He almost went back to the foster place.
In truth, he was a compromise. A new relationship with someone who was terrified of dogs, and he was who we picked. Or…I should say, who picked us with his soulful brown eyes and simply by ignoring us.
The deal was, “We can get a dog if we can have a fenced place in the yard just for him, and one who’s smart.” I was okay with both of those conditions. I began haunting pet stores on their adoption days, even though the “fenced place” wasn’t at all ready.
It was February of 2001, seven months before our entire world and worldview would change. The “La Niña” year. Rain. Lots and lots of rain. I went up to Petsmart because it was their adoption day. There were a few candidates there, one VERY old poodly thing, tottering on its last legs, a few bitsy dogs, and the soon-to-be-Charlie. I pointed out the poodly thing, thinking, “Compromise, Polly. It’s a dog, she needs a home, she fits the size criteria,” even though she didn’t tug at my heartstrings. I wouldn’t even let myself look at the adorable black and white fella who was studiously ignoring all of us.
She: “Well, she’s (the poodly thing) is okay. (pause) What about that one?” She points toward the black and white fella.
Me: (thinking, ‘That, right there, is trouble on four feet! He’s movie-dog cute, but I sense a handful of fun and trouble!’ Out loud, however, I said, “Sure! I mean, I guess we could give him a try.” (The other thought in my head was, SHE picked him out, I can NOT go wrong there!
In an oddity of scheduling, the woman who was fostering him was a location scout for the film industry and she had to be on the road for two weeks. He, known then as Rafael, was the last dog at her foster home. She asked if we’d agree to “try him out” for two weeks while she was gone. Since Sheryl was new to the whole dog thing, it seemed like a great chance for a trial run.
Sure, he’s housebroken! He’s a bit younger than the age we wanted, about 9-10 months, but, oh, with those four white paws, black body, white muzzle and depthless brown eyes, who could resist?
Of course, the first thing he did when we got him home was to look me right in the eye and lift a leg. Sneaky git.
Then I tossed him in the tub…he desperately needed it. And I, who was raised around dogs (show and muttly) all my life, found myself bent over a strange dog in our tub, my face close to his, scrubbing off mud. Just as I realized who dumb I was being…this dog didn’t know me at all, and most dogs will bite a stranger whose face is so close to theirs, he sighed, looked up at me, and gave me a tiny kiss on the cheek.
I fell hard. It took Sheryl a little longer.
Did I mention that is was a La Niña year? With rain? Lots of it?
And that I hadn’t even designed the “dog zone,” let alone built it. Nor was the fence around our fabulous rental house intact.
And there was still rain. And mud.
Lots and lots of mud.
Sheryl was a trouper, but this whole “dog thing” was messy and disorganized. She voted for returning him. Our scruffy foundling that Matt’s girlfriend rechristened “Charlie.”
The morning we were to give him back, Charlie and I were wrestling on the bedroom floor, just playing and talking to each other. He would growly-bark at me and I’d laugh and growl at him and then tumble around. After ten minutes Sheryl said, “I can’t separate you two.”
And just like that, he was ours.
Fourteen + years means a lot of good memories, some hilarious ones, and a few really odd ones. Like the time he got one of those nasty foxtail grass things in his eye.
Or when he was chewing on a steak bone and got it stuck in his back teeth.
Or the time he ate our hot tub. Or, at least, most of it.
Or, when I was working from home, how he’d come into my office every three hours or so, lay his head on my knee as if to say, “C’mon, mama. Break time. Let’s play.” And we would.
Or when Sheryl came out to check on him after the mean bird was doing strafing runs on him in the backyard. She said to him, “Charlie, has that bird stopped bothering you?” And Charlie turned to look at her, his mouth strangely full…and one feather dangled from his cheek. He’d captured the bandit from mid-air.
Or when he slipped out the back gate and up into the foothills, only to tangle his collar in a bush and get stuck. We searched the entire neighborhood for him, desperate to find him. Finally, Sheryl noticed that every time we’d call his name, the giant shrubbery 150-feet from our back fence would shake and shiver. So, up I go (forgetting to take along a leash). Sure enough, after arriving hot and supremely sweaty at the bush, there he is, entangled, but delighted to see me, his tail wagging like mad. “Can’t you bark like a normal dog? What are you going to do if Timmy falls in the well?”
No answer. Just a cheery brown-eyed grin and a raised eyebrow, as if asking when we were heading down. With no leash, and no desire to chase him again, off came the jog bra…instant leash.
Or the time, the first time, Sheryl and I were making home-made pasta. After an hour we looked around and Sheryl said, “Wow, I was sure we would have more to show than this.” And then we see a long string sliding off the back of the wooden chairs upon which we’d been hanging the pasta to dry. We peek around, and there he is, delicately pulling down pasta and munching away.
Charlie was not a “snack” dog, and couldn’t be bait-trained. But, oh, he loved his spaghetti sauce. I know raw tomatoes are bad for dogs, but I think he did okay in his 15 years with occasional sauce mixed in his food. And one jackpot of a saucepan incident. We’d made homemade sauce and after it cooled, put the pot in the fridge. He was trained to “go rug” (get out of the kitchen), but in this house we had rugs all over, *including* the kitchen. So, he was dutifully sitting on a rug when I opened the fridge to get something. The pasta sauce had been precariously balanced and…
Eight years of waiting had paid off!
I watched the pot tumble from the shelf in slow-motion, sauce lifting in a graceful arc as it descended. Charlie’s eyes lit up as the pan hit the floor on one edge, sending a veritable wave of the red stuff into the atmosphere. It. Was. Everywhere. And Charlie was in heaven.
It took two or three years with us before he stopped being glued to our sides. I remember one day looking up and saying, “Where’s Charlie?” Both of us looked around and he was nowhere to be seen. We jumped up and searched and found him sound asleep in another room. He’d finally learned to trust that we’d be there when he awoke.
Charlie was a well-traveled beastie. He’s been to Canada, including Vancouver Island, at least three times, if not four. He’s been to Tahoe and played in snow. He’s been all over the state of California, in and around Oregon, and, of course, Washington. He LOVED to travel and was an excellent car traveler and even better camping dog. Nothing made him happier than when he had a job, and he’d just prance around and be extra personable.
He got me through one of the worst years of my life, was my constant companion in and around town, and even to two of my campuses. He cuddled me through multiple surgeries, including two back surgeries and countless other procedures. When I came home after being gone more than a few hours, he’d give me “snorkies,” that schnuffling, gruffling sound, not quite a growl and not a whine. But only for when I came home.
When either of us was gone, he’d lay in front of the front door to be sure he didn’t miss us coming in.
I don’t know how he knew the difference between putting on shoes to do things and putting on shoes to go for a walk, but he did and would begin dancing immediately. He has taught this trick to Hopper.
Just as he has taught her the towel-schnuffle. I wonder if she’ll learn to steal washcloths as he did, just to arrange them just-so and roll on them.
He taught me so very many things. To slow down, take time out to enjoy life. Those of us who never had children tend to anthropomorphize our animals, and I certainly did, I know that. I firmly believe that he knew he was loved, he knew he had surely landed it it but good when he came home to us. He continued his “Mama, it’s time for a break” routine through my Master’s and my Doctorate. And even through my first book and a good portion of my second.
I have loved dogs throughout my life, but in my Beastie I found unconditional love and trust. And companionship. He’d cuddle when one of us were sad, dance with us when we were happy, and simply be with us to just…be.
And he taught Sheryl how to love dogs.
Charlie was a rescued dog, technically we saved his life. But I know, deep down inside, that it was he who saved my soul.
Rest in peace my buddy. I love you. You now have endless green fields, chewy bones, and worn out footballs at your feet.