I’ve been dreading writing this post. I must have started, stopped, deleted and re-written it a hundred times. I think it feels like everything is final by writing and posting it.
Two weeks ago we had to say goodbye to our dog, Charlie. He was just three and a half years old and was diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer. There was nothing we could do but make him comfortable until it was time.
We got Charlie during the pandemic. We have a lifestyle where we are gone a lot. We love to travel and are always out and about. In other words, we weren’t made to be a dog family. That’s what I always told myself, or told my kids when they asked to get a dog. A dog meant “more work” to me, work we couldn’t take on when we are constantly driving places or flying places – doing all of those things we love to do. Then the world shut down and we were home. We thought about it long and hard and took the plunge. A Sheepadoodle puppy became the newest member of our family.
When we first got Charlie, both my wife and children had some things that took them away from home for about a week. That left me and this roughly 8-week old dog, together for about 10 days. That was when Charlie really became my dog. I was working from home with nowhere to go. That meant 10 days of being together all day. We connected.
The family always joked that Charlie was my dog. If I went somewhere in the house, he followed behind. When I took a nap, he usually took a nap. If I was doing a workout, he was either laying there on the floor next to me or barking at me to work harder.
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If I sat down to relax, he often ran up with a toy as if to say “oh no, it’s time to do something with me now.” When I got home from work every morning and opened the front door, the dog was usually laying right there waiting for a belly rub … or he was waiting in the bed anticipating the nap that was coming soon.
The truth was that he loved all of us unconditionally. Whether you were having a bad day or a great day, if you were in a good mood or a crabby mood, the dog was always there. Most of the time he didn’t even want anything. He just wanted to be with us. That’s who Charlie was. He was a fun dog, a barky dog, often an annoying dog, but he was a dog who loved his family more than anything.
That was evident in his last weeks. He was clearly in a ton of pain. He needed help to go up and down stairs, getting up on the bed or the couch. He was limping heavily. But he fought through all of that pain to be near us and play with us. Dogs really are capable of another level of love and affection. He fought through so much just to show us how much he loved us.
About a year ago I was taking Charlie to our veterinarian for a routine appointment. When we pulled in, I saw a family parked near the hospital’s side door, carrying what looked to be their very sick dog into the building. When we entered the lobby, a candle was lit that told everyone there that somebody was saying goodbye to their pet that day. I instantly knew it was them and my heart sank. I looked at Charlie and realized that we would have to do that someday. It suddenly hit me how hard that would be.
I never imagined that just months later I would be parked by that same side door, waiting to take Charlie in for that same reason. My wife Jonna and the kids had said goodbye to Charlie at home and I took him in myself. The staff at the hospital was so kind and comforting. They walked me through how the procedure would go and explained that Charlie would feel no pain during it. There are moments in your life that are seared in your memory forever. I will always remember Charlie laying in my lap as all of his pain went away. I will remember how it felt like the pain left his body and instantly went into mine. It was emotionally and physically painful. My body hurt. I’ve never felt anything like that. And I’ll remember little things – like Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway” playing on the animal hospital radio.
I remember thinking in that moment – “Really? Life is a Highway? As I’m holding this dog?” It even made me laugh through the tears for a moment. But I will say that I’ve never listened more closely to song lyrics before in my life:
Life’s like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here, and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind
There’s a world outside every darkened door
Where blues won’t haunt you anymore
Charlie loved life. He loved looking out the window and barking at everything he saw. He wanted to be outside. He got loose a few times and chased after cars and people in the neighborhood, tail always wagging. He just wanted to say hello. He was built for the highway and wanted to meet as many people and have as many experiences as possible. His time here was short … but it was special. Even though he was only with us for three and a half years, I wouldn’t trade him for any other dog. He was simply the best one.
The last month of Charlie’s life was difficult for us. Thankfully we were surrounded by great family members and friends who were so encouraging. I work with so many great people who shared their own stories with me about their pets. It was so incredibly helpful to know we weren’t alone in our grief. I’m so thankful for those conversations. To all of you who reached out or spent that time sharing with me, I want you to know how helpful those conversations were.
And I have to thank the staff at Central Bark in Grayslake, also. Charlie was a weekly visitor at the daycare there and we would board him when we had to travel out of town. The staff was so caring and careful with him in his last weeks. He loved being there and playing with his friends. They could have turned him away over that last month because he had obviously slowed down. Instead, they took extra care with him and gave him a final visit or two with his friends. There are good people there who truly care about the animals coming in and out of the building.
Finally, one of the questions I have been getting the most from people since we lost our dog – “Will you get another one?” I’ll be honest, a big part of me wonders if I ever want to go through something that painful again, having to say goodbye to another animal we are attached to. Comedian George Carlin famously said about dogs, “It’s going to end badly. You’re purchasing a small tragedy.” Do we really want to go through this kind of pain …. again?
But then I think about why we felt so much pain in those final weeks and months, and continue to feel that pain now. It’s because of all of the incredible joy and love the dog brought to our family. It’s a joy I never could have imagined an animal would bring before we brought him home. I spent many years wondering how we could possibly manage our lives with something as time consuming as a dog. Now I can’t imagine spending the rest of our lives without one.
We are so blessed for the time we had with our Char Char. We’ll never forget you buddy.