Charlie, the therapist
Posted on February 07, 2011 by WayCoolDogs
Guest Post by Charlene Wexler
“I’m very sorry, there is nothing else we can do. His heart is giving out.”
“I want to take him home,” I answered. As the veterinarian carefully put Charlie, my beautiful collie, in the car, my mind raced back twelve years.
My twelve-year-old son, Jeff, had just died of leukemia, and I was in a deep depression. A few months before he died, my husband had brought home a collie puppy. I resented the full-of-life puppy and paid little attention to him until I found myself home alone with him.
My husband, Sam, was back to work, and my younger son, Mike, was back in school. No one could get me out of bed. That is, no one but this six-month-old puppy. He proceeded to bark and jump all over me. When I became angry, he would lay down near me, wag his tail, and lick my cheek. I finally was forced to get out of bed to feed and walk him.
After several weeks, in spite of my complaining, I began to warm up to Charlie. He had a fluffy mahogany-and-white coat. His paws were huge for a puppy. They gave a hint of the large, dignified, and stately adult collie he would become. When I walked him, everyone in the neighborhood stopped to pet my friendly, vivacious puppy. The bank gave him doggy cookies, and the ice cream parlor gave him vanilla cones.
Charlie was full of the same mischief as our other puppies had been. He tore socks, slept on the sofa, and swallowed anything on the ground or floor, including a battery. The battery-swallowing incident became the first of many trips to the veterinarian. We believe, though it was never proven, that Charlie also was instrumental in the toilet drowning of our beloved parakeet, Chicken.
We did notice that Charlie was a quick study. He learned to alert us when he needed to go out. He understood when he was reprimanded, and did not repeat an offence. Mike taught him many tricks, such as rolling over and playing dead, retrieving balls and sticks, and even how to climb up on the ladder to the top bunk bed. Unfortunately he never learned how to get down by himself. He loved to sleep in a bed with his head on the pillow.
Therapy was recommended for the family after Jeff died. We didn’t need it, because we had our own in-house therapist: Charlie. We could talk and talk and pour our hearts out to him for hours. He listened attentively and gave unconditional love. He settled down to being a gentle, kind, and intuitive friend.
Charlie had a soul. He was my husband’s cross-country ski partner, my son’s lost brother, my father’s grandchild, and my constant companion. He joined us on shopping trips and vacations. He loved running loose in the neighboring forest preserves. A photographer we came across in the woods once asked to take his picture. Charlie became a star when his photo appeared on the cover of the neighborhood telephone book.
At age eleven, he became very tired and sluggish. After a run with Sam in the forest preserve, he collapsed. A trip to the veterinarian showed a heart problem. Charlie was put on a diet and on heart medicine. He was not happy. I must admit that I let him cheat some. He really missed people-food, especially his ice cream cones. After a year of medicine, things went down hill.
We made an appointment to see a heart specialist at the University of Illinois veterinary clinic in Urbana, Illinois. This was a hundred miles south of our home. A cardiogram, blood test, and a CAT scan only produced a large doctor’s bill. The tests confirmed our neighborhood veterinarian’s diagnosis of terminal heart failure. I asked if surgery was an option. I was willing to spend anything on this grown puppy that I once resented. But it was not an option. We headed for home.
“Charlie, get out of the car. You can make it,” I heard my dad yell as I was walking into the house to get Sam. My dad and I had just come back from that last trip to the veterinarian. As Sam walked out ready to carry Charlie into the house, we saw my 85-year-old heart patient dad and my twelve-year-old heart patient collie slowly walk into the house together.
Charlie died five hours later, surrounded by his therapy patients. It was time to join Jeff and for Charlie to report to him that Mike was safely away at college, and Mom, Dad, and Grandpa were finally doing much better.
I don’t know if it’s true that all dogs go to Heaven, but I definitely know it’s true for Charlie.
Biography: Charlene Wexler’s articles have appeared in North Shore Magazine (serving the northern suburbs of Chicago), the University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Dentistry’s Vision magazine, Alpha Omegan magazine, and the Gazette newspaper of Chicago.
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