“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr.Seuss
Three of us had entered the emergency department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital early that morning, but when we walked out at 5:30 pm, there were just us two.
Seven short days earlier, our twelve year old greyhound boy, who had lived with us for ten years, was still healthy and whole, at least in appearance.
Inside him, though, bone cancer had been quietly and eagerly consuming our sweet boy, and stripping away our hope before we even knew we’d need it.
RoofTop Chalie had been his racetrack name and our Charlie had run eighteen races, all in Birmingham, Alabama. He had done well, but not well enough, and when he was only two years old, the Greyhound Gods decided that RoofTop Chalie was meant for better things. Like his namesake in the Chocolate Factory, our Charlie boy had stumbled upon the coveted golden ticket, and he was granted a whole new life, full of possibilities.
During his first week on the outside, RoofTop Chalie became just Charlie, and like most greys, he struggled with the civilian world. At his temporary foster home, he was excited to explore the back yard and he innocently thought that the world was a controlled and predictable place. With happy enthusiasm, he ran straight across a swimming pool that was covered for the winter and fell right in, leaving his foster parents to frantically jump in after him, and hoist our floundering and leggy dog from the icy cold water.
The pool incident was just one of Charlie’s many missteps and learning experiences, as he adjusted from the regimented life of a race dog to the role of a family pet. But adjust he did, and Charlie learned all about soft beds and doggie treats, and people food. And he quickly understood that his new pack was a human one, and as we fell in love with him, Charlie fell in love with us, and with Joe in particular.
Over the years, Joe and Charlie became truly inseparable friends and like fine wines, they aged well together.
From his track days, Charlie was accustomed to having someone accompany him whenever he went outside to toilet. In the beginning, Joe obliged him, hoping to ease his transition to suburban life, and would head outside and wait patiently by, whenever Charlie went out to toilet. But years and years later, in rain, or snow, or sleet, the habit persisted, and Joe continued to slide on slippers or maybe snow boots and a coat, and he headed into the backyard whenever Charlie did.
Over the years, Charlie needed to toilet more frequently, and as is so common with many men in their 50s, so did Joe.
So in recent years, every night, at about 2 am, the two friends would get up together to use the bathroom. Charlie always showed Joe the respect that a good friend should, and would wait patiently outside of the half-open bathroom door, knowing that once his friend had done his business, then the two of them could head outside so that Charlie could do his.
Laying in bed, that first night after Joe and I left the Penn Vet office without our sweet old boy, I listened as Joe climbed out of bed at 2 am, and walk down the hallway, alone. I wondered if I should get up and follow him, but I laid quietly, not sure what to do. I heard the bathroom door close sharply, and I knew that Joe, and me as well, had some significant grieving to do.
Today, it is nineteen months since our Charlie boy went home to a heaven of expansive fields for running in circles, bottomless bowls of popcorn to share, and hours and hours of neighborhood walks.
Today, one of my family members lost her own sweet fur baby, and during a video call tonight, I offered the best advice I could. I told her to talk and talk about her sweet dog. I told her that even if it makes her cry, that she should tell the stories that make her laugh and smile, and that she should honor her beloved pet by remembering and by sharing.
And I realized then, that I still need to do a bit more of this for Charlie. Here are a few things you might not know:
- Charlie liked to smell flowers. He would wander around my garden, sniffing. The vegetables were interesting, but the flowers really got his attention.
- He could not climb steps. When he vacationed with us, we always rented a house with a first floor bedroom, since he slept in our room. If we ended up with a second floor bedroom, Joe had to carry all 80 pounds, of Charlie, up the stairs every night.
- Charlie ate like the Cookie Monster. If he had something crunchy, like a Milkbone, he would crunch it up with his mouth open, and crumbs would fly everywhere, just like the Cookie Monster. And he had no interest in eating the crumbs off the floor, even if we pointed them out to him, so we had to vacuum it all up.
- Charlie ran in his sleep. His legs would twitch and flex, and he would whine and softly bark, whenever he slept. We always wondered what he was dreaming and where he was running.
- He was a slow and ineffective thief. At a party, he once considered stealing snacks from a buffet table. He gingerly touched his tongue to the food items, but did not take them. When he saw that he was being observed, he skulked away.
- He was a sight hound, and loved to watch and clumsily chase the rabbits and squirrels in the yard. He never caught a single one, though, but did chase a rabbit directly into a chain link fence once.
- If he wanted to wake us up during the night, Charlie never barked or made a sound. He was so tall that his head was the same height as our sleeping heads, on our pillows, so he would simply rest his head Joe’s arm, or chest, or right next to Joe’s face. Imagine waking up to a Charlie face right next to your own!
Our pets are our family.
I wrote almost all of this blog the weekend that Charlie died, but did not finish it, probably because of the tears. Today, finishing, I still shed tears of grief, but now they are mixed with tears of real happiness, celebrating that we had Charlie dog in our lives.
I am proud to tell his stories.
If you have lost a love one, either human, or furry, tell their stories too!