Thursday, January 24, 2008

For Charlie

Have you seen this Pedigree commercial? Chokes me up every time.

Almost four years ago, Ben and I walked into the Topeka animal shelter and walked out with a little black mutt we called Charlie. And he was a good dog.

Charlie wasn’t sure about us at first. And I wasn’t too sure about him after he peed all over my house. When he lifted his leg on my new couch, that was it. I shut him in the spare bedroom when I went to work. When Ben got home that night, Charlie had nearly destroyed the bedroom door. Luckily our landlord never noticed. And luckily, Charlie got over the peeing thing.

Charlie never barked before we had Maggie. He made a groaning “arrrr” sound and a low “uh, uh, uh” when he wanted something. Later he would bark anytime Maggie did, even if he had no idea why she was barking.

We noticed right away that he was afraid of everything. Any moving object would take him by surprise and scare the crap out of him. He thought everything was going to hit him. He was also quite bad at predicting people’s movements. If he was in your direct path, he would walk backwards in fright until he hit the wall rather than step aside.

He loved our house in Lawrence. He loved sleeping on the couch when we weren’t looking. He loved roaming the jungle that was our back yard. He loved taking walks around the neighborhood. He loved Lucy, the chocolate Lab who lived next door.

Charlie’s favorite spot in our old house was on the toilet rug in the tiny bathroom. If we ever didn’t know where he was, he was usually on the toilet rug. It was the only time he wasn’t relentlessly following us around.

Just a few days after we got him, I took Charlie to the dog park with Kim and her dogs. We walked around the park, and Charlie mainly stayed on the path with Kim and me, while Mabel and Rupert went gallivanting off in the wilderness. Then, just as we were about to get back in the car, Charlie took off running down the road. I ran after him, shouting his name, which he didn’t know yet. (This was also before we knew he was almost deaf.) He kept on running. Eventually, some very considerate people driving by stopped their car and caught him. We didn’t let him off his leash again until three years later. He stayed right with us. It was Maggie we wound up chasing for 20 minutes.

Charlie didn’t much like the move to Newton. He expressed his feelings by peeing all over the new house, too. He moped, he was agitated. It took him a while to adjust. He did enjoy, however, the almost daily trips to Grandma’s house, which involved not only a car ride but also treats and a huge back yard -- sometimes with dead, stinky things in it. And also Valerie, who adored him. She showed this by hugging and squeezing and petting and patting and dragging him all over the place. He was afraid of her but was endlessly patient and good.

After a few months, we started thinking about getting another dog. Maybe Charlie would feel better, we thought, if he had a little friend around when we weren’t there. Maybe he wouldn’t follow us around so desperately.

So we went out and found Maggie, another little black mutt. And then I felt horribly guilty.

Maggie was a menace. She bossed Charlie around from the first moment. She had to be the first down the stairs, the first to get a treat, the first through every doorway. One day right at first, Ben was petting Charlie and she leaped in and bit Charlie. Charlie walked around the house looking dejected, as if we had ruined his life. It was heartbreaking. Poor Charlie.

And then things settled down. They got used to each other. They still fought for petting, but there was no biting, just jockeying for position. Maggie got Charlie to start playing with her, something Ben and I had never been able to accomplish. And Charlie did stop following us around so pathetically. And he did seem less lonely when we were gone.

They even came to love each other, I think. They ate out of the same bowl, sometimes at the same time. They often slept side by side on their blanket. Charlie, who would leap in the air if one of us stepped on his tail, didn’t bat an eye when Maggie did it.

In September of last year, we took the dogs in for their annual exams. Charlie, who had always weighed between 19 and 20 pounds, was now 15.7 pounds. He also had a tumor in his ear canal.

The next time we brought Charlie in, to get his teeth cleaned and a biopsy, he was 15.1 pounds. The tumor was benign, but then a series of digestive problems began that had me in and out of the vet’s office every few weeks. And Charlie didn’t want to eat. He was less and less interested in food, even his favorites. We fed him several times a day, pleading with him to eat just a few bites. The dog who used to snatch food from our fingers with such gusto now just sniffed indifferently. It was so strange. Charlie seemed otherwise healthy. All his tests came back clear.

Charlie always loved food. And he could be quite sneaky about it. One day I was sitting on the floor eating a bowl of soup and some bread. Charlie waited until I had my bowl in one hand and my drink in the other, then sneaked up and grabbed the bread off my plate. Another time I got up to answer the phone and returned to find him greedily lapping up my White Russian. The only time he ever bit anyone was when I tried to take a tortilla away from him.

But now he was uninterested in canned dog food, and only slightly more interested in people food. We assumed it was related to the digestive problem. So we kept treating that, and Charlie kept refusing to eat. He was getting weaker. The stairs were hard for him. He seemed stiff and unsteady on his feet.

We’d had health scares with Charlie before. He had vestibular disorder a couple of years ago, which caused him to stumble around, vomit and tilt his head to one side. That required a late-night trip to the emergency vet. Then last year he had an intestinal obstruction after swallowing a big piece of rawhide. More vomiting, more trips to the vet. In both cases, Charlie pulled himself through with minimal treatment.

This time, though, nothing seemed to be helping. At his next appointment, Charlie was 13.8 pounds. He was having trouble walking. He couldn’t jump up into the car. He felt bony and emaciated. All his tests were still clear. The next day, he completely stopped eating and drinking.

On Wednesday, Ben took Charlie to K-State. The whole team of vets examined him, giving him X-rays, every blood test, an eye exam, you name it. In the end, they said he might have a thyroid problem, which would explain the lack of appetite, the weakness, the weight loss, and which would be easily treatable with medication. Or he might have something wrong with his brain. We would find out Thursday afternoon.

But K-State didn’t call Thursday. In the meantime, Charlie was worse. He was stumbling in circles, falling to the side. I didn’t want to admit it, but I could see what was coming.

On Friday morning, Charlie couldn’t walk at all. He seemed only half-conscious. We called K-State, and the doctor told us what we already suspected: It was almost certainly a brain tumor. Charlie probably wouldn’t make it through the weekend. We knew we should let him go quickly, without any more suffering.

His little body was so frail and tired. I knew he was ready to go. But it absolutely broke my heart to say goodbye.

Sometimes it seems strange to me that we invite these little furry animals into our homes to live with us. But wow, the love that is given and received is really remarkable. I dearly loved that little guy, and I know he loved us. I miss him so much.

I know that soon we’ll be heading back out to the animal shelters. We’ll never replace our Charlie, but I know there’s another good dog out there for us to love.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Catching up

My, how the blogging ideals of November have passed. The holidays are a busy time, sure, but my slacking has been egregious.

You might think a weekend jaunt to New York City would merit at least a mention on the blog. And hosting my first-ever family Christmas dinner you might think would be noteworthy. But you’d be wrong, apparently. You’ll get neither of those.

One of my Christmas gifts, though, was a new scanner. So now I’m able to go slightly farther back in time to bring you my grandpa (far right) and his siblings, circa 1925:

My dad as a baby with his sister Toby, circa 1931:

My dad on a motorcycle, somewhere in Asia in the 1950s:

And my dad (back row, second from right) and his siblings, circa 1965: