This morning I made the agonizing decision to have my beloved Charley put to sleep. He would have been ten years old next month.
Charley had an AKC name as big as his body: Windfalls’ Glorious Gansky, named after my pal Al because I promised him I’d name my firstborn dog after him. 🙂 Al was honored to have a canine namesake.
Charley came to us from Ohio when he was ten weeks old. He was a goofy puppy, and my kids thought I had flipped my lid when I slept with him in his doggie bed just to make him feel at home. He was an adorable pup, and quickly grew into his massive mastiff frame.
Charley was always a “mama’s boy”–maybe I made him so, maybe it was his nature–I think the latter, because I’ve had other dogs, and none of them were as attached to me as Charley. If I was home and you wanted to find me, all you had to do was look for Charley. Even when I went upstairs (Charley didn’t do the stairs), he would lay parallel to the bottom step and wait for me.
He grew into a strapping young mastiff, 200 pounds and beautiful. I remember taking him to our local dog park once, and Charley was the big, goofy kid who followed all the other popular kids. All the Labs and Retrievers got into a huddle and then raced this way and that; Charley loped along behind, never in the huddle, never seeming to mind. We ended our doggie park outings, however, when Charley came home with a bug and literally caught the doggie flu. If you’ve never seen a mastiff sneeze into your drapes, well–it’s not pretty.
During his puppyhood, Charley developed an attachment to a particular thick, rectangular blanket he’d inherited from our second mastiff, Justus. Charley would grab that blanket and “nurse” on it for hours, sleeping on it, carrying it around–it was his lovey. When I would wash it, he would wait outside the laundry room until it came out of the dryer. Every night, when hubby and I headed to bed, Charley would go into the office, pick up his blanket, and trot it into our bedroom, ready for the night. When he carried it, his jowls flared out over the blanket, making him look like a dog with chipmunk cheeks. How I wish I’d taken a picture of that!
Charley was beautiful. But more than that, he was sweet and gentle. Babies could and do go up to him and pet him because in his heart, he was still just a puppy.
In time Charley developed a limp, and we chalked it up to arthritis in his front elbow. We never took him for many walks after that (or should it be the other way around?), and generally he liked to lay on the floor at my feet while I worked. That’s the great thing about mastiffs–they’re great work-watchers. 🙂 I still have Babe, a year younger and many pounds heavier than Charley, and she’s snoring at my feet at this moment.
As time passed, Charley began to have “spells” where he would pant heavily and seem to be unable to get comfortable. I rushed him to the emergency animal clinic the first time this happened, but they really couldn’t pinpoint a cause. But the spell passed, and Charley seemed to get better, though he kept having those spells. Usually a dose of painkiller helped him through it.
My husband, who is not as much of a rule-keeper as I, began letting Charley go potty outside on the front lawn–without a leash, and yes, our neighborhood has a leash rule. I was always MORTIFIED when Charley spied another dog and its owner coming down the walk, because while Charley liked people, he seemed to enjoy letting other people know that they were getting TOO CLOSE to his front lawn. Anyway, I shriveled up a little inside every time I saw neighbors spot Charley, then turn and go around the block by another way.
In time, Charley would ONLY go out the front door to potty, which put a definite crimp in my daily routine. I had trained all my dogs to go to the back door, which leads to a fenced area. They go and scratch, I let them out, I go back to work while they sniff around and do whatever they do out there, then they’d scratch to come in and I’d get up and let them in.
But when Charley developed a stubborn-front-door-or-nothing habit, I was miserable. I couldn’t just let him out, I had to TAKE him out on a leash, which meant that I usually had to go outside in my pajamas or without makeup or worse. And I couldn’t leave him alone out there; I had to stand there and wait for him to go, and sometimes that could take hours (well, it felt like hours) while he sniffed every blade of grass to learn who had trespassed on his lawn since the last time he sniffed around. And sometimes he had to go early in the morning, or late at night, which meant I had to get up, put on a ROBE, and do that duty . . .
Whereupon I told my husband that since he had taught Charley that habit, he could be the one to handle the middle of the night potty calls. 🙂 Charley would wake me up, I’d wake hubby up, and Charley would go out. That system worked pretty well.
We noticed some signs of aging–a tendency to poop, for instance, anywhere and everywhere, even while asleep–and Charley had a lovely little habit of waking me in the middle of the night AFTER he’d pooped in his bed. Still, if I can change baby diapers, I figured I could handle the doggie bed situation. He was growing older, after all.
Early this week he suffered another heavy panting spell. He panted, wouldn’t eat, couldn’t seem to get comfortable, etc. On Wednesday hubby took him to the vet, and they kept him overnight because he was dehydrated. The vet checked him out–some kidney disease, but no noticeable masses or lumps. But still . . . something was going on, probably something we couldn’t see. He had also lost a lot of weight–down to 148 pounds, which was the first time in my life, I think, that Charley weighed less than I did.
Charley came home from the vet late yesterday afternoon, and I hoped he’d eat and get back to normal. But he didn’t eat, and he didn’t bounce back to normal. He kept panting and wouldn’t lie down in our bedroom to sleep, so last night at three a.m. I got up and went into my office to work–that’s the only place Charley would rest. He did sleep, fitfully, for five minutes here and there, but I knew we were approaching the end.
I took him outside to pee and sat on the porch step to think. Charley did his business, then lumbered over to me and lifted one paw, placing it on my knee. I don’t know whether he was asking for help or saying goodbye, but either way, I got his message. I asked him to hold on for a few more hours, then promised to take care of him.
Right after the vet opened this morning, I called them to say we’d be coming in. I bawled like a baby, but I think the receptionist is used to distraught puppy parents. We got Charley into the car, took him into the office, and went into the exam room. He lay on the cool tile floor and I sat on the floor beside him, rubbing his thick fur.
And I was still rubbing and petting and stroking when he went to sleep. The panting stopped, and so did his suffering. The vet tactfully left us alone afterward, and I lay my head on Charley’s shoulders and sobbed.
Who can explain the bond between man and dog? Dean Koontz has theorized that dogs–some of them, anyway–are angels in disguise. I don’t know about that, but I do believe they have souls, and that they are probably the single animal placed on his planet to give us unconditional love. I only hope we–I–deserve it.
I came home and hugged Babe, my remaining mastiff, who was sniffing me and Charley’s collar as if she were trying to figure out where Charley had gone. She was the alpha and loved bossing Charley around, so I know she’ll miss him. But Charley was the alpha in my heart because he came first, and because the big lug loved me completely.
And if that isn’t a gift from God, I don’t know what is.
RIP, Charley. I’ll see you again in heaven, because animals DO have souls. And since we know that the Lord comes from heaven to earth on a horse, why shouldn’t heaven have more than a few dogs to keep us company?
~~Angie, Mastiff Mom