“Oh, how ‘dorable!”
The little girl of about seven, with her missing front teeth, rushed up to the eight-week-old standard poodle puppies with barely-contained glee. “OhpleatheohpleathepleathepleathePLEATHE can we get one?”
She attached herself to a cur ly-haired, golden-tan pup that seemed to want nothing more than prompt removal from the pen.
It was true: Teddy dreamed of being a wolf, roaming free amongst frosty pines, splashing through gently bickering streams, and chasing jackrabbits. He promised himself that one day he would escape the world of retractable leashes and rhinestone-studded collars. One day he’d be a free dog.
The continued discussion broke into his thoughts.
“But it’s a poodle, Lyra,” her dad said objectionably. “I don’t want a po odle.”
“Why not?” she demanded fiercely.
“It’s just that it’s a poodle!” he repeated, at a loss for words. “When I said we were getting a dog I didn’t mean a poodle.”
“Well, you thaid a dog. A poodle’th a dog!”
“Well, not really,” her dad said in exaspera tion.
The nerve! Teddy listened to the dialogue with dismay. It wasn’t like he was a cat, or something!
“Daddy, I’m not going to thpeak to you until we take thith puppy home.” Lyra said in an act of almost sophisticated second-grade defiance. She display ed the inside of her lower lip for emphasis.
It was a losing battle. Teddy was coming home.
“‘Is name’s Teddy,” the kindly breeder explained to the duo. “Because,” she said as she paused to put on the sickly sweet voice females reserved for all small children and things with fluff, “‘E’s such an adorable little pupsie-wupsie, isn’t ‘e?”
She bent and gave Teddy a disgustingly un-slobbery kiss. He rolled his eyes at her.
A week or so later Lyra attempted to shove the poor wolf wannabe into the bathtub. Being a sensible dog, he refused to get in. He had his nose, and he had his pride. It smells like honeysuckle, he thought. If I get in, I will smell like honeysuckle. Tough dogs don’t smell of honeysuckle. Maybe pine trees, food, or other dogs, but most certainly not honeysuckle.
”Not gettin’ in?” Lyra asked poutily. “Well, you have to becauthe we don’t want you thmellin’ of doggy doo doo.”
Teddy planted his paws and, to his delight, Lyra couldn’t pick him up. She was an incredibly weak seven-year-old.
“Da-aaaad! Teddy-Weddly won’t get into the tub!”
“Sorry, Princess, but he’s your responsibility,” the stereotypical poodle hater called back.
Teddy sighed with slight relief. He had ablutophobia, a word which here means “fear of washing”. The thought o f being in a warm, soapy liquid for several minutes at a time terrorized him. Dogs like him had to wade-no, scamper-through an icy stream, rinsing the caked mud off their battle- hardened paws. Or, better yet, not wash at all.
He yelped in surprise.
Lyra seemed to have grabbed him during his pondering and he soon found himself floundering around helplessly in the tub. She giggled maliciously at the sight of him.
He emerged from the bathroom ten minutes later, reeking of putrid- smelling flowers, and properly conditioned, curled, brushed, and fluffed. Lyra explained to him (to his horror) that they’d take him to a real groomer when he was a little older.
He cringed at the very thought. He had nightmares of poor, dignified adult poodles trying to evade the cruel groomer’s wrath, but to no avail. They would approach him later in the dream, wretched creatures now, with their hair shaved off their rumps and legs. Only embarrassing puffs remained on their chests and tails. They’d draw nearer and neare r, growing larger, chanting, while his fur mercilessly shrank away.
He’d wake up, whimpering, in a cold pant. Only a dream, he told himself, only a dream.
Lyra, unfortunately, was real. She’d have tea parties and saddle him like a horse for her Barbies to ride. He couldn’t stand it. He needed to run, to play. He swore to himself that he’d never become one of them. Lyra’s dad was seemingly adapting to him, and Teddy felt safe in his presence. One day, a much-needed suggestion was made.
“Lyra, do you wa nt to go camping sometime?”
A whole two days without her toys, TV, and especially Teddy was not Lyra’s idea of fun.
“We can bring Teddy along.”
Teddy could hardly believe his ears. After a whole year of ‘pamperation’, as he called it, he was finally go ing into the Wild! It occurred to him for a moment that he had been fed, sheltered, and cleaned since puppyhood, but arrogant and determined, the thought didn’t hinder him for long.
“Camping, camping, we’re going camping,” Lyra sang in a whiny, off- tune version of some preschool chant. She tossed Teddy’s leash onto the front seat with all of the other camping equipment, then hopped onto the car herself, practically strangling the dog beside her with excitement.
After suffering Lyra’s infernal humming for half an hour, Teddy finally stuck his head out the window to drown the sound. Finally, the crisp scent of pine needles, and, for some reason, bananas, filled his delicate nostrils.
”I’m going to be a real wolf!” he barked happily to himself.
Hiking along with his humans the next day, Teddy absorbed the woods. Sunlight streamed through maple leaves like stained glass in some enormous cathedral. Fallen redwoods lay across the river like giant bridges. A stellar jay flew up, startled, as they passed b elow.but the beautiful quiet would not last long. Soon Lyra was complaining about her sore foot, how she was really, really hungry, and how she had already walked a “million bazillion katrillion” miles and was really tired. Her dad had the first aid kit o ut in a flash and was halfway through fixing her blister when she started whining again. Teddy boredly wandered off into the trees until he saw a clearing with three silvery-grey wolves chatting and chewing on sticks. Crouching behind a bush, he watched them intently.
“Something reeks,” Lupe muttered to Tala.
“Yeah, you’re right. It smells sort of like.honeysuckle.or something.”
The two simultaneously glanced at Otis.
“Why are you guys giving me that look?” he asked nervously.
“Because someone has been traipsing around in the flowers again.” Tala replied teasingly, glancing at Otis.
“I have not,” he replied quietly, even though he had.
Teddy glanced at them, unseen, from behind the huckleberry bush. “Okay,” he thought to himself. “Here’s my big chance to be a wolf.”
So he trotted up to them confidently and asked, “So what do I have to do to join your pack?”
Tala growl-snorted audibly, and wrinkled her nose as the smell of Teddy’s honeysuckle shampoo wafted over them.
“You don’t really look like a wo lf,” Lupe conceded. “Wolves only allowed. And besides, what are you doing in the middle of a dark, scary forest all by yourself?”
Teddy tried to ignore the ridicule. “I ran-I mean, I erm, I’m a stray who needs some friends.”
Tala snorted again, this tim e with an element of hilarity. “Yeah right. Since when do ‘strays’ smell of honeysuckle and wear rhinestone- studded collars? We are most certainly not going to adopt you, first of all because you’re skinny and weak and would be of no use to us hunting, and secondly because we can’t be seen with you!”
She ended her short speech with a deep sigh, and Otis and Lupe nodded vigorously in agreement.
“Fine, then. Be that way. But at least tell me what you’re doing in California, so far away from wolf country, and why your ‘pack’ only has three members.”
“Okay,” Tala said. “Here’s our story. We were kind of the oddballs of our old pack and finally they got really annoyed with us and now we’re in exile. We’re shunned wherever we go; no one worthy will join our pack. No one who doesn’t smell of honeysuckle, that is. So we’re living off the land, eating rabbits and things, trying to stay away from hikers and tourists. But it’s not too bad, being in exile with your best friends.”
Teddy listened to the story with pain and sympathy. He explained how poodles are actually quite fast runners, how he would help with the rabbit hunt. He told them of his dream to live in the woods, to be free. He told them of the horrors of the human world, of the groomer’s, of the vet’s. And the wolves began to listen to his story, to see past his looks and see a wise dog. In this way he became the first wild poodle.
Teddy, Otis, Tala, and Lupe stayed in the Park as the only poodle/timber wolf pack in California.
Years later, Lyra revisited Big Basin, the place where her precious puppy had originally disappeared. She hiked along the same trails, and occasionally her mind would play tricks on her and she could swear she sometimes saw flashes of golden-brown deep in the trees. And it’s rumored that the wolves in a certain pack have slightly curly fur, but most people disregard this as a silly hiking tale to pass the time. After all, they say, there are no wolves in the Park.
“Oh, how ‘dorable!”