After about 13 or 14 years of a pretty great life, we had to put Charlie down today. His health had been deteriorating slowly over the past year after a bout of nosebleeds that started last July and never really stopped. I opted not to have definitive diagnostic testing done and just accepted the medical opinions of three different veterinarians: Charlie had nasal cancer. At around 14 years old I wasn’t going to put this guy through a cancer treatment that may or may not have extended his quality of life at all. I decided that we’d enjoy whatever time we had left with our guy.
It would be dishonest to say that part of the motivating factor for putting Charlie down is related to the coronavirus. Social distancing measures mean than many businesses are closed (vets are still open for now) and that we should stay at least 6 feet away from other people outside of our family. Part of me worried that things would get worse in the world, that Charlie would get worse, and that we would all be forced to make some decisions that we weren’t comfortable with on a timeline that wasn’t good for any of us. I promised Charlie that I would never let him die in a veterinary office because he hated them so much. I had always known that Charlie would die at wherever home was for us at the time, and I couldn’t let this damn virus ruin that for him.
These past few days were fairly rough for Charlie. He hasn’t seemed as happy as he used to be. He’s been sleeping almost all day, moving around as little as possible and had almost entirely stopped eating. We had my mom pick up McDonald’s on her way over so that we could give Charlie some Chicken McNuggets, his favorite food, as a last ditch effort to see if we could get him to eat something substantial. He wouldn’t eat them – for the first time ever. It felt like it was time.
I regret the decision even seconds after the process began. I wonder if there was something that we could have done differently to keep Charlie with us, and there probably was. But I also remind myself every day that this was the right decision for Charlie. Anything else would have been selfish. Anything else would have just been me wanting to be around my first dog for even just a day longer, possibly at the detriment of his comfort and health.
I rescued Charlie from the Orange County Animal Shelter on April 20, 2006. He was, as I like to say, “on discount.” This is short for “ready to be put down because nobody wants him.” Looking back, this was the best $20 I’ve ever spent. He was a real pain in the ass sometimes and required lots of special care that my wife reluctantly (and then lovingly, over the years) went along with, like:
- He peed on whatever was underneath him whenever anyone he loved left his sight.
- I couldn’t bear to leave him locked up in a crate (that he’d still pee in) for more than 8 hours while we worked or went out.
- He got nervous when certain things made certain sounds, like refrigerators just existing. He couldn’t handle their sounds (even the quiet ones) at all, and they made him shake.
- He’d snap at anyone that tried to get near him while I was petting him, unless he loved that other person more.
- You had to watch him constantly because, after being overcome with nervousness, he’d pee on something hard to clean if you got out of his sight.
- He got too “tired” (lazy) when going on walks and just wanted to pee on everything and then be carried.
- He’d bark at anything that sounded like someone stepping on our porch, no matter if the baby just went down for a nap next to him.
These were some of the things that made me love him. Charlie was no normal dog. He went through a lot, like relationship changes, house moves, a 2-week cross country move where someone in Texas called him “a sharp looking cuss” (we had to Google “cuss”), life in the big city of Washington, D.C. and this thing called snow that came along with it, and the utter disruption of his life by bringing two babies into our home just 3.5 years apart.
Charlie was a special dog. He loved everyone once he got to know them. He was so fluffly and soft, and shed this hair onto anything that even looked at him. He loved belly rubs, face scratches, and loved licking my face when my stubble was growing back in. He wasn’t much of a snuggler, but always wanted to be around us. He loved us more than anything, and we loved him more than anything back.
We chose to go with an organization called Peaceful Passage to say goodbye to Charlie at home. Dr. Thompson was so kind and caring, even with the social distancing requirements that COVID-19 placed upon us. She kept her 6-foot distance for the most part, but allowed us to stay with Charlie as she delivered the necessary medicine, before stepping away to allow us to say goodbye. She wore a mask and expressed her sadness from not being able to embrace us as we cried. As with all things these days, this process was different than I had imagined but worked out in a way that I could not have imagined. People walked by our backyard as we sobbed next to Charlie in his bed in the grass. It was heartwrenching yet beautiful at the same time. Prior to the doctor arriving a couple walked by and commented about how lucky we were to have a dog as nice looking as Charlie during times like these. Of course they had no knowledge about what was going to happen. That did it for me – I broke down, sobbed, and merely nodded to them as they passed by. I must have seemed absolutely crazy. We were so, so lucky. I hope Charlie felt like he was lucky, too.
I always assumed that we’d say goodbye to Charlie in one of his favorite places: our bed. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all at-home euthanasia is taking place outdoors so we got to say goodbye under the shade of our magnolia tree on a pleasant early spring afternoon. It was the nicest way I could imagine doing this. Charlie seemed relaxed and as happy as he could muster these days. Some people say that animals know when it’s time to go. I’m not sure that Charlie knew, but I believe that he trusted us to take the best care of him that we could. Doing this was taking the best care of Charlie that I knew how to do. I don’t think he was suffering and I was trying to make sure he never would.
I’ve included a number of Charlie’s best pictures from over the years below. The first two are from the first two days that I had him and they continue chronologically from there. The last four are from the day before we said goodbye. I miss him so much.
Love you, Charlie.
2 thoughts on “Goodbye, Charlie”
The guilt part never goes away. I still lie awake at night anxious over what I could have done differently to extend my horse’s life (I had her for over 20 years). I go over all the wrong decisions I made and wish I could go back and revise. To get over it I just remember that, bottom line, she was suffering at the time and this was the best choice I could make for her at that moment. Maybe realizing that we all feel this guilt and self-doubt is just part of human nature and that it isn’t indicative of any actual bad choices can be some sort of comfort. xoxo
Thanks, Tammy. I have never been the one that has been responsible for making the call, so it was super tough – especially for what was also my first pet from moving out on my own. I remember reading about you and having to put your horse down and it tore me up. I knew that some day I would have to make the same call. But you’re right, it’s something that we did what’s best for the pets we loved so that they wouldn’t suffer. I think that it is all part of human nature, and just goes to show how deeply we really cared for these members of our family.