When he first got sick, I thought he would, of course, be fine. How could the world’s best dog not be able to beat a little liver infection? Nearly a month later, we learned it was not just a little liver infection, but more likely liver cancer. We were at the end of the road, six years earlier than I expected. The collie I had growing up, Duke, lived to be 16 years old. I thought Charlie would live at least that long, despite being much larger in size. After two trips to the vet in less than 24 hours, I found myself cradling my best friend in my arms, crying into his fluffy mane, and trying to summon the courage to do the impossibly: say goodbye.
My journey with Charlie began when he was just 7 weeks old. I was 15, and my family drove from Indiana to Kentucky to see someone with collie puppies. He chose our family, coming up to both my mom and me separately. He put his paws on her knees and sniffed her face. He climbed up into my lap and gave me the first of many hugs, putting his giant fluffy paws on my shoulders. We became inseparable. He had a rough trip home, with car sickness plaguing his tiny tummy. The breeder had given us a plastic bag and some paper towels in the event that happened. By the end of the road trip, he was putting his own head in the bag every time he got sick.
Unfortunately for us, his tiny tummy was capable of producing some big gas. We spent part of the trip with the windows rolled down and the heat blasting, trying to keep warm from the mid-30’s temperatures. We joked we should name him Stinky, or Trouble. Eventually I proposed Charlie, the main character from All Dogs Go to Heaven. It was a perfect fit. On the way to get him, we’d stopped at Kroger to get food and water bowls, a collar, a leash, and a toy, all the while listening to my parents reiterate that we might not get a dog that day. The toy we got was a little rubber hamburger that squeaked. It would be his most beloved toy for his whole life, despite the fact that it went missing right before we moved to Alaska in 2011.
|Charlie at 7 weeks old.|
Of course, we had our issues. The first night he was home, I was convinced I’d done the wrong thing. He cried for his brothers and sisters, whimpering and looking at me with the saddest of eyes. How could I take him away from his family? In an effort to distract him, I put The Lion King on my T.V. He spent every night thereafter for a few weeks falling asleep to The Lion King. For the remainder of his life, he would walk like a lion. I’ve always called him my lion because of his slinky, lion-like walk. He also slept and sat like a lion. I never had the heart to tell him he wasn’t one.
|Charlie frolicking in the Gulf of Mexico.|
Tug of war is his all-time favorite game, especially if he’s playing it with his slippery, slobbery hamburger. You always knew if he liked you, because he would bring you a toy. My husband even tricked me, and Charlie a little, but getting a toy and getting Charlie to play with him. When I saw Charlie bring him a toy for the first time, I was amazed; he rarely liked someone enough to do that right away. It wasn’t until years later that J admitted he’d roped Charlie into it.
|Cuddling with his favorite toy, the hamburger.|
Charlie has always been my protector, whether it was from the creepy guy that lived downstairs at our first apartment or the guy who wanted to date me that ended up being a jerk. Charlie spent the entire time sitting directly in front of the jerk, staring at him, completely undeterred. His size, 70 pounds plus fluff, made him intimidating to anyone who would think to do us harm. Despite years of being called Lassie, he never once attacked someone for it.
However, our number one house rule has always been ‘No Running’, because collies are herding dogs and Charlie was ingrained to herd anyone who ran. My sister got at least half a dozen new pairs of super expensive jeans because she’d run, and squeal, and Charlie would grab ahold of her pant leg, oftentimes putting a tiny hole in it.
In fact, Charlie didn’t like anyone moving faster than him. He’d bark at snow machiners, bikers, ATV riders, walkers, and anyone who came within eyesight of our house. Last summer, I had to rescue him from a moose. Two moose walked alongside our fence, and Charlie charged at them, barking his head off. The moose reared up, and could have easily stepped over our 4-foot high cattle fence and squished Charlie and the girls (our other two dogs), but I ran out, 4 months pregnant and screaming my head off in a panic. I sobbed in relief when I had all 3 dogs back inside safely.
|Loving the Alaska winters.|
Charlie fully encompasses the phrase empathetic spirit. If I happened to be even slightly upset, he would come and give me a hug. He’d place his big white paws on my shoulders and push himself up against me, to the point where I would often end up on the floor because he’d accidentally knocked me over. Or he would come lay his paw on your knee and look at you with his big brown eyes. His facial expressions convey more emotion than any other animal I’ve met. We had this amazing connection that allowed us to always be in tune with one another.
|Charlie with one of my dear friends.
She was sick, and had just sneezed or coughed.
He came to check on her.
When we discovered I was pregnant, one thing I was super excited about was seeing how Charlie would behave with my kids. I knew it would be hard to keep him from herding them when they ran, but I was so excited for them to have memories with him. That is one dream I had trouble letting go of. Because my son is only 3 months old, he will not remember the way we would hold him up so he could ride on Charlie’s back. He will not remember how every time Charlie came in from outside, he would find little man and lick the top of his head. We can tell him these stories, but he won’t be able to recall the feel of Charlie’s fur as he grasped it in his tiny fist, or the way his wet nose felt when he sniffed him (Charlie often alerted us that little man needed a diaper change). He would lay alongside the bouncer and watch over the baby. The first time I put the baby in his crib, Charlie tried to shove his nose between the slats to reach him.
|Watching over my son, his little friend.|
As always, he photo-bombed so many pictures:
|Photo bombing a Prom photo|
Much like peanut butter and jelly, we just clicked. He always ate my bread crust so I didn’t feel wasteful. He loved to lay in the snow. Peanut butter and cheese singles were his favorite people foods, and dentastix his favorite doggy treats. We’d play hide and seek; all I (or anyone) would have to say is, “Where’s your mommy?” He would run and find me, no matter where I was. He hated walking on slippery surfaces, like wood floors and tile. He would bounce from rug to rug, as though the floor were lava. Every Christmas, he’d wear a pair of antlers he hated, but would later walk around for hours with a bow on his head. He even helped around the house: I’d drape laundry over his back, and he would carry it into the living room for me. He loved to be dried off, and would even rub himself against walls and furniture to achieve the same feeling if he thought I hadn’t thoroughly dried him off.
|Love on Halloween, 2007.|
|Christmas: a time to humiliate your pets.|
The longest we were ever apart was two weeks, when I had to go to the Lower 48 because my dad died. Charlie became physically ill in my absence, though nothing was medically wrong with him. He was simply that upset to be apart from me, and that when I left I had been so upset.
When Charlie lay dying in my arms, I wasn’t just struggling to let him go. He had been my faithful companion for a decade; we’d been through the rough teenage years, the fun college years, the fun and sometimes rough early marriage years, and finally, the first few months of new parenthood. He’d accepted each new phase of life with gusto, championing any challenge and smiling all the while. We are intertwined, him and I, so that I now feel as though part of me is missing. As always, animation comes through to help express my emotions:
He is my dog, and I am his girl. And that doesn’t change, whether he’s on earth or in heaven.
|On my birthday in 2012|