In the movie The Sound of Music, there is a scene in which nuns musically lament the character of their fellow nun Maria, played by Julie Andrews. “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” they ask. They call her a flibbertigibbet, a darling, a demon and a lamb, among other things. It’s not my favorite song in the movie, but having said that, there are many times when I look down at Téa’s sassy little face after she’s done something that ranges from mildly annoying to downright blood pressure raising…and I realize that the Maria song is what is going through my head.
Téa was meant to be a temporary addition to our family, an opportunity to help a dog who needed help and a means of distracting Toni from her neuroses for a while. We specifically discussed a small dog (with just 1,000 square feet of city living for two humans and one human-sized dog—we really meant it when we said no more big dogs). We swore up and down that we were absolutely. not. under any circumstances. considering this newcomer as anything other than temporary. We were certain that we would not become smitten with a small dog anyway, so we weren’t very concerned.
In all fairness, even as Téa (then called Nilla) was brought out to meet me, at 45 pounds she did actually seem small compared to Toni. But I probably didn’t even notice because she has one of those mush muzzles that just makes you want to grab it and squeeze it so she knows how adorable she is. And her little butt couldn’t stay still because her tail was going so hard. And her tail didn’t go back and forth the way you expect, it went in circles (probably due to the kink that we suspect is a poorly healed break) in a way that truly made it look like a helicopter. Did I mention those droopy eyes? It was all I could do not to toss her in the car before someone said I couldn’t have her. Between us, here’s the truth: Before I even called Chris to ask him to meet her after work, before we knew if she and Toni got along, before we knew what she was really even like…I stopped and bought her a (very cute) new collar. It was all over as soon as I swiped my credit card.
Téa has been an adventure of an entirely different sort than Toni. Nothing frightens Téa, not even the things that should. She is 100 percent excited about the things that excite her. This includes the realization that we are about to go out into the hall of our condo building. Whether we are actually leaving the building or just going to the trash chute, Téa does a little hop, skip and a jump the whole way, looking over her shoulder to be sure we are as excited as she is. It includes catching up to Toni if Toni has been allowed to walk more than half a pace in front of her. It includes visitors of all sorts—she has not yet met a guest who did not make her almost excited enough to vomit on him (and sometimes exactly that excited). She is delighted to be invited to sit in someone’s lap. She won’t just set herself daintily or crawl up with restraint. She flops, often followed by a little butt wiggle dance to be sure she has your attention. Her favorite toys are the ones that Toni won’t even acknowledge anymore—fluffy toy carcasses that she shakes and tosses as if they might try actually try to make a run for it.
Téa is also 100 percent excited about the things she does not like. Obviously this is not as endearing a quality as some of her others. It turns out there are many things she does not like. She does not like to wait for anyone who walks slower than the speed of light and used to do her best to bring us up to speed when we first brought her home. She does not like squirrels. She expresses this via a strange, primal, unworldly noise that can be heard for blocks. A friend heard it once and later told us she had thought that a cat had caught a rabbit and was torturing it to death. Téa is absolutely disapproving of small dogs—make that small dogs and fluffy dogs. If you are unfortunate enough to be a small, fluffy dog, she cannot even recognize you as a fellow canine. We think she might just consider you a squirrel whose hairline hasn’t receded to its tail yet. She also doesn’t like dogs who stare at her, who bark at her, who bark at anything around her, who seem to be having more fun in the park than she is, who are interested in whatever kind of fun she is having…you get the idea. For a while, when she could not rid the world of these supposed vermin (also known as other people’s cherished family pets), she would do what any unruly, immature child would do—she lashed out at the closest thing she could reach. And like a three-year-old who hits her sister because she can’t have an ice cream, she would turn her fury on Toni, who was really just trying to have another sniff at the bush we were passing. Toni did her best to be tolerant, but one can really only take so much unjustified abuse before one decides to defend oneself. I’ll just remind you that Toni is about 25 pounds heavier than Téa and a good several inches taller; you can figure out how things were finally sorted out and Téa learned to control her temper. This is part of why Toni and Téa work so well together as a pack—Toni’s maternal instincts outweigh her neuroses and meet Téa’s need for some good old fashioned mothering.
At this moment, Toni lies sleeping with her face jammed up against the back of the couch—if she can’t see the scary world, maybe it can’t see her either. Téa has her face jammed up against Toni’s (substantial) rear end, alternately snoring and making the little satisfied sighs of contentment that we’ve come to love.
And this is how it is at our house now, with our two big, scary pit bulls.