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Wedding Bell Blues

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?

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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