Charlie: The Lesson Behind My Obsession

In January of 2014 I was formally diagnosed with both severe depression and severe anxiety.  Informally, I’d been suffering for years.  After weeks of stress and tears, I decided that taking a semester off was the best option for me.

Fast forward.  It’s April 29th.  For the most part, I’m doing a lot better.  I still have bad days but they are far less dramatic.  My parents leave for Jamaica early the next morning.  My dog isn’t feeling too well, and not wanting to make me deal with it, my mom runs her to the vet to get her some medicine.  The tests are bad though, she has cancer.  At 12 years old there isn’t much they can do for her.  The unexpected news knocked the wind out of me.

Rosie

Rosie

Up until the morning before she’d seemed healthy as a whistle.  They brought her home so I could say goodbye, a tearful ordeal to say the least.  By 4 pm my first puppy was gone.  She’d been there for all the milestones in my life that I could remember.  She bossed me around and drove me crazy, but Rosie was a fantastic dog.

The next morning my parents had left for the long weekend and the house was unbelievably lonely.  That first night alone I pulled out three dog treats.  When I turned around, only two dogs sat eager at my feet.  I lost it.  The depression and anxiety was back in full force.  She wasn’t just a dog, she was a friend.

Knowing that my Golden Retriever didn’t have much time we scrambled to find a new dog once my parents got home.  My German Shepard wouldn’t do well alone and we wanted to get him a companion before Katie joined Rosie in doggie heaven.  Being extremely territorial though, we found it difficult to find an older dog he would get along with, but we knew we wanted to rescue.

That’s where Charlie comes in.  Her and her siblings were dumped at an adult rescue center with their mom two hours away from our house.  When the owner told him that they only accepted older dogs, he threatened to abandon them.  Unprepared for puppies, she welcomed the mom and babies into her shelter.  Someone had already claimed Charlie, but they never came to pick her up.  My mom warned me that we might not get her and not to get my hopes up, we were just going to look.  We packed up the car and headed to the rescue center.  When we arrived, the lady brought us inside to the lobby.  She disappeared in the back and returned with a tiny fur ball in her arms.  Only 4.6 pounds with short legs and a curly tail, I could feel my heart break in the best way.  She waddled around the floor full of curiosity.  When I headed to the bathroom and tried to shut the door, she whined as she squeezed herself in before I could latch it.  It was evident that we couldn’t leave her behind.  On May 5th we became her new family.

On the way home, I remember noticing that the tip of her tail was bald and scaly.  As the days passed, she lost more hair and was eventually diagnosed with puppy mites.  Not contagious, but miserable.  I spent hours each day combing chunks of hair and dandruff off of her.  She was balding and flaky.

You can start to see how she's losing the fur on her face.

You can start to see how she’s losing the fur on her face.

We called her thumper because she had to stop every few minutes and scratch herself, loudly thunking her foot onto the ground repeatedly.  Around the same time she was also diagnosed with Giardia.  They believe that leaving her mom at such a young age led to a weakened immune system.

She was young and sick, and she was incredibly clingy.  We probably stepped on her 100 times in those first few weeks.  My family was so used to big dogs that we often didn’t notice her sitting between our feet.  She wanted held and loved and nurtured.

As Charlie finally began to grow her hair back and start feeling better, she began growing at a ridiculous rate.  You could actually see the changes over night.  Her legs grew and her ears grew and she lengthened out.  Her torso remained very thin and her head didn’t keep up.  She was quite awkward, and we vowed to love her even if she stayed ugly (which she was for quite awhile).

Her mom was a purebred German Shepard and her dad a purebred Collie, so we weren’t sure what she would look like, but so far it wasn’t pretty.  When her tail began to turn black we were sure she’d end up with the sable coloring.  She stayed orange though, her curly tail a little out of place.  Amazingly, she turned out quite pretty.  She’s grown a little and now weighs in at 77 pounds.  She’s not super tall, but she’s thick.  She’s muscular and is often compared to a bull.  She’s fast and doesn’t seem to have much of a pain threshold.

Her clinginess hasn’t really subsided much.  She still wants love love love.  She’ll try to sit in your lap whenever an opportunity rises.  She follows us around.  She’s constant company.  Around 9 pm every night, she decides it’s Charlie time.  She will crawl up on to you and snuggle as much as possible.  She isn’t quite sure why she doesn’t fit on our laps anymore but she keeps on trying.

 

She’s quite quirky.  For the longest time, she peed as a result of excitement.  Or nerves.  She transformed into a tazmanien devil whenever placed in from of plain Jane Iams dog food.  She need need needed it and even though she knew she’d get in trouble for eating the older dogs food, she ate it anyways.

She is undeniably stubborn.  She is mastering the art of carrying as many toys in her mouth as possible.  She is impatient and confused.  She is perfect.

My German Shepard wanted nothing to do with her at first.  In a sad irony, he was as displeased with Charlie as Rosie was with him seven years earlier.  Charlie loves him though, and she follows him around like a typical star-struck younger sister.  He would snap at her but she didn’t care.  For the first time, he began crawling up on the furniture to avoid her constant nagging.  Telling him no wasn’t too successful, so now he spends a decent amount of time lounging on the couch with my mom.  As much as he would never admit it, he is growingly fond of her.  He always waits for her when they go out back.  Sometimes he gets annoyed with her, but he is definitely a good big brother.  And she sure does love love love him.

I’ve been a pretty lucky girl.  Rosie was the first heart-breaking loss I’ve had to deal with.  There’s never a good time to lose someone, but she left at a particularly vulnerable point in my life.  While to some she was just a dog, to me she was the closest thing to a sibling I had.  It’s crazy though, because while she could never be replaced, Charlie reminds me so much of her.  She has the same attitude and mannerisms as Rosie did, making her even more special.  When she died, my depression attacked with full force.  It was like two steps backwards in a long journey.

Charlie was sick though.  She was sick and lonely and in need of constant love.  I was so wrapped up in taking care of her that I lost track of myself.  Here was an animal who not only needed but wanted my attention.  Her unconditional love and company warmed my spirits and made me feel good for the first time in a very long time.  I looked forward to waking up in the morning to play with her and I spent every minute at home basking in her happiness.

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The more I worked and played with her, the better I felt.  She is so attentive and caring.  She is so absolutely thrilled when she sees us.  I’ve never met such a joyous or sweet animal.  I stand firm by my belief that Charlie would have made a fantastic therapy dog.  In a way, she was one for me.

Being away at school is hard.  I make my mom send me pictures of her everyday.  When I started to feel dark again without her, I began volunteering at the shelter to help dogs who aren’t so lucky as to have a family.

Charlie came to me at a rough time.  In many ways, she was my saving grace.  She has reminded me how good it feels to be happy again.  I can’t imagine my life without her.  I just hope that everyone has someone or something that instills the same joy in their hearts as Charlie has done for me.

She isn’t always easy to photograph though…

10 thoughts on “Charlie: The Lesson Behind My Obsession

  1. fillyourownglass says:

    What a gracious, beautiful tribute to your friend and family member. Animals are, I believe, in tune to our feelings and emotions in ways that people often are not. Substitute cats for dogs, and that is my story. Good for you for volunteering at a local shelter while you are at school…just one minute of your love and attention is life-changing for those animals. Best, Karen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just Plain Ol' Vic says:

    What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing. Your deep relationship is clearly evident, I agree with fillyourownglass that it is a wonderful tribute.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. leeannminton says:

    I lost my Party Pomeranian when in college, I’m just glad I happened to be home on the day that he died. I was ten years old when he joined my family, it was always my dream to have a pomeranian and my mother called me one day on the phone to let me know I was finally getting my wish. A woman she had met at her job as a rent a car dealer had been in a car accident and was badly injured, though she could still drive she didn’t feel she could continue to take care of four dogs three of which were pomeranians and she was looking to re-home them. Buddha came home with us two days later and he was the happiest dog I’ve ever known, he helped me through the hardest years of my life, and then after just ten years he was gone, we had picked him up when he was five years old. He wasn’t the first dog I ever had to say goodbye too, but his death was the hardest one to get through. Thank you so much for sharing your story it was beautifully written.

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