Thursday, November 17, 2011

Charlie's Story (insert goosebumps here)

I'm an animal lover, always have been always will be. But I especially love dogs. I own two. There's just something special about dogs and the way they interact with humans, the way they cock their head at you like they're really listening. You can leave the house to start your car, come back in, and they act like they haven't seen you in 6 months! If you love dogs too, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

This is one of the reasons that, at the age of 41, I'm enduring late nights of studying, memorizing medical terms that are Greek (or Latin!) to me, stressing over grades and devoting every spare minute to becoming the best Vet Tech I can be.

But this next story is a once in a lifetime story, and makes all those sacrifices seem trivial and is the total sum of the reason that I'm doing what I'm doing.

Let's start out by telling you that my mom had a dog named Sophie. She was a little Bischon mix, that was frankly, hard to love at first. And even harder for me, because I like BIG dogs (think Great Dane). But Sophie mellowed out from her puppy stage, kept my mom company and became the reason we had to spell out "walk" any time we were within earshot of her. But Sophie, at the tender age of 5, became very ill. My mother was frantic. She took her to one Vet who had the horrible task of telling my mom that Sophie only had a few days to live. She had liver disease. Like anyone would do if told you were told you had a fatal disease, my mom sought a second opinion. The next Vet opted for exploratory surgery. But Sophie just didn't have the energy to fight anymore, and she left us. My mother was heartbroken. She called me, barely able to talk through her sobbing.

Fast forward to about 4 weeks later. I had explained to my sons about Sophie's passing when it happened. But who knows what goes on in little boy's minds and how they think like they do? As I was driving my youngest to school, he mentioned something about Sophie, some random comment that indicated that he was thinking she was still alive. So the conversation went like this:

Me: "Honey, remember that Sophie went to heaven?"
Kam: "Oh. I forgot. (pause) Grammie should have a new dog, he should be black."
Me: "You think so? What should we name him?"
Kam: "(Pregnant pause), I think his name should be Charla. (pronounce the 'ch' like "chew")."

I didn't think anything of it. I know that Grammie was considering adopting a dog to fill that empty space in her life, I was encouraging her to adopt, because there were so many wonderful dogs that just need a forever home. All of our dogs at school come from different rescue shelters, so I had my instructors on high alert to any potential dogs that would be suitable for mom. Morning progressed, and after I had dropped Kam off and had gotten to school, one of my instructors stopped me right away. "There's a perfect dog for your mom. You should go see him."

Of course I dropped my backpack and went to take a look. Here in our kennel, was the sweetest terrier mix. According to his chart, he had been kept (I use this term loosely) in a shed for six months. He was a year old. My gathering is he had very little human contact. I was told that he was going to need a lot of socializing. He was scared. When I went to see him, he didn't look at me, he laid curled up in a ball on a large blanket and wouldn't make eye contact. My heart immediately went out to him. "Hey sweetie," I coaxed. I opened his kennel door and sat beside him. He wasn't even interested in sniffing me really. I scratched his head, his ears, ran my hand along his back. I tried to be soothing with my voice. He was mostly black in color. My heart ached for him. How can people be so cruel? His whiskey colored eyes tugged at my soul. After a few minutes, I decided he really wasn't that interested in me, but he would be a terrific addition to my mom's household. I stopped petting him to reach for my phone to take some pictures, and he army-crawled a few inches and laid his head on my lap.

I took a couple of pictures, and then stood, closed the door and looked at his chart. His name was "Charlie." I stood stock still. My son's conversation suddenly filling my ears. The hair on my arms stood up and I could barely catch my breath. "Charlie?" I said. He glanced at me and then quickly looked away. I immediately called my mom. "You're not going to believe this..."

Charlie didn't know what a leash was. The Vets were worried because he wasn't eating. I visited him two more times that day. He had to be lifted from his kennel to go outside, and even then, would just sit the minute he got out the door.

I couldn't get him out of my head. I thought about him alone in that kennel at night and willed him warmth and comfort. Those eyes haunted me. I sent my mom the pictures. He was a bit bigger than she was hoping, and he looked nothing like Sophie. I convinced her that it was a good thing. She didn't need a replacement Sophie. I dog who looked different wouldn't be such a painful reminder.

The next day, I went in early just so I could see him. The same instructor who had told me about him now knew I wanted my mom to adopt him. I went in again at noon to see how his physical went, and she allowed me to keep him out to play with him. I sat on the floor and he came right up to me and leaned on me. After a few minutes, he would explore, but any loud noise or unfamiliar person, and he was right back next to me. Since he wasn't eating, I grabbed some dog treats to try to entice him. He eagerly snatched them from my hand. My instructor (we'll call her S.), said, "Let's get his dish and see if he'll eat for you." He looked at the dish, looked back at me..."Come on honey, have some food." I stuck my hand into the mixture of food and held it out for him. He gobbled it up and continued to sniff my hand, which I placed back in the bowl. It took about 2 seconds for him to realize that there was food in there. "I bet they just threw food at him and he doesn't know what a bowl is," said S.

Anyway, Charlie and I bonded. It became the running joke of my classmates that I had "fallen in love." Every day there was something new, he stood up and was excited to see me, he wagged his tail, he made some noise, he was curious again. I tell you, I have never been affected by any dog like I am with Charlie. The transformation I saw in him in just 4 short days was nothing less than miraculous. And although I would like to think it was all me, it wasn't. All the students there doted on him. By the 4th day, he was greeting me at he gate, licking my face, enjoying time outside and behaving like a dog should. Socializing? Nah. What he needed was some attention and someone to just love him. Which I do. I can't explain it. The other students started to refer to him as, "my dog." I was also told that this would be one of many that I would feel like this. But I don't think so.

My philosphy is that when sentencing someone for animal cruelty, they should endure what the animal has endured. I want to put this person in a shed for six months, throw his food on the floor and neglect them. I think anger is going to be one of the hardest emotions I have to deal with in this profession.

My mom has also fallen in love with Charlie through pictures and daily progress reports. She has already filled out her application, written her letter (along with mine) and we're hoping for the best. I'm pulling every string I can pull to ensure that he can live with my mom and dad. I'm not going to lie, I want him for myself, but he would be spoiled rotten with mom and dad, and I'm not sure who needs who most.

I only get a week with our animals at school, and tonight was my last night. S. could see the special bond we have, and allowed me to have my "alone time" with him. I walked into the kennel run, and this sad, lonely dog just a few days earlier, stood at the gate, tail wagging. "Charlie!" I exclaimed. He greeted me with paws on my lap and licks to my face. I took him outside, and saw something that would mean nothing to anyone else. He put his front legs down with his butt up in the air. Something we call a "puppy stance." He wanted to play! Something completely foreign to him. He was unsure of himself, but he after play position, he would run to me and stand on his hind legs and lay his head in the crook of my arm.
Can you tell the difference?

After about 30 minutes, I knew my time was up. I think he sensed it too, because as I put him in his kennel, I whispered, "keep your paws crossed, Charlie." He put one leg on each shoulder and licked my face. I don't cry easily, but that lump in my throat was the hardest I had to swallow. I closed the kennel door, and for the fist time, I heard him whimper.

I cried all the way home.

The story isn't over yet, hopefully. I love him enough, that even if it isn't with my mom, I hope beyond all hopes he gets the perfect "forever home." He deserves it.


  1. Well now you've made me cry I may as well tell you that your posts are always warm in a way that many blogs aren't.
    I think Charlie was on to something when he army crawled a few inches to put his head on your lap. Dogs are excellent judges of character.

  2. Aw, I really hope it all works out! Charlie would make a great friend and he really deserves to be spoiled.

  3. @FruitCake - thank you, I think that is one of the best compliments I have ever gotten.

    @I'm keeping my fingers

  4. Aww!! I hope you or your Mom get him! Fingers crossed!!

  5. Great post!! From one dog lover to another!! I own a boxer, as you know, and am working on my husband for another doggie - a rescue, of course, since he's dragging his feet with the PBpig . . YOU have a fabulous Thanksgiving up there - we sure got a ton of snow yesterday :)

  6. AWESOME UPDATE!! Charlie officially became my mom and dad's dog on November 23rd. He has started to play fetch and we've even heard a tentative bark. His tail wags a mile a minute and he's soooo lovey!

  7. Beautiful! I love him.... Thank you for sharing.