CHARLIE

As all good things go, it started at a Saturday PetSmart adoption event.

There was every type of pet – dogs, puppies, cats, bunnies, birds (probably), etc. We weren’t there for felines or rodents or flying rodents. Honestly, we weren’t there for any of them. My parents were just trying to quiet the tireless begging to go look at dogs. 

My family had been without one for months. And when you’ve once known the unconditional love of a pet, months feel like years. That’s how it is when your heart was made with a dog in mind.  

My sisters and I had recently discovered PetFinder, an online site that curates adoptable pets. We spent hours clicking on one dog followed by another. One day, we came across a litter of Australian Shepard puppies and it seemed our persistence had finally paid off.

While we were busy bonding with what we hoped would become our new family member, my mom walked away. It wasn’t long until she headed back to us cradling a scrawny black and brown pup with a major dandruff problem and a I’m-not-here-to-impress-anybody attitude.

As quickly as he lost interest in us and started gobbling the free kibble on the floor, we fell in love with him. And when my dad said, “he is kind of cute,” we knew our hearts would never be empty again.

At least for a very long time.

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When you grow up with a dog, you go through so much together. Thirteen and a half years is what we got. Of that time, Charlie is in every memory – if not the center, he’s in the background offering a sweet lick or a loyal tail wag.

There wasn’t a sweeter face.

Even people who never met Charlie fell in love with his comforting brown eyes and gentle face. Countless times someone would stop us at the park to ask his breed… he was more coveted than any doodle I’ve ever met and so much better: He was one of a kind.

There wasn’t a freer spirit.  

Greg and I often took Blue and Charlie on hiking trails around Smithville Lake. Blue was trained to be off-leash, but Charlie wasn’t. Yet, there was no way we could hold back his wild side. Chuck chased squirrels; ran through mud puddles, always coming out wearing boots; and sprinted faster than I’d ever seen. His smile was plastered to his face just as the burrs were to his body. And they were stuck. I’m pretty sure he had one on his upper lip until the very end.

There wasn’t a worse running buddy.

Charlie was known for bailing on runs about a half-mile in. He’d max out his leash, find a neighbor’s front lawn with a shade tree and lie down. He wouldn’t budge. It always ended with calling my mom to come pick him up and my sisters and I would continue for a few more miles.

There wasn’t a better dog.

It was almost as though he was human. We often made jokes he was my grandpa, whom we lost about 6 weeks before Charlie found us, reincarnated. (Which only makes the disdain for long-distance running all the more clear.) Even as a puppy, Charlie had an old soul – like he’d already lived a life and knew his purpose, which was to make our family complete.

There wasn’t a harder goodbye.

I’ll never forget the heartbreak I felt when we got Blue. The transition Charlie made from my dog to my parent’s dog made my heart heavy. It felt like such a deep betrayal – one I wasn’t ready to make but people forced upon me “for clarity’s sake.” Well that feeling had nothing on my final goodbye in July.

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Today marks 14 years to the day we first met Charlie boy. 14 years since we welcomed him home and he cuddled his way into our hearts.

The night I said farewell, I said I didn’t understand why anyone would own a dog. In that moment, the 13.5 years of companionship didn’t hold a candle to the all-consuming grief. But with a little time to heal and reflect, it hit me. I had experienced that pain once before.  

14 years ago. Longing for a dog.  

And now, I get it.

The only thing worse than having loved a dog and lost him is to have not had one to love at all.