Saturday, July 12, 2014

So Long to a Loyal Friend

I hate writing these types of posts.   And yet I can't seem to move on until I do.   Because even though they're not human, even though they'd drink out of the toilet if you'd let them, our dogs are part of our family and when you lose a member of the family, no matter how uncivilized a member, it hurts a whole heck of a lot.

Charlie (named for Charlie Brown) joined the Beck clan nearly 15 years ago, our first foray into the world of dog ownership.  We had just two children then--a 5 year old and 3 year old.  Those kids are now 20 and nearly 18.

Do not let this picture fool you, that sweet-looking animal was a nightmare of a puppy.  As evidence, let me present just a small sampling of the things he chewed and destroyed: my checkbook, Adam's t-ball cap, a kitchen cabinet, vertical blinds, shoe after shoe after shoe, and perhaps the most ironic, our Labrador Retriever Training Manual.  I used to lay awake at night, thinking of ways I could get rid of this puppy who'd ruined my life.....take him for a walk and somehow the leash might detach and oops.....he's lost?  (I'd have to take off his ID tags first of course.) Maybe poison?  I could fake a dog allergy?  But the thing was, everyone adored him.  Yes, he was destructive, but he was also loving and loyal.  If I let him off the leash, I knew he'd follow me home.   For better or worse, he was staying.

And how thankful I am that I stuck it out through that first year of puppyhood.  He became one of the kindest, strongest dogs ever to walk the planet.  He was a tireless hiker and simply adored being outside with his family.

When he saw the truck getting loaded with gear, he hopped up and down like a rabbit and couldn't wait to hit the trails.

He loved everyone, but he had a special relationship with our kids.  His kids, he'd insist, if he were telling the story.

But really, any kids would do.  All of these scouts are now men.  Several are returned missionaries, some married, some (including Charlie's boy) are currently serving missions.   At least one of them is now bald.  The scouts loved having Charlie along and argued over who got to sleep with him in their tent.

When a new baby joined our family, he dutifully stayed by her side.  I never worried about Charlie hurting anyone.

He was endlessly patient and tender.  

Kids could sit on him, use him as a pillow,

 poke and prod him, and he just happily thumped his metronome tail.

He cured countless kids of dog-a-phobia.  Once, friends from dental school visited our home.  Their severely autistic son picked up a ball and threw it for Charlie.  Charlie, a devotee of fetch, gleefully ran to get it and gently placed it back at the boy's feet.  The boy's face lit up and he threw that ball over and over and over again.  When they were done, the boy sat down and Charlie curled up next to him and laid his head on his lap.  Our friends asked, "How much can we pay you for that dog?"

Charlie appreciated table scraps, but unlike another dog we know well, he was no food thief.    He was a very smart, obedient dog.  Once, during his puppyhood, we were backing out of our driveway and saw his face in an upstairs window.  We knew that to see out the window, he had to be standing on a bed.  Lyle went inside and scolded him and he never, ever set paw on furniture again.  UNTIL, the night when our son was struggling with bad dreams and we patted the foot of the bed and told Charlie to jump up.  He did and somehow he knew that was now his spot.  He slept there every night for years, until our son grew too tall to accommodate bedmates.

When I say Charlie was tender and loving, I should mention one notable exception.  It happened when Charlie was a young dog, maybe 2 years old, and we were doing some yard work.  A friend of ours, a local orthodontist, was helping out front and Lyle sent him in unaccompanied to get a drink of water.   Charlie's reaction was unlike anything I'd ever seen.   Every hair stood up on his back and he flattened himself to the ground in a menacing stance, baring his teeth and growling.  The kind-hearted orthodontist spoke soothingly to our friendly-lab-turned-attack-dog and tried walk around him, but Charlie would not, under any circumstances, let this stranger get past him to where the rest of the family was gathered in the kitchen.  Lyle, hearing the commotion, came inside and literally tackled Charlie to keep him from ripping our friend limb from limb.  As much as that was a scary moment, I was so proud of Charlie.  Here was a stranger, walking into his house unaccompanied, trying to get to his family?  No way.  From then on, I knew if the chips were ever down, Charlie would protect us with his life.

When we moved to our house on acreage, it was heaven on earth for Charlie.  Five unfenced acres and friendly, dog-loving neighbors.  He had his little routes that he'd take on daily walks.   Lyle trained for numerous marathons, heading down our dusty dirt road with Charlie by his side.  Charlie was actually one of the primary reasons he started running marathons in the first place--just trying to burn off some of his excess canine energy!  Lyle always said that Charlie ran at least twice as far as he did, because he'd run up ahead, then circle back to check on Lyle, and then sprint up ahead again, and then go back to check on Lyle......  Charlie literally ran hundreds of miles with Lyle.  Whenever he saw Lyle tying up his running shoes, he excitedly bunny-hopped to the door.

Charlie also had a hero moment.  He was young, maybe 3 or 4, and we were hiking on Green Mountain.  We'd stopped to eat lunch and the kids were exploring nearby.  As we gathered our things to continue the hike, we couldn't find our son.  We yelled his name, Lyle ran down trails, but there was no trace of him.  Numerous trails ran in different directions and we envisioned search and rescue teams and possibly a blurb on the evening news.  We realized that Charlie was with him and that gave us some degree of comfort.   We knew he wouldn't leave him.  I can't remember how much time went by, probably not as long as it seemed, but finally we saw Charlie, in the distance, running toward us alone.  He was barking and he ran in a circle around us and then headed back the way he'd come.  Of course, we followed him and eventually found Adam, a good distance away from us.  There was a woman there with him and she said that when she realized that this boy's parents were nowhere nearby, she hit Charlie on the rump and said, "Go find your family!"  And he did.

Charlie adored the beach and was the consummate water dog.  Once, when he was a puppy, I had him on a retractable leash, and when he saw the water, he started to run.  I couldn't get the leash to unlock and he dragged me behind him like a water skier, right into Puget Sound.

Charlie was one of the strongest dogs I've ever known.    The vet commented on it all the time.  He was so stoic, so tough.   In these pictures at the beach, he was already 10 years old, but had the strength and energy level of a dog in his prime.

By this point in his life, he'd had ACL surgery, numerous bumps and bruises, been kicked in the head by a horse, but none of it appreciably slowed him down.

He was so dedicated to finding the sticks we threw in the water, we sometimes worried he'd drown rather than face the shame of returning stick-less.

He pulled our kids in a cart, 

a cart that we'd bought for our giant breed dog, our Berner, Olaf.  

But Olaf, sweet as he was, didn't really like to exert himself.  Charlie on the other hand, loved having a job to do.

But all dogs, even the strongest of the bunch, eventually do get old.  And this is where the story gets hard.

At about age 11,  he started to slow down.  He tried to go on runs, but it was getting too much for him. He whimpered when Lyle put on his running shoes and refused to let him go.  He still went for walks, but he was slower, less steady on his feet.

His muzzle turned gray and he spent more time sleeping in the sun.  At age 12, he one day seemed to completely lose his sense of balance.  We took him to the vet who diagnosed "Old Dog Vestibular Disease", which he said would mostly go away.  Charlie's balance would never be what it used to be, but he could function.  What was more worrisome was that they found a large growth in his spleen.  The vet said that it shouldn't be hurting him, so we could take him home, but that he could die at any time.  We might get as long as 6 more months.  That was 29 months ago.

He grew more gray, more withered.  When our son said goodbye to him as he left on his 2 year-mission,  we all knew he wouldn't be seeing him again.  I'd kept myself composed the whole day, but behind the lens of my camera, I teared up taking this picture.

In the past 7 months since Adam's been gone, there have been many moments when we thought we were at the end......when Charlie inexplicably began eating rocks one day, when he could no longer manage the stairs, when he continually barked all night for no apparent reason......but each time, he seemed to rally and get over whatever was ailing him.  But try as we did, we couldn't keep weight on him.  He had a good appetite and he ate as much as our overweight dog, Franklin, but you could still see every one of his ribs.  Even when we thought he had no more weight to lose, somehow he'd get thinner.  He was a walking skeleton.  We knew that sooner rather than later we'd have to decide when the time had come.

On Friday morning Charlie cut his leg.  It was bleeding badly, but he was walking on it and it could have been stitched and repaired.  Somehow though, that didn't seem right.   This was the answer we'd been looking for and the time had come.  The children hugged him and said goodbye, and at the vet's office, he silently and peacefully passed away.  We took him home, Lyle built a sturdy box, and we all decorated it with Sharpie markers.  

I love little Cholita's comment, at the bottom:

"I liked you better than Franklin."   She's nothing if not honest.

 On one end of the box, she drew a picture and wrote, "You lived a long life."  He certainly did.  On the other side she wrote, "You will always be in my heart."

Ditto for the rest of us.  We loved you Charlie dog.  You were a true gem. 


Carrie K. said...

Aww. What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful companion. I am tearful reading about Charlie and I know how much you must be missing him. Hugs to all of you!

~ Carrie

Jen Bay said...

That was so wonderful. What a lovely tribute to a sweet friend.

Kelly said...

Read this with my girls this morning. Tears! You are my favorite writer Eileen..

Hope your heart is healing.

Katie said...

I'm normally a silent reader but I wanted to comment and say that I'm so sorry for your family's loss! Your memories of Charlie are so beautiful and touching and made me cry. I'm sending lots of good thoughts your way as you and your family work on healing.

LisaP said...

Your family's love for Charlie came through with every word you wrote. Thank you for letting us know and love him a little, too.