Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Goodbye Charlie

The hardest thing about losing Charlie was handing him over to the receptionist in the pet emergency room. He was cold and unresponsive, wrapped in a towel in my arms, and didn't even look back at me as he was whisked away through a door marked “Employees Only.” I was wet and cold from the rain, but he wasn't. I'd been rubbing his little body in the car, driving with one hand, and telling him, “it's okay little buddy, just stay with me for few more minutes. We're almost to the doctor's.” It was midnight. I never saw him again.

Charlie was a “replacement dog.” Just before Christmas we lost our beagle of eleven years. (I'm still not ready to post about that one.) We rescued Charlie from the pound shortly after. He was a spindly tan chihuahua, with dark eyes and a head too small for his body and ears too big for his head. He lived in our home for only eighteen days. He felt it was his right to sleep on top of my head, so I learned to push him aside and let him burrow into the crook of my neck.

He was sick the last couple of days, and James yelled at him when Charlie threw up in his lap. Charlie ran into my bedroom where I was resting, hopped up next to me crying, and nuzzled under my chin. He'd already been in trouble for his house-training mistakes, and this reprimand was just one too many. Despite the messes, that was a good day.

Wrapped in a white towel, Charlie looked helpless and even smaller than he really was, like some kind of Eastern European war orphan, pale and worn and quiet. The x-rays were inconclusive, but the vet knew something was seriously wrong with his abdomen. He was in excruciating pain. I signed papers and left him overnight for a series of x-rays as barium was passed through his system.

What is it about crisis that wakes all my demons? Driving home in the early morning hours was an exercise in choosing to stay on the narrow path. The streetlights and the rain colluded to excite my senses and I felt those familiar tingles of the illicit in that forbidden hour. It is good to know that ultimately I chose not to add the sickening lost-ness of relapse into the unavoidable chaos of that night.

I was deep in a confusing dream or nightmare when the phone woke me up at 4:30. Charlie had “coded” three times, and did I want to continue with life saving measures? “Well, yeah, I guess” was all I could come up with. What do you say to that? Ten minutes later I was finally off of hold. The vet, who had been mostly positive and very competent, was now hoarse and breathy. Charlie's heart had started, but his brain was probably gone. It was time to let go.

I spoke with a friend in recovery the day before Charlie died. We discovered a mutual secret: that during the rocky chapters of our marriage, when affection was running dry, our dogs helped fill in the gap. Sometimes meetings and books and phone calls just can't measure up to that warm furry snuggle, to hearing another soul breathing in the darkness. If you're not a dog person, I'm sorry if that's weird for you, that's just the way it is.

Charlie died of a a perforated bowel. Despite his penchant for chewing, there was nothing detectable in his intestines, and I was told it was probably from a defect that existed before we even adopted him. All I heard was this: there wasn't much else we could have done. It was just his time. He was a gift and a joy. Thanks, my little friend. I really do miss you.


  1. my condolences on your terrible loss, and my congratulations on your miraculous win for one more day clean. thanks for sharing this bittersweet time in your life you should be proud of yourself you do have the strength to stay clean and that is an amazing gift maybe it is charlies gift to you.
    maybe the only positive you can take from his passing is this lesson, he showed you that you can survive the chaos that life throws our way clean, maybe that was charlies purpose for you. what a gift that is

  2. In the worst of my drinking and porning, the only unconditional love I could point to was that from my dog who accepted me just as I am. He was there for our children as they went through the years of teenage angst.

    I'm chuckling because the God of my understanding has a lot of the same attributes I accredited to my dog. Warm, compassionate, unconditionally loving, patient, and non-judgmental.

    Our dog passed away in the second year of sobriety and we haven't replaced him. There are days when I still miss him. Those are the days when I can tuck myself into God's hands.

  3. I am so sorry. One of the things that I do is go back with my dogs when they are euthanized or have the vet come to our house. I hope that you will get another dog. They are really such wonderful loving creatures. Bless little Charlie.

  4. I'm sorry, Eli. I truly am.

  5. Eli,

    I am so very sorry for your loss.

    Your wisdom in this however, struck me hard : "We discovered a mutual secret: that during the rocky chapters of our marriage, when affection was running dry, our dogs helped fill in the gap."

    Indeed they do...

  6. Eli, I'm so sorry to hear about Charlie. I know the feeling of having that warm body next to you, to feel the easy breathing and rhythm. It's what kept me sane in those first few months of becoming deaf.

    I've become someone who takes in the strays and rehomes them. All of them are special, all of them are wanted. My heart goes out to you. (Hugs)Indigo

  7. C&C- What a noble purpose to assign to Charlie - makes it a little easier I think.

    Indistinct-Chuckle or not, dogs do show us a little glimpse of something divine, don't they?

    Syd-The whole family, including kids, was present for our Beagle's euthanizing. It was a moment we'll never forget!

    Kristin-Thanks much. Good to hear from you.

    Cat-Glad that statement made sense for others.

    Indigo- What a beautiful story of dogs' comfort in a rough time. All of ours have been stays as well...

  8. poor little mite. im sure he is in doggie heaven. good for you for staying sober through all this. charlie will be looking down on you feeling very proud of your continued progress..

  9. oh eli, i know... these guys are our friends and creep into our hearts so deep. i'm so sorry for your loss... charlie's in a good place now, and smiling down on you. stay on the straight and narrow, and prayers are coming your way!

  10. Eli, I am sorry for your loss, our little four leggeds are so precious a creature to us, please keep blogging and know that we are here for you and sending you love and healing energy.

    Much love

  11. I'm so sorry about Charlie, Eli. I'm glad he was a gift and joy for the time that you had him. God Bless you Eli, and God Bless Charlie.

  12. Hey, Eli;
    I admire your willingness to expose another raw place. I am convinced that God created little animals to help us learn how to be human, and to remember the best of ourselves--sometimes they are the best spirits we can stand to be near, and don't they teach us how to treat one another. I love the quotation, forgot where it's from...
    "Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks I am."
    Blessings and hugs

  13. Eli,

    My dog is a lifeline to myself, a part of me, and when she goes a part of me will also go. I appreciated your entry about Charlie, and am doing my best to prepare for the inevitable. Check out my latest post: www.addictionmanagement.org


  14. I think Charlie came to you and stay with you for this time so you can get to know eachother and now he went to your beagle to tell him you'll be okay. I think your beagle needed that. When you'll be ready, a new dogy friend will come across.