This past Friday, I said good-bye to my little fighter of a guy, my 15 year old Bichon, Charlie the Bear.
As you can, see, he was adorable.
He actually saved my life. You may have heard this story before, but it deserves telling one more time.
I met Charlie at a pet store in the mall on January 19, 1998. I wasn't really looking for a dog. I've always loved Bichons. They are cute. They don't shed. They have curly hair. There was one in the glass staring at me.
I took him out. He was cute and adorable. He seemed happy to be out.
I was with my then-fiance. We were getting married the first weekend in May.
He asked me if I wanted the dog for my birthday which was the next day.
I said no, that was okay. Then I looked at the little guy. He asked me if I was sure. I said "If he throws himself against the glass and acts like there's no tomorrow, then let's get him."
The salesclerk put him back.
He threw himself repeatedly against the glass and acted like there was no tomorrow.
The woman next to us had overheard me and said "You have to get that dog."
So we did. Or so I thought my fiance bought him for me.
He wrote a check for the dog.
He then proceeded, the next day, to forge a check from my account to cover the check (we had just started consolidating things, so we still had separate accounts. He worked at a bank, so I was putting him in charge of our household expenses-- really bad idea). Without making this about him, he started kiting funds and forging my name on a regular basis.
So I called off the wedding. Six weeks before we got married, I found out what happened when I went to pay my taxes and there was no money in my account.
If we hadn't bought Charlie, I never would have found out that this guy had done this before to other people. Not out of malice, but out of habit. He also stretched the truth. A lot. What a nightmare of a life that would have been. Hence, Charlie saved my life.
Afterwards, I was a little sad. Very sad. I felt like a fool. I was financially in a tight spot. I was heartbroken.
My little white dog and my beagle who passed 2 1/2 years ago, made sure I got up every single day. I had to shake off my funk so I could care for them. On the days when I wanted to stay curled up in a ball and cry, I couldn't. There they were- especially Charlie- ready to play and needing me to take care of them. They lived on generic Cheerios when I couldn't afford dog food.
But we made it through.
Then I met my wonderful husband.
Our first date involved taking the dogs to the park. My husband was very intimidated by me, but when he saw me get out of the car with 2 spazzy dogs, get wrapped up in their leashes and swear like a trucker, he wasn't so overwhelmed or impressed by me any more.
When we were dating, Charlie used to pee in his shoes. He did not care for Shane. Shane did not care for him.
I thought it was hilarious. He would look at Shane, lift his leg and pee. As if to say "She's mine."
They eventually worked it out. I backed up the dog because, quite frankly, he was there first.
When we brought home our son from the hospital, Charlie was so excited. All through my pregnancy I had told him I was having a little boy and he would have someone to play fetch with.
We brought home the baby and set the carrier on the floor. Charlie walked over, dropped the ball in his carrier and sat there and waited for him to play. For three months, we would find Charlie patiently waiting near the baby and a ball in the swing, in the carrier, on the play mat-- I could not make this up. We have video. He finally gave up and was not happy about it.
If the baby cried, he would come and get us immediately. He would NOT let up even when the baby went back to sleep. He shamed us into checking every peep.
He was feisty. He was precocious. He was unlike any dog I'd ever had. Every other dog, was a dog. Charlie was a little man trapped in a fluffy dog's body. He would take on pit bulls at the dog park. He talked-- you could have a conversation with him. If he barked and you said "Do you want water?" and he really had to pee, he would give this "Dumb ass" look, make a funny noise until you guessed it correctly. When our other dog Dixie got out of the yard the first day we had her, Charlie met me at the door doing a dance and barking. I knew something was up immediately.
To quote my husband, he wasn't normal.
Whatever you gave Charlie it was never enough. Not enough belly rubs, petting, biscuits, time-- he always wanted more. He could be a real pain in the ass. I used to call him Velcro because he was constantly under foot-- just me. He could never spend enough time with me. We joked that I must have saved his life in a previous life and now he owed me. It was often times exhausting.
We got kicked out of the dog training class at Pet Smart. He made the hippie trainer cry, hand back the leash to me and say "There's something wrong with your dog."
I swear I heard him laugh. I did. It was funny.
Charlie was Charlie.
He used to pull a bait and switch on people when we would go for walks. People would come up to him and say "What a cute puppy!" He would wag his tail, suck them in and look adorable. Then, when they would bend down to pet him, he'd growl and scare the crap out of them. The best part-- he would walk away, cocky, wagging his tail. My mother-in-law thought I was making it up until she saw him in action "I think he's doing that on purpose... I can' t believe that..." Yep. That was 100% Charlie.
When he almost died 4 years ago (he had a partial paralysis from running into the sliding glass door-- long story), I talked to him and said it was okay for him to let go. Until he had his accident, everyone thought he was a puppy. He was full of life. I felt like he was being robbed, but he was so close to death, there was nothing anyone could do. The vet let us take him home for one last night.
Charlie decided he wasn't done yet. He pushed himself that night, stood up with all his might (he had barely been able to move) and started walking around. He wasn't going anywhere. He wasn't done.
They gave us 6 more months max.
Two years later (so much for 6 months), we again made the decision that it was time. He had been slowing down. He couldn't go up the stairs anymore. He was in pain. It seemed reasonable. Then I ran into a homeopathic vet at the dog park. She did acupuncture. It was the day before I was scheduled to take him. Talk about a close call. He was never back to 100%, but wow-- he got a lot of life back.
Two more years, in fact.
Then about 3 weeks ago, he started chewing on his front legs. Because his back legs had limited mobility, he put additional pressure on his front legs. The homeopathic vet had said at some point the joints in his front legs were going to go. We weren't sure if it was the food change or grass allergies. Well, I knew it wasn't but my husband- the one in whose shoes he had peed-- wanted to wait and see if he would rally.
I knew he wouldn't. He didn't.
Sadly, the last week, his bowels started to go and he could barely walk 2 feet. The traditional vet had said his liver would more than likely be the final straw. We think that's what was happening. Regardless, he could barely walk 2 feet. It wasn't fair. It was time. We had already scheduled to have him put down on Saturday morning. I was taking Friday off to spend time with him.
In a bizarre twist of fate, I ended up pulling my back out and could barely move. He was losing control of his bowels and I couldn't keep up with it. He was covered in poop, I couldn't hold him if I had wanted to because I couldn't bend over-- it was awful. I called the vet and asked if we could do it Friday. I could see no point in waiting until the next morning. He was in pain. I was in pain. It was not how it was supposed to end.
Or so I thought.
When we put Charlie in the car, he knew exactly what was going on. He was shaking and looked so scared. He had fought so hard the past 4 years to stay alive-- his mind was still there-- and now it would end.
Our vet has a separate room with a couch, where they give the shot. I held Charlie in my arms as she gave him the injection. Once his heart stopped, his body relaxed. The homeopathic vet had shown me how when there is pain, heat radiates from the area. As soon as he passed, the heat was gone. Completely. He felt like he had when he was healthy and would sit on my lap.
His tail then wagged. The vet started to explain that it was a muscle reflex-- I stopped her mid-sentence and said "I know what it was, but I'd really like to think that he was wagging his tail one last time to let me know he was okay." I'm sticking with that.
As awful as it was, being able to hold him and feel the pain pass made me feel better.
And to be next to my wonderful husband and seeing him cry at the passing of his archnemesis was comforting.
I learned so much from Charlie. I learned about fighting until the end. About aging ferociously- not necessarily gracefully- but giving it all that you've got until the very end. He always got back up and fought a little more.
He was in my life since I was 28 years old. A lot has happened since then. I built a family and a business. He was a huge part of it.
So if I seem a little off this week, that's why. It's not because I'm sad, although I'm crying as I type this. It was the right thing to do at the right time. I have no regrets whatsoever at my decision. The actual final experience was perfect.
It's simply because I miss him. That little 10 pound ball of fluff (as my husband called him), had a HUGE personality.
As much as I love our new dogs Dixie and Oliver, there will never be another Charlie.
Afterall, if there had been no Charlie, there would have been no Shane and no Skip and no Zoey. No Mama Bean's World.
As I whispered to him as he passed "Thank you, Charlie. Thank you for everything."