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Archive for the ‘Dogs’ Category

When Do You Let Go?

Although there have been several pets in my life, Charlie is the first that has ever been 100% mine.

During college I worked as an assistant at a veterinarians office. I transferred schools late and was too far beyond the partying stage to be interested in going out to bars or socializing with the other students. I was just at a different point in my life. Engaged to be married and doing my best to hurry up and graduate, with a fiancée in the military I spent a lot of time alone. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being alone, it’s never been a problem for me to entertain myself, but it always felt like there was something missing at home – not to mention that going home to an empty apartment after dark allowed my imagination to run away with me on more than one occasion.

The vet clinic where I worked had had Charlie, and his wandering buddy, for over a year. The two dogs had separately been injured and brought into the clinic to be fixed up, but were never claimed. Perhaps joined by common experiences, they became best buddies, and although we took them out as much as we could they spent a LOT of time stuck in a run in the back of the building. Charlie’s buddy was ancient, and after he passed away, Charlie became obviously depressed. The girls at work did their best to keep  him happy. We always brought him special treats and spent time with him on breaks. One of the techs took him home every weekend so that he could spend time with a family, but the situation was getting sticky because her own dog hated having competition around and was making his displeasure apparent by acting out at every possible opportunity.

I knew better than to agree to taking him home with me the next weekend, but my apartment was pet friendly and no one else would do it. I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving him alone. From the minute that he hopped into the front seat of my car and laid his head on the console I knew that he belonged with me. Instead of driving to my apartment I went straight to PetSmart and stocked up on supplies, not the least of which was a shiny new dog tag with his name and my phone number neatly printed on the front.

Never once since then have I regretted my decision.

Charlie came to me house broken and loving, the most perfectly behaved dog that anyone could ask for. I wish that I could take credit for teaching him a few tricks or instilling in him the manners of a good canine citizen, but he simply came that way. The vet placed him somewhere between 10-12 years old, and in spite of an old .22 bullet in his shoulder, and a broken hind leg that had healed without medical attention making him a half-inch shorter on one side than the other, in perfect health.

My handsome dog loves people. All people. His favorite activity is chasing squirrels that he never catches, and just basking in the sunshine. He’s never once had an accident in the house, and walks on the leash like a perfect gentleman with his little nub tail wagging a million miles an hour the whole time. He only barks for treats, and sits at the door every time I leave just waiting for me to come home. He manages to ensnare the heart of every person that walks by him, offering a sedate lick on the hand before rolling over to suggest a belly scratch. His version of fetch involves watching you go get the ball over and over again, and when it thunders he snuggles as close as he can to my feet because he knows that I will keep him safe.

I missed out on the puppy years with my favorite guy, but he single-handedly raised two puppies for me, having them house broken in less than two weeks and teaching them all of the manners that he already came with. While I worked at the vet clinic he sat at the front desk and greeted everyone that came through, often baby sitting orphaned kittens and other wild life. He saw me through my first marriage, moving to unfamiliar places hundreds of miles from home (he’s not a fan of snow), and was there through my divorce. He kept me company in the barn for late night feedings and followed at my heels on many trail rides. Into my second marriage he’s been as steadfast as ever. The other dogs may greet everyone with equal enthusiasm, especially when its someone else doing the regular feeding and trips outside, but never Charlie. Charlie has been my dog from the beginning and I am the one he comes to first, bouncing in place because he’s happy to see me and wiggling like a pup against my legs until I give him a proper scratch.

From the beginning I asked him to stay with me through my first child, having no idea when that might be. Over two years ago he was diagnosed with cancer, but numerous scans and tests couldn’t pin point the location. Without a location there’s no treatment. Life went on as usual. Regular testing showed that the cancer was still present but hadn’t gotten worse. We still couldn’t find it. He never missed a step.

My son was born six months ago, and just before his birth we found a lump under Charlie’s jaw. His lymph nodes were swollen. We had the blood tests run again, still cancer. The vet found a large tumor in his stomach and several more throughout his body. She tried to convince me that chemo was an option.

Working at a vets office, I saw chemo treatments first hand. They were painful and messy, and long-suffering pets often took them in stride, walking out the door with just six extra months on the tab. Some of them recovered fully, the young healthy ones; some, but not all, not even most.

My dog is, best case scenario, 16 years old. His eyes are cloudy and in spite of arthritis supplements and premium food, there are some mornings that he has trouble getting up. He is still the first to meet me at the door, but he doesn’t bounce in place, and his tail wags at half speed. His walks outside are slower and shorter, his limp more pronounced. Squirrels are given a pass these days, he would rather watch them from the window or the porch. He spends most of his time sleeping, but still downs his meals with gusto and finds his way to the water bowl. The weather affects him more than it ever has.

I asked him to see me through having my first child, and unfailingly, Charlie has done that. I have always known that he would not be with me forever, but the when has always been an ephemeral concept. It hurts to think of starting my morning without him, but more and more I am faced with the inevitable choice. When do I let go? When do I say it’s okay for him to sleep? I don’t want him to suffer, I don’t want him to be in pain, but the selfish part of me wants to take advantage of every single day that is left between now and the point that the decision has to be made.

At work, we always said that when an animal stopped eating and drinking, stopped doing the things they loved, then you would know that it was time. To me, that’s waiting a little too long. Charlie loves to sleep. He loves to eat. He loves to have his belly scratched. I don’t want his last days to be filled with hunger and hurting. I want to stuff him full of all of the yummy things he doesn’t get on a regular basis – steak, chicken, doggy sundaes at Bruster’s. I want to sit on the porch and watch the sun go down while he’s cuddled up next to me getting his belly scratched.

I want him to be happy and at peace. I know that he’ll be waiting for me, watching for me to come up the driveway, when it’s time for us to meet again.

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