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Deep breath. Ok… I can write this.
There’s just no easy way to start this post.
Earlier this month, we suddenly and unexpectedly had to say goodbye to Charlie. My darling, happy, sweet, lovable, endless bounding energy ball wrapped in a tongue-wagging grin and brown wiry fur is no longer sleeping at the foot of my bed. She was just shy of 10 years old.
As you might expect, K and I are both grieving her loss in waves. There are moments where life is relatively normal, and moments where I see reminders of her everywhere and feel overwhelmed with loss. Fair warning: I needed a cathartic photo dump. I understand if this post takes a second to load; please be patient (I’m working behind the scenes to get photos to load faster but it’s a process that is taking a little time to finish up).
Fur in the hallway corners (she shed like no other dog I’ve ever known). Scratches from where she ran up the stairs. Dents in the couch where she (despite our objections) smushed the cushion out of shape because she didn’t seem to ever understand she wasn’t as small as Stella. Nose prints on the window.
The Day I Brought Charlie Home
Some of you guys may actually remember Charlie’s first post when I adopted her as a puppy. She was about 10 weeks old (they estimated) and given the name “Koala” at the humane society where I found her. She was scrawny, awkward, and had an infection from the other puppies. Her vet visits were covered by my adoption fees, and I couldn’t wait to bring her home.
I was lonely after an ex-boyfriend and his dog moved out and didn’t want to come home to an empty house anymore. I suppose it was a subconscious thing from one of my favorite movies as a kid (All Dogs Go to Heaven), but I’d always wanted a dog named Charlie. When she crawled into my lap after filling out her paperwork, I called her “Charlie”… she looked into my eyes as if to ask “what?” And just like that, she was never Koala again.
That first night, she slept in bed with me and peed defiantly on my carpet the next morning (I soon learned to schedule around her little bladder).
She started my family.
Life with Charlie Bug
“Bug” was her middle name; it just seemed to fit. I’d had family dogs before her, but she was the first one that was truly mine and belonged to no one else. I was her mom. Even now with a mini human added to our crew, I think of her as the first to turn just me into more.
For a long time, it was just the two of us. She was with me when I started and finished grad school. She was with me as I dated weirdos. I brought her with me whenever I could, took her to the dog park so she could run while I studied, and she was always the reason I had to get home. When her floppy ears began to stand up, one fell over the top of her head like a combover. She could truly awkward like no other.
She jumped to greet people like little dogs do — only she was 50 pounds of pure happiness. Bigger than she ever seemed to understand. I could never get her to stop her intense greetings with the people she loved; as soon as we’d make progress, she would get overly excited to see someone and we’d backtrack again. She could jump so high that she could touch the top of a door frame with ease. She would also try to squeeze into the weirdest places and then look at me like I somehow shrunk it when she wasn’t looking.
If she sat on your feet, she was choosing you, and you were now hers.
Her sploot and thick wagging tail would make her signature thwap thwap thwap sound on the walls/furniture, and her paws would make little clacking sounds on the hard floors as she wandered around the house.
She hated fireworks, baths, and going to the vet, so I eventually learned to keep an anti-anxiety prescription around. She was the first dog I ever had that could catch food mid-air if you tossed her a scrap (we learned that together one grad school night while I was eating crackers). One of her favorite special treats was half of a fortune cookie.
Our Family Expanded
K and Stella joined an existing family of her and me. And Charlie loved them both. It took a little time for Stella and Charlie to warm to each other after living for 5 years alone, but they learned to depend on each other. Stella was the brains; Charlie was the muscle. Where Stella wanted to be a true hunter in the backyard, Charlie preferred to eviscerate stuffed animals instead of the real ones. And chew on paint sticks.
My dad had a special scratch on Charlie’s butt that made her shed, even after a full brushing and bath. But once K joined the family, it was clear: K was her dad, and they shared a special bond. He, in turn, adored her. She was no longer just my dog, but ours. He loved her, defended her, snuggled her, carried her.
Her quirkiness only became more obvious with another dog to compare to. She had a peculiar patience with Stella when they played since their sizes always seemed to be at such extremes (Stella could only jump about halfway up Charlie’s body, so she would often start swatting at Charlie to play when she was on the bed and Charlie was standing next to it so that they could be eye to eye). Charlie would basically let Stella attack her massive head while she stood, mouth opening and closing, until Stella got tired of play.
Charlie also never understood to roll over to her back to get belly rubs. She would stand over us as we sat on the couch or bed to bring her middle over our hands until we reached up for a scratch.
As she got older, I watched as one of her eyelashes turn white and then grew flecks of gray in her muzzle. But she never lost her puppy energy.
When I was single, she loved to run at the park, but never play fetch. After we became a family of 4, we would take her up to K’s parents’ property where she could run through fields and the woods to her heart’s content.
She seemed to have two basic speeds: #dogblur and Lazy Sunday.
When she was ready for bed, she would walk halfway up the stairs and stare at us to get off the couch and come to bed. And once there, she would stay in bed as long as we wanted to sleep in.
In later years, she became very dramatic about getting bumped (perhaps because there were now 4 of us sharing). If she got so much as the tiniest foot nudge, she’d grumble, jump off the bed, and climb back on in a huff. When I was pregnant, she would steal my spot whenever I got up to the bathroom; she seemed to love my special pregnancy pillow and we all knew it would belong to her after the baby was born.
I feel particularly sad about Ellis and Charlie, as I of course expected to be writing a different pupdate post to recap their first encounter and how she and Stella adjusted to having a new family member.
When I found out K and I were having a baby, I daydreamed about how Charlie might adapt to yet another family expansion. I pictured her as the protective type, stretching out on the floor in Ellis’s nursery during his naps and checking on him when he cried. I pictured her learning to love mealtimes in his high chair as he dropped food and the way he might giggle at the gentle way she would take treats.
We brought Ellis home from the NICU at night, and the pups met him as we walked in the door. Charlie stared for the longest time at the little sleeping thing in the carrier, sniffing and occasionally glancing at us for a reaction. She seemed to understand that this bald puppy was somehow part of the pack now.
Over the last few months, she had a lot of patience with me. I’ve been tired and distracted with all things baby, but she never stopped wanting to be by my side, even when Ellis cried and she could’ve slept in the other room for more peace. I felt a lot of new mom guilt for not being able to shower her with as much affection, but K put in extra effort to make sure she felt loved and would remind me to love on her when Ellis was asleep (something I am very grateful he did now).
One night as I was doing the usual routine with the baby, K called my attention from downstairs that Charlie seemed to have hurt herself in the yard. One minute she was running around like her usual self, and the next, she seemed to be favoring one of her back legs. She had hurt her paws before by splitting a toenail, so that was the very first thing that popped in my head. No biggie, I thought, we’ll mend it like before and take her to the vet in the morning.
But K insisted it seemed more serious. It seemed to be her leg, and she was walking really stiffly with it. We felt all along her back, her legs, and couldn’t find an obvious injury, so we called up the emergency vet. They too thought it sounded like she may have sprained something, so we mentioned some pain meds we had and gave that to her, and they said to call them if things seemed to worsen. Charlie seemed to feel a little better after the pain meds kicked in, but each time she got up, she seemed to hit a wall and laid back down again. We called the vet again and they told us to bring her in.
We arranged for my parents to look after the baby and brought Charlie to the vet. K laid her on the floor with the seats folded up so she wouldn’t be shifted during the drive. I reached back to hold her paw and tell her it would be ok. We weren’t allowed in for safety reasons, so we waited in the car as they checked her over.
We figured we could be waiting for hours (also based on how many other cars were in the parking lot), so we went to the gas station to grab some coffee and prepare for a long night of sitting in a cold truck. We got a call sometime later with less than optimistic news: they heard some fluid around her heart, which could indicate a tumor. They would need to drain it to relieve the pain she was experiencing, and could then also do lab work on the fluid to help determine a possible cause. Once they drained it, though, she could be back to her old self until it built up again (which could be as little as just a few hours or a number of weeks). It wasn’t a great prognosis, but it was something that would allow us to bring her home and possibly say goodbye. We agreed to the procedure and waited for the next call to tell us what kind of fluid they found to then run tests. The entire time, I faced blank denial. I told myself she was too young, that we at least had a little more time, etc. All the dogs I’d ever had died as old, slow dogs… never one that still had so much puppy in her.
Unfortunately, one of the staff came back to the car not long after they started the procedure to flag us to come into the building. I knew then that this was the end, but didn’t know how to prepare myself (they mentioned as we discussed the procedure earlier that cardiac arrest was a risk). We put on our masks and were escorted back, and I saw them working to revive her. I fell apart. So did Kyle. They were able to get her heart beating but told us that it was best to let her go. It wasn’t likely she would survive the rest of the procedure and became a question of quality of life. We chose to stop her pain, told her she was a very good girl, and I simply sobbed. She died early on a Saturday morning. They gave us time with her and we left after making arrangements.
Her absence was so swift and shocking that we are still in disbelief. Grief truly comes in waves. It took me weeks to finally write this post (which I wrote for me more than anything — I wanted to write down all the little things to read someday). At times, I feel overwhelmingly guilty. She was my sidekick throughout it all, but there were days of not giving her the attention she deserved, especially recently. I know she had a full life and tons of love, and my being home with her because of my job was a true blessing. But it makes the hole she leaves behind all the more noticeable. There will never be another dog quite like her. I wish Ellis could have had the faintest memory of her.
Her ashes are now back home with us, waiting for us each night and letting us sleep in as late as we want once again. It’s definitely not the same without her joy and without her pestering to get extra scratches, but it’s something. I still want to write another pupdate of the pictures we took since the last post, but it will be bittersweet for sure.
We love you so much, my sweet Charlie Girl. Chaaales, Chuck, Goofball, Goof, Sweet Girl, Sweetie, Sir Charlies Miner, Brown Butt, Fuzz-Butt, Bug.