For the first five years of his life Cheddar was an only dog. He was a rambunctious sixty-five pound yellow Labrador retriever with boundless energy and love for everything and everyone around him.
We brought Cheddar into our home as a two-month-old puppy, and he quickly assumed control, refusing to accept that he was not a lapdog even after his quickly growing body became larger than most laps. Because his size and always wagging tail posed a danger to objects and furniture throughout our home, he became an outside dog, spending most of his day in our pool area, or strolling through our backyard barking at passing dogs and inviting joggers to come inside and play.
The patio was his kingdom, but one he was always willing to share with his subjects. When our twins brought home friends to play, Cheddar would always join in the mayhem, running alongside the kids and never missing an opportunity to jump up on his hind legs in an effort to lick unsuspecting, yet delighted faces. One memory of Cheddar’s early years involved a friend of our son’s, a man-sized boy who had come to visit our home. In his delight at meeting this new friend, Cheddar leaped at him and knocked him into our pool. Because our son’s clothes were much too small, the boy wore my shorts and tee-shirt all afternoon while his own clothes dried.
When Cheddar was five, we adopted Tasha, a thirteen-year-old brown Pekingese. Tasha had lived with my sister-in-law in New York until the latter moved to an apartment that did not allow pets. For the next several months Tasha stayed with my mother-in-law, who is a wonderful person, but not a dog lover. While Tasha was provided with life’s basic necessities, she did not receive the attention she needed and the effects showed in her deteriorating condition. Age had brought near blindness which, coupled with lethargy brought on by inattention, led my sister-in-law to conclude that she did not have long to live.
Tasha had previously spent some time in our home, when my sister-in-law considered moving to South Florida and figuratively (and sometimes literally) tested the waters. While Tasha loved people, she was not enamored of other dogs. Cheddar seemed an exception, perhaps because he was so generous in his treatment of her. The first time that Cheddar met Tasha, he proceeded to bring her each of his favorite toys, dropping them in front of her and inviting her to play. Tasha generally ignored Cheddar’s advances, perhaps because, in her blindness, she could not see the toys. Yet she seemed genuinely content to share the patio with Cheddar, and happy during the short time that she had spent with us.
When we learned about Tasha’s deteriorating condition, we offered to take her in. My sister-in-law accepted our offer, glad that Tasha’s final days would be spent in a comfortable and familiar environment.
The change rejuvenated Tasha. Where in New York she had been lethargic, she was energized by the sunshine of South Florida and the companionship of her larger, younger playmate. Tasha and Cheddar spent their days together, strolling our yard and engaging in choruses of barks usually initiated by Cheddar, but always joined by his miniature friend, who followed his lead even if she could not see and did not know the source of his enthusiasm.
Tasha was an old lady with many of the traits one would expect from someone of her advanced years. She was not inclined to play as often as Cheddar, but that did not stop him from trying to goad her on. I recall a game into which he would unwittingly lure her. Cheddar would approach Tasha while she lay in the sun and nudge her with his nose. Tasha, not exactly happy at being disturbed, would jump to her feet and bark in the direction of the unwanted intrusion. Cheddar, delighted with her reaction, would run in a circle, approaching her from the opposite side, and repeating the nudge. Tasha would immediately turn her attention to the new intrusion and bark blindly at its source. The game would continue until one or both tired.
Tasha, who was suspected to be near death when she returned to South Florida, lived another two years. When she eventually passed at the age of fifteen, Cheddar became very depressed. He would lie around listlessly and often looked into the plastic doghouse where Tasha enjoyed resting, disappointed that she was no longer there.
It became clear to us that Cheddar needed a new companion. We decided to adopt a Beagle and began the process of searching for the new puppy. We eventually found Bree in a small pet store near our home. She was a two-month-old reddish-brown bundle of energy, and we fell in love with her the moment we saw her.
When we brought Bree home, she immediately lunged at Cheddar, ecstatic to have a playmate. She strolled through the patio, examining her new surroundings, with the certainty and confidence that everything around her was hers. A new queen had ascended the throne and everyone, including Cheddar, would succumb to her will.
Cheddar, who had never spent much time around puppies, looked at us in bewilderment. He did not know what to make of this new addition to our family who taunted him, ran circles around him, and playfully bit his ears with tiny, razor-sharp teeth until they bled. One thing was certain, however: life, as he knew it, was about to change.