There are many clichés when it comes to dog ownership: they are your best friends, they never judge you, and they will always forgive you.
With Charlie, all of those “clichés” were the absolute truth.
Charlie was an 11-year-old black-and-white Springer Spaniel owned by my parents. While he was always kind to us, time was not so kind to him, leaving him arthritic, incontinent, deaf and nearly blind by the time the hard decisions had to be made. We said goodbye to Charlie last Friday, and in doing so, closed a chapter of our own lives as well.
The whole family fell for Charlie pretty quickly after he came home for good in early 1999. All dogs are special in their own way, but Charlie was a real character. I’ve never met a dog that talked so much. He’d grumble and whiney when you petted him, and still acted like a lap dog even after he’d reached 70 pounds. After experiencing several birthdays, he would go crazy when he heard the song “Happy Birthday,” as he’d figured out this was a harbinger for a helping of delicious cake.
Chuck loved the garden my father worked on every spring and summer. I have fond memories of him squashing flowerbeds as he sat to lean in and smell a tulip on a nice day. It seemed to sum up his gentle nature.
Charlie had a front-row seat to the joys and sorrows of our lives. He was a comfort to me when came home from college in disgrace. He spent nearly every moment of my parent’s respective bouts with cancer by their sides. He was a constant presence in our lives, and we were always thankful for him.
As he grew older, Charlie began to show the ravages of age. He grew arthritic, and would often vocally complain about this in his own way. His vision grew poor, his hearing failed, and other health problems began to mount. We were faced with a decision no one wanted to make, and last week, the die was cast.
I stopped by Friday afternoon to see him one last time. As was his usual wont, he was relaxing in his kennel, oblivious to his upcoming rendezvous with eternity. I took him outside to get some photos, and it was obvious that, in another dog cliché, the mind was willing but the body unable to do what dog and master had once taken for granted.
I could see the pain he was in as we darted back and forth in play, and after 30 seconds or so, his whining increased to a yelp, as if to say, “Sorry, I can’t do this anymore.”
I left that day without saying anything to him, because what can you say to a creature that doesn’t understand its impending fate? I patted him on the head and turned to walk out the door, confident that I would be OK with the absence I knew was coming.
My plans went awry when my dad called me from the vet’s that afternoon. Someone had locked the keys in their car, and they needed a spare to get home. I was ushered into a peaceful room at the vet’s office, where Charlie lay on a blanket covering the floor. He died right when I walked through the doorway.
There was something unbelievably sad in seeing my friend like that. Charlie looked peaceful. I picked up his paw, and found to my surprise that the limb moved freely, having been liberated from the arthritis that constricted it. I tried shutting his eyes, and they wouldn’t stay closed. It was if he were sleeping on the kitchen rug as he’d done so many times before – only this time, there would be no waking up.
We’d done the right thing – but it was a hard decision to take. There were many tears that night. I cried not only for my friend, but also for the chapter in our lives that had closed with him. It’s hard not to notice the passage of time and the advancing years coming upon us with the speed of a freight train. Losing such a constant presence only reinforces just how little control we have over time’s giving and taking of such gifts.
That night, my parents heard a noise in the back hall and found Charlie’s kennel open kennel door had somehow shut by itself. I’d like to think this means our friend and faithful companion is not lost to us, but will always be there, at least in spirit – a gentle presence that never missed a chance to stop and smell the tulips.