When Harry Met Minnie: A True Story of Love and Friendship
Written by CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Martha Teichner, When Harry Met Minnie details Teichner’s experience adopting the beloved dog of a woman dying of cancer. As if the premise were not a tipoff, Teichner warns from the beginning that the story, set in New York City, will be sad, and she does not spare readers the heart-wrenching moments.
The story begins when Stephen, a farmer’s market acquaintance, tells Teichner about a friend, Carol Fertig, with terminal cancer who needs a home for her elderly bull terrier. Teichner, a regular at the market, is well known as the mom of one or more bull terriers of her own. These unusual, long-snouted dogs make an impression. Teichner writes, “Four different times, I’ve been asked if my dog was an anteater.”
Teichner lost her male bull terrier, Goose, months earlier, leaving her with Minnie, a white female with all the classic “BT” qualities: opinionated, stubborn, exuberant, and silly. Teichner and Minnie are both still missing Goose when Stephen proposes that she adopt Fertig’s dog, Harry. The idea rattles but intrigues Teichner, who tentatively agrees to a meeting.
The women exchange emails and arrange a first date for Harry and Minnie, Fertig and Teichner. Of the two couples, the women seem more destined to become friends. The dogs sit on the stoop with their butts to each other.
Teichner learns that Fertig is a well-known designer and artist whose apartment was featured in Elle Décor and who designed a coat in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She had the misfortune of living close to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, resulting in exposure to toxins that caused cancer.
Despite the women’s fascination with their dogs—Teichner keeps an au pair for Minnie, and Fertig created a coat of arms for Harry—readers will likely find the humans more interesting in this tale. What leaves a mark on Teichner is not so much her relationship with the dogs, or their friendship with each other, but her time with Fertig.
Teichner describes Fertig vividly. “She was arresting, with her nearly nonexistent eyebrows carefully penciled in, with her very red lipstick, her long face, long nose.” Fertig also has a flair for dressing, on one occasion wearing “a white eyelet A-line skirt, a black top, white, fifties-movie-star-style cat-eye sunglasses, and a turned-down sailor hat.”
Teichner quotes Fertig’s email correspondence through the book, an entertaining way to give readers a sense of Fertig’s charming exuberance and humor. Email from Fertig: “Harry once took a $25 stuffed sheep from Duane Reed . . . I paid for it of course. He shook it wildly all the way home. RESTRICTED!”
While the women develop a warm relationship, Teichner still harbors deep concerns about adopting Harry, a high-maintenance “money pit,” according to Fertig. However, Fertig soon becomes too sick to care for the dog, and by default he moves to Teichner’s house.
When not on assignment at CBS or caring for the dogs, Teichner takes shifts at the hospital with Fertig’s inner circle, an eclectic mix of younger women and gay men. The two women’s similarities are not lost on Teichner: “Substitute Martha for Carol. I could have been the one dying of cancer. A single woman, alone, with a beloved dog nobody wanted.”
It’s easy to suppose that the women’s bull terriers have substituted for family. “Every BT person I’ve ever met admits to liking that these animals are subversive by nature,” Teichner writes. Fertig and Teichner have led subversive lives themselves. Of an era when women were still expected to marry and raise families in lieu of working, they came to New York City and built enduring careers.
Teichner shares deeply personal details of Fertig’s life—learned from Fertig and second-hand from her friends—but is less willing to open up about herself. She glides over the surface, occasionally dropping details that invite more exploration. She confesses to Fertig that she has never married, “although not by choice.”
Teichner leaves these complicated human topics unmined, instead trying to fit her narrative into the dog-meets-dog mold, with only moderate success. The dogs certainly have their moments: Harry does a bowl-flipping trick that could have gone viral, and Minnie comically burrows into the laundry bin. But theirs is a fairly mundane friendship, not a love affair.
What this book says about human relationships redeems its weakness as a dog story: Fertig asks a big favor of Teichner, but it is Teichner who gains more.