I had a great dog.
Charlie on the first day we got him
He was a gift that my husband (see now ex-husband, friend TD) and I got for our 1st anniversary in 1999. Charlie was already a year old when we adopted him from the humane society. He was a happy yellow lab that could sit and stay and fetch, although not all the time.
We soon learned that Charlie was a magnet for health issues. He had kennel cough when we brought him home – not uncommon for dogs at the humane society. We treated that, and then shortly afterwards, he ate a bone in the back yard and we had to take him to the vet for that. After a few x-rays, Dr Dave determined that the bone would pass through his intestines just fine. But after two vet bills in 3 months, we decided to get pet health insurance. We just knew that this did not bode well for Charlie’s life – we foresaw lots of vet visits.
And sure enough, over the years, Charlie had to go to the vet for:
*Scratched cornea (woodchip hit his eye while running through the backyard)
*Sprained tail (scooted his butt forward and bent the tail where it attaches to the body)
*Torn ACL in his back right leg (chasing a tennis ball)
*Torn ACL in back left leg two years later (chasing a tennis ball)
*Numerous vomiting issues
*Eating a tampon
*Food allergies (which led to him eating Hill’s Prescription Diet Z/D hypoallergenic food – $70 a pop, thank you very much)
The vet said that Charlie was a patient that kept him on his toes. If something happened in 5% of the cases, Charlie would always be in the 5%. And sometimes he had weird issues that the vet had to do research on to figure out what was going on.
But he was such a sweet dog! Most people would have given him up or put him down, but his sweetness made up for a lot of issues. He did have separation anxiety, especially about TD leaving. But we would leave him alone for periods of time, and we just knew that there might be a puddle of pee when we got home. We tried meds, and they helped for a while but not very much and eventually they stopped having an effect. But we just knew that this was part of him.
Then TD and I separated in January 2007. We had talked about Charlie going with TD, but we realized that Charlie’s anxiety was much worse when TD was around, because he was so in tune to TD’s moods and stress levels. So I kept Charlie with the understanding that TD would give me a certain amount of money each month.
At the time we separated, we knew we were going to sell the house we owned. So we put it on the market and started Charlie in doggie daycare. That way, if there were showings for the house, we didn’t have to worry about one of us going home, cleaning up the dog hair, and then taking Charlie somewhere for an hour. So Charlie went to daycare every day starting in July 2007. He liked to be around other dogs, but he didn’t play much with other dogs. But he loved the people and being around the dogs, so he was very happy there every day. And that doggie daycare does a really good job of taking care of dogs. He was very happy.
It took us 8 months to sell the house. During this time, Charlie was left alone on an occasional night for an hour or two when I had plans. TD would come see him occasionally, but it was mostly my responsibility. I stayed home a lot so his anxiety wouldn’t increase.
We closed on the house in April 2008, and that same day, I closed on my house in St Paul. I moved in and loved it. Charlie however did not do well. Apparently the adage about teaching an old dog new tricks is true! He did not adjust to living in a new house and a new neighborhood at all. He had spent 8 months being around people and other dogs all day – he lost his ability to be at home alone. I found out a week after I moved in that every time I left, he’d pant severely and HOWL the whole time. TD and I talked about it. Considering that Charlie was 9 almost 10 at that point, and we figured he’d live another year or two, we decided to just keep sending him to daycare and not bother with meds again. The meds didn’t help him much in the first place. Doggie daycare was kind enough to let me do late pickups so I could occasionally meet friends for drinks or dinner.
It was expensive though, so I got a job there in July 2009 to try to reduce the costs of daycare. I started using daycare on Saturdays too so I could run errands and not have to worry about getting home as soon as possible. TD got his own place and started taking Charlie overnight one night a week and one weekend a month. I lived for those times! Charlie was starting to restrict my life a lot and there were times I got resentful about it. But I knew it wouldn’t be forever.
In October 2010, I moved home with my parents. Charlie came too. They were great about helping to take care of him. They’re retired, so they often offered to just watch Charlie if I wanted to go out. We couldn’t ever leave Charlie home alone at their house either. But I felt bad about taking advantage of their offer too often, so I only did it occasionally.
I was supposed to go to Chicago in March 2011 for my niece’s confirmation. TD had Charlie for that weekend. About a half hour before I was supposed to leave, TD called me and said he thinks Charlie’s having a seizure. The vet opened at 8am which was about a half hour from then, so we just decided to meet there. It wouldn’t have been any faster to go to the emergency vet at that point.
Permanent head tilt side effect
Turns out, Charlie had a neurological attack called vestibular syndrome. (Read about it here.) He never really recovered from it. He had balance issues, he couldn’t do stairs, his appetite was gone so he was on appetite stimulants, he had a permanent head tilt. The first attack was a major attack where he basically couldn’t tell which way was up and which way was level. “Constant bed spins” was how the vet described it. Charlie kept having minor attacks after that – about 5 of them in the month that followed. TD and I talked about it, and we decided that we had given Charlie a really good life, he was getting old, and this issue didn’t seem to be going away. So we decided to put him down.
I took Charlie to daycare for one last day. Those people had seen him every day for almost 4 years and he adored them especially EB. The next day, on April 15, 2011, we put him down. He was 12 almost 13 years old.
The vet told us later that he thought we made the right decision. He also told us that 12 almost 13 years old for Charlie with all of his health issues was like 15 or 16 in a normal yellow lab. That made us feel like we really did give him an excellent life and a long one.
When he died, I was liberated. No need to rush home. No need to plan for who can be home to watch Charlie tonight. No vet bills. No daycare bills.
But I also felt so very sad. He had been part of my life for almost 12 years. And it was just me and him for last 4 years. And he was the last tie to my marriage. I don’t regret the divorce for one second, but it was still sad to lose that last connection.
Me and my wondermutt
I don’t think I’ll get another dog. I love dogs, but I don’t want to get sucked into another situation where my life is so restricted and I spend so much money on a pet.
But I miss him, more at some times than others. Today, I really miss him. He will always be my Charlie the wondermutt. I loved him and will always love and miss him. I’ll never forget him. And now you all know about my wondermutt.
“Dogs never talk about themselves but listen to you while you talk about yourself, and keep up an appearance of being interested in the conversation.”