“CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Martha Teichner is author of the new book, “When Harry Met Minnie.” She tells the story behind this tale of puppy love:
You’re supposed to think about the film, “When Harry Met Sally,” which was also a love story set in New York City. That’s Minnie on the left, Harry on the right. They really did cuddle like that.
But the story isn’t just about a romance between two bull terriers. It’s a kind of only-in-New-York fairy tale I found myself part of. Because it’s true, the happily-ever-after part is messy.
But it does start, as so many fairytales do, with a magical bit of serendipity, early on a Saturday morning in the Summer of 2016, at New York City’s largest farmers market, where certain dogs (and their people) show up at the same time every week, including another bull terrier.
“They really put a big, big joy in my heart,” said Annie.
Suddenly, I spotted an old dog-walking acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a year or two, and had never seen at the farmers market: Stephen Miller Siegel, with his golden retriever.
“I walked up to you and I said, ‘Hi, Martha, how are you? Where is your other dog?'” he recalled.
A few months before, Goose, Minnie’s companion for most of her life, had died.
“You said, ‘I’m looking for an older male, because Minnie is lonely’,” said Siegel, “and it was almost as if the heavens had opened up.”
Why? Because Carol Fertig, a friend of Siegel’s for 30 years, was dying of liver cancer, the result of living practically next door to ground zero in the aftermath of 9/11.
Nobody wanted her 11-and-a-half-year-old dog, Harry.
“She had made me promise that if we couldn’t find a home for Harry, that I would put him down, which was an extremely difficult conversation to have with her,” Siegel said.
If I’d been standing somewhere else; if I’d been there at 8:45 instead of 8:30; if it had been raining, and Minnie and I had stayed home, Stephen would not have seen us. And none of this would ever have happened.
I googled Carol Fertig. Her apartment was featured in Elle Décor magazine. She was a big-league designer of many things.
“When Carol walked down the street, people noticed her,” Siegel said. “She was bigger than life.”
Carol took this picture of the dogs on their first “date,” but sadly, there are no pictures of us with Harry and Minnie.
Looking through my phone, there are glimpses of Carol, as the dogs’ courtship heated up, and visits to my apartment became frequent.
We were like mothers playing matchmaker, and long after Harry and Minnie actually fell in love, we kept on playing, because Carol and I quickly became close friends.
She designed a special coat of arms for “Sir” Harry Fertig, and made one for Minnie, too … only fitting, because Minnie thought she was a glamorous movie star and maybe a princess.
One night Carol came to dinner fairly early on when she was still feeling pretty well, and she pulled out of her ever-present Mary Poppins huge carrier bag an ornate collar. It has belonged to her first bull terrier, Harry’s predecessor. Carol said, “Harry wanted Minnie to have it.”
I said, ‘Does that upset you to give away your treasures?” And she said, “No. It gives me pleasure.”
The gift of her friendship was the greatest of the treasures Carol gave away to, among others, the women from her apartment building who used their games of mahjong as an excuse to dress up – all of them eager for news from Carol about the dogs.
“We all watched that happen as if it were a soap opera,” said Lissa Hussian. “I mean we were glued to our screens. Any time she would get an email from you, she would be, like, giddy like a child.”
As Carol got sicker, Hussian and two other members of the group took on the thankless job of caring for her. I called them the Three Graces.
“Carol made these gold leaf wreaths that we all wore for toga night,” Hussian said. “Carol told us that night that she was dying, and that’s why we all held onto these wreaths, ’cause I think that is when you know that it’s not gonna be forever.”
It was over so soon.
I had Harry for 16 months, and then he was gone, too.
When I took Minnie to the farmers market in October, she hadn’t been up to going for a long time. Ever the actress, she rose to the occasion, as if she knew it would be her last great performance.
Less than three weeks later, she was dead.
I didn’t want my New York fairy tale about puppy love and unexpected friendship to end. So, I wrote about it.
And now, thanks to one more uncanny coincidence, I have “Girlie” … but that’s another story.
READ AN EXCERPT: “When Harry Met Minnie” by Martha Teichner
For more info:
- “When Harry Met Minnie” by Martha Teichner (Celadon Books), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio Formats, available February 2 via Amazon and Indiebound
- Join Martha Teichner on her virtual book tour for “When Harry Met Minnie,” with events moderated at the National Writers Series (February 4); Gramercy Books (Feb. 10); and the Charleston Library Society, in conversation with “Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca (Feb. 23). Details and ticket information can be found here.
Story produced by Jon Carras. Editor: George Pozderec.