Ted Flask is 34 years old. He is a writer. Lily is 12 years old which is 84 in dog years. She is a dachshund. She is Ted’s dog. Ted was not sure he could ever have a fully committed relationship with anyone or anything until he found Lily, and she changed his life. He completely and unconditionally adores her. Their relationship is one of loyalty and devotion.
Ted is fragile and appears to be lonely. He has not had a relationship since he split with his partner, Jeffrey. He has one very best friend, Trent, who stands by him always. Trent is happy. He has a wonderful relationship with his own partner and has a healthy dog. Ted does not envy Trent because of this, rather he deeply appreciates their friendship. He often calls on Trent for support. Ted sees his therapist weekly, but he sometimes seems to view her as his antagonist, occasionally questioning her commitment to him vs. her commitment to her profession. He needs reassurance from many sources, but the dog seems to have the most effective influence on him; she can easily elevate his mood and provide the comfort he requires from others, simply by being there.
Then, one day, to his shock, he discovers what he calls an octopus, sitting on Lily’s head. He immediately makes an appointment with the Veterinarian. Soon, he is forced to face the fact that we are all mortal, and that a dog’s lifespan is normally far shorter than man’s. Would he be able to face what might be Lily’s eventual last journey? Can he save her? How committed is he to keeping her alive, regardless of her suffering?
Through the relationship of Lily, Ted and the octopus, and through Ted’s own dreams and therapy sessions, Ted learns to face reality, recognize his fantasies and why he needs them. He eventually comes to terms with both living life, accepting himself, and dealing with the fact of death, both his, Lily’s and others. He comes to understand that we are all born with an expiration date, some shorter, some longer. Lily teaches Ted how to live even when faced with the fact that we are all mortal and all of us will eventually die.
Does Ted realize he has created a world of fantasy surrounding Lilly? Does he really hear her and the octopus speaking to him? How many of us know dog owners who speak to their dogs and are fully engaged in conversations with them, even when the dog does not respond? Ted has given the dog anthropomorphic qualities that animal lovers will understand and also appreciate. Lily is not his dog, but his child. This is a tender love story on many levels.
The narrator’s interpretation of how Lily spoke to Ted was disturbing to me. In an attempt to express the way a dog would pant and speak, he instead presented a dog that sounded like it was breathless and gasping for air. It made me uncomfortable and distracted from his presentation of the rest of the story and characters.
The story could have become maudlin, but the author wrote it with humor, creativity and genuine emotion, offering imaginative descriptions and details into the dialogue about dreams and fantasies that made it simply heartwarming. It never became cloying. Can a pet show its owner the way forward? What do you think?