skirts and cowboy boots. Her figure—tall and robust—was the kind lesser beings had to pay money for, and she wore a terrific red lipstick she told me was called “Slut.”

Eagerly, Ted and I went over to inspect her apartment the next day. It was just like ours—a railroad one-bedroom in a tenement. Only hers was filled with baby gates and dogs. I liked the environment immediately. It had the air of a giant playpen—there were chew toys scattered across the linoleum and paw prints on the walls. Rex sniffed around rather proprietarily, like a prospective buyer who was mentally considering all the things he would do once he owned this place. And then he came up to us and gave us one of those all-is-well dog smiles and sat on Desiree’s feet. “He likes it here!” I said. “Are you free at the end of May?”

Desiree was, in fact, available. “And so,” she said, “is a certain gorgeous German Shepherd named Hildegaard von Bingen. I’m going to have her that whole month,” she added with a wink. “And I think the two of them will get along just fine.”

Desiree then gave an expert whistle, and out from the swirling mists of the back bedroom, as the angels sang and the ceiling fixtures emitted golden rays of light, emerged the most beautiful dog Rex had ever seen. Hildy had caramel-colored eyes and honey-colored fur. Rex stiffened. She raised her gaze to him coyly. Their eyes met from across the room.

“She’s a New Skete Shepherd,” Desiree told us. “She could do your taxes, that one. I’ve never met a smarter dog.

Rex’s nose twitched in a nervous sort of way.

He had never initiated play with another dog, not once, not ever—and I watched with delight as he bowed to Hildy, and wagged his tail and uttered a swarthy a-woo-woo-woo. Hildy accepted his bow with grace, and then they sprang at one another’s throats. Masterfully they leapt and spun and swirled, pausing every so often with their forearms around one another to pant, to rest, and  kiss. Standing like that, in a frozen embrace, they looked so much like the lovers in Chagall’s Wedding, I actually started to cry. “It’s his first girlfriend!” I said.

Desiree laughed a great Texas laugh. “Maybe you’ll have to start planning two weddings instead of one.” But one was enough, thank you. I do not need to describe here in a dog magazine the tedium, the abject torture and/or and the stress of having to try on dresses, interview photographers, find hair stylists, find hair styles, secure a church and a reception hall, and try to maintain the conviction that you do actually want have a wedding at all. It’s a delicate balancing act, that, at the end of each day, would leave both me and Ted mostly imbalanced, and ready, willing but barely able to spring at one another’s throats. We quarreled about the wedding bands, the photographer and what kind of wine to serve. We quarreled about—well, there’s a reason those brides’ magazines weigh in at 80 pounds an issue. It takes that many pages of sugar-coated advertising to lull the pre-wedding bride into a state of fairy tale complacence, into a state of pearly-white hope. And weren’t we talking about the dog?

Rex loved Hildy from the get-go. That much was clear. And watching them together filled me with an ABJECT joy. Rex had come to us a fearful dog, you may recall; afraid of all other people and terrified of all other dogs. We had worked on those fears, of course, and had gotten him to the point where he would now tolerate other humans and other canines. Or at least not attack them, as he used to do. But I couldn’t say that Rex, to date, had actually liked another dog. So to see Rex locked, day after day, into that Chagallian embrace with Hildy, to watch the way he ran up to her, rolled over and licked her face, filled me with a new hope. Rex was going to live happily ever after, I told myself. What more could a mother want?

A few weeks passed, weeks during which we brought Rex over to Desiree’s Doggie Daycare almost every day, partly because both Ted and I had started working full-time, but mostly because Rex was having so much fun. He’d strain on the leash to get there, then leap right into Hildy’s arms. I’d leave to the sounds of gates crashing, Rex a-woo-woo-wooing, and Desiree laughing one of her booming laughs. It was a nice way to start the day, and at the end, Rex would come home tired and satiated, his fur smelling of incense and perfume, and big telltale Slut kiss-marks all across his head. “Who’s been kissing you?” I would say happily, and Rex would thump his tail, and Desiree would call us in the evenings to leave detailed messages on our answering machine: “He and Hildy played for four hours straight and then they both took a nap with their heads on my lap, all of us curled up together on the couch.” And picturing this, picturing all the love he got from both Desiree and Hildy, made me think maybe Rex should get married.

Friends, in those days, who called me in the hopes that I might describe my Scaasi wedding dress for them got this instead: “Rex is in love! And he comes home so spent and satiated, you’d think he was having sex! If he was a human child, you’d better believe I’d be rifling through his drawer for condoms. But he’s fixed so—thank God—we won’t have to worry about having puppies any time soon.”

“Are you and Ted going to have children?” my friends would say.

“I love that he has this secret life,” I would answer. “It’s like he’s going off daily to an opium den!”

“Where are you going for your honeymoon?”
“Oh, we haven’t thought that far ahead. But I’m thinking of getting another dog, a live-in girlfriend for Rex.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Ted said.

“But Rex is so happy when he’s in love.”

“Look,” Ted said. “We are in no position financially to get a second dog, our apartment is too small, we’re getting married in three weeks and every other day you threaten to call off the wedding.”

“But look at him.”

Rex was standing, as he did every night now, with his paws on windowsill, gazing out to the street, facing the direction of Desiree’s apartment. His nose twitched in that nervous way.

“I think he just needs to take a dump,” Ted said.

“He’s in love!” I insisted. “Desiree says he won’t eat his food anymore unless Hildy is fed first.”

But love, as we know, has its downswings. First, Rex started to act out at daycare. One day in April, Desiree told me that he had climbed onto her kitchen counter, pulled a bag of kibble out of the cabinet and dragged it to the kitchen floor. “I came home to find all the dogs feasting from it,” Desiree said, “tearing at the bag like a feeding frenzy, like it was a gazelle they had felled.” The next week, she claimed that Rex had pulled her venetian blinds clear out of the window. “He didn’t just pull them down,” she said. “He pulled them out, screws and all.”

“How can you be certain it was him?” I said.

“Oh, there were paw prints,” she said. “On my ceiling, in fact.”

“We’ll pay for the blinds, of course,” I said.

“Oh, I’m not worried about that, darling. I just want to be able to leave my apartment as is and be able to come back and have it as is.”

When I told Ted the story, it was hard not to laugh. “He’s showing off for Hildy,” I said. “Don’t you think? Maybe it was too sunny and he didn’t want Hildy to strain her eyes. Maybe he wanted some privacy while he and Hildy made out.”

“This isn’t funny,” Ted said. Nothing, I mean nothing, is funny to a pre-wedding groom.

Ted, Mr. Responsible, gave Desiree an extra $50 that week when he wrote the check out. I, Ms. Romantic, decided to have a word with Rex.

“Don’t try so hard,” I whispered that night as I scratched his belly. “Girls don’t like it when you’re too intense.”

Rex had his legs splayed, his eyes rolled back into his head and his tongue lolling out, like a satiated man at a harem. I sniffed his fur. “Have you been smoking opium?” I said.

He was too tired to even thump his tail.

Despite the clear signs that trouble was brewing, I still spent my days wondering what kind of wedding cake Rex would prefer, liver or beef. Then a rival entered the picture. His name was Anthony Blanche—a gorgeous white Samoyed with movie-star eyes. Anthony did not have an unkind bone in his body, and there was an all-accepting vacancy behind his blue eyes that made me suspect he was kind of dumb. Rex liked him well enough at the beginning. I’m told they even played together, though not with the same riotous abandon that Hildy inspired.

But then Desiree made the mistake of bringing Anthony to our apartment one evening while she was dropping off Rex. “There they were,” Desiree said, “walking along together side by side, perfect gentleman, but the minute Rex crossed the threshold he turned into Dr. Jekyll. He lunged at Anthony as if he had never met him before. When not two minutes ago they were outside playing.”

“I think it’s a territorial thing,” I said. “Or maybe it’s just this apartment.”

“I can’t walk the two of them together anymore is what it is,” Desiree said. “Which is too bad. Because I could bring the other boys with me while I walk across the park, and what dog doesn’t want to walk across Central Park? But no siree. Not male dogs. They’re too proud. Too unyielding. Do you know, it’s the entire male race that’s responsible for all the horror and war and famine that has ever befallen this planet?” She had a bag of poop in her hand, and she waved it around as she talked. (Desiree had undergone a bitter divorce.) “We’ll do what we can about these two,” she said.

And the funny thing about male dogs—or at least Rex and male dogs—is that once they have one fight, they are enemies forever. Now Desiree’s messages were reports of raised hackles, of having to keep Rex and Anthony separated, of the brawl that ensued when Anthony tried to sniff Hildy’s butt. “I even tried to keep Rex and Hildy separated,” Desiree said. “But that didn’t help.”

Of course it didn’t. I imagined poor Rex having to stare at Hildy through the bars of a baby gate while Anthony cavorted with Hildy. No wonder he was angry! He started coming home, not satiated and covered in kisses, but agitated and covered in blood. Well, not covered, but one time I came home to find a trash can tipped over, Desiree’s glasses on the floor and a few speckles of blood on the wall.

“I tried to drop Rex off with Anthony again,” Desiree said. “Rex turned into Dr. Jekyll again. It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have walked them together, but today they played together all day long like the best of pals.”

Ted and I started to worry that we’d have to try to find another daycare center—one without male dogs. Or females, for that matter. (Rex wanted us to send him to a Doggie Day Care full of geese, rabbits and cats).

But in the end, it was Hildy that was transferred. Her humans bought a house in Westchester and moved out there.

We left Rex with Desiree for the four days during which we would get married, and I worried the entire time, of course. I pictured Rex standing at the windowsill with his nose twitching, sniffing the city air for any news of his long-lost love. I pictured him torturing himself with the conviction Hildy had dumped him because of his violent temper. Why, she hadn’t even said goodbye! A human, at this point, would be writing her sappy love letters, or calling her answering machine at two in the morning, telling her all about his tragic childhood, how he could not be blamed for his behavior because he had been abused.

When Ted and I returned—married, of all things—and picked up Rex at Desiree’s apartment, he greeted us with an extra burst of rapture. “He had a great time,” Desiree reported. “He and Anthony played nonstop the entire time, and at night, the two of them would sleep curled up next to each other with their heads on my lap.”

And that’s when I realized: Dogs live happily after no matter what. Because that’s what they’re best at.

“You’re a legitimate child now!” Ted said to Rex. And Rex beamed and thumped his tail.
 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 28: Fall 2004
Lee Harrington is the author of the best-selling memoir, Rex and the City: A Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog (Random House, 2006), and of the forthcoming novel, Nothing Keeps a Frenchman from His Lunch. emharrington.com

Illustration by Susan Synarski

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