Ada, a beagle-basset hound mix (that’s right, a bagel), was adopted by my wife and me nine years ago to come and live an idyllic life at our small farm in central Pennsylvania. And Mr. TD, a 1950 MG TD trailer queen, was brought to the farm four years ago to take idyllic rides through that same Pennsylvania countryside. But, as anyone who has ever adopted a puppy or a little British car will tell you, both of them ultimately require a great deal of patience, love, commitment and money.
Ada entered the family as a rescue from a high-kill animal shelter. As a puppy, she required little in the way of patience or money, but lots of love and commitment. She arrived already housebroken and learned her new name and all the usual commands—like sit, come and stay—in one day. She had boundless energy and tremendous curiosity about everything. Birds were of a particular interest to her, and she would sit and watch them circling and diving, her head cocked to one side. She was also a big fan of Animal Planet and could binge-watch a two-hour meerkat marathon without flinching. She loved canoeing and swimming and tug-of-war with sticks. But her greatest enthusiasm was reserved for riding in our old truck. With her head stuck out the window, ears flapping and drool flying down the rear quarter panel, there was no happier dog in the whole USA.
Then last winter, Ada went suddenly blind. The vet and an eye specialist both told us there was nothing they could do. She had developed a form of retinal degeneration that sometimes afflicts middle-aged dogs. We knew that we would now have to help Ada adapt to getting around the house and going outside, but we didn’t have any idea how much effort it would take to keep her emotionally engaged. For weeks, she simply sat motionless and stared out into space for hours at a time. It was as if she were patiently waiting for someone to turn the lights back on. She no longer showed any interest in nature shows or birds or tug-of-war. She still managed a perfunctory tail wag over a proposed ride in the truck, but instead of gleefully hanging out the window she merely curled up on the seat and slept. My wife and I both worried if we’d ever get our Ada back.
FULFILLING THE DREAM
Mr. TD had come into the family largely as the result of my life-long obsession with someday owning and driving an MG T-series car. In 1958, when I was the ripe old age of five, the greaser kid who lived next door drove up in a white TC that he’d brought home to tune up for a friend. Within minutes, every kid in the neighborhood was clustered around that car, begging him to take us for a ride. I don’t think he ever got around to working on the car. Piling us in six at a time, he spent the better part of that afternoon driving us around the block, letting each of us take turns sitting on his lap and steering. Before that day, I had been deeply in love with another neighborhood kid’s flathead Ford hot rod, but that dalliance with American muscle promptly ended when I got behind the wheel of some genuine English iron. Now, 52 years later, I was backing a beautiful red TD off a trailer in our driveway and relishing finally fulfilling my dream.
That red TD turned out to be my white whale! Unlike easygoing little Ada, the TD proved to be a recalcitrant and high-maintenance member of the family. Aside from a long-ago repaint and some newer upholstery, everything on this two-owner car was original and largely unmolested. I figured a light tune-up, a little brake work and some minor tweaking would be all that was necessary to turn it into a decent driver. However, decades spent in slothful ease as a trailer queen had resulted in a long list of issues: carburetors, fuel pump, fuel lines and filters, intake manifold, starter, generator, water pump, wiring harness, distributor, wheel bearings, wheels and tires, clutch, gearbox…I can’t go on! Suffice to say, we put a couple of mechanics’ kids through college and greatly bolstered Moss’ bottom line with that car. It was during all this “minor tweaking” that the TD got its name. After about the sixth time it left us sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck, my wife turned to me and stated flatly, “You should name this car Mr. TD, because ‘I pity the fool’ who owns it.” Eventually, Mr. TD rounded into form and has since proven to be a reliable driver. (Readers of this publication will understand that my use of the word “reliable” in relation to these cars is subject to widely varied personal interpretation.)
CAR MEETS DOG
As our confidence in Mr. TD grew, we began to toy with the idea of taking Ada for rides. We were trying to find something that might draw her out, and we thought that riding in an open car might stimulate her. My wife sewed up a washable insert to fit behind the seats and attach to the existing hardware. I installed a strap to keep her in place, which clipped to a safety harness. The final touch was a pair of doggie goggles to protect Ada’s vulnerable eyes from wind and debris.
The big day arrived to test how Ada would do. We decided on a short trip down to a little park on the river to have a picnic dinner and watch the sunset. Backing out of the garage, I noticed that my hands were sweating. Could I trust Mr. TD to not break down? Would the noise and wind panic Ada? Would she try to jump out of the car? As my wife brought Ada near the car, she stiffened up, apparently frightened by the noisy exhaust. She felt positively rigid as I lifted her up and placed her in the back. She was shaking and whimpering, but she stayed put as I clipped her into the harness. I was starting to think that this whole idea had been a colossal waste of time, but my wife insisted that we’d come too far not to at least give it a try.
We idled down to the bottom of the driveway and turned left on the main road. The exhaust seemed so loud as the little XPAG motor revved through each shift, I was sure Ada would be freaked out. But she wasn’t. Framed in my rearview mirror was a comically-goggled beagle-basset, ears flapping, drool flying, and with an engaged (happy?) expression I hadn’t seen in a long time. When we arrived at the park, Ada was mobbed by some little kids who thought she was the coolest dog in the world with her little goggles. Ada loves kids, so this was just icing on the cake. They really liked Mr. TD, too, and we let them sit behind the wheel, just like my greaser neighbor had let me 52 years ago. It was a good day. Funny how dreams get fulfilled in unexpected ways.
Nowadays, if we want to get Ada off the couch, all we have to do is say, “Who wants to ride in Mr. TD?” Incidentally, that gets me off the couch, too. I have a theory that all the aspects people find enjoyable and stimulating about these cars—the smell of the leather, the wind in the face, the roar of the exhaust, the feel of taking a tight turn at speed—have a universal appeal that may very well reach into other species of the animal kingdom. At least they work for a certain dog I know. (I would be very interested in hearing from any cat people out there, as I suspect they might experience a different outcome.)
Now, we can’t claim that riding in Mr. TD has fixed all of Ada’s issues over losing her sight, but it has certainly made a positive difference. She still has her good days and bad days. Come to think of it, Mr. TD still has his good and bad days, too. I guess that’s why they make the perfect team.
By F.J. Bennett
Photos by Kevin Bennett
Ada was rescued through the non-profit Castaway Critters, whose dedicated volunteers travel as far as necessary to save cats and dogs in high-kill animal shelters and then provide foster care in their own homes until every animal is adopted. You can learn more, or contact them, at castawaycritters.org.