It was not a coincidence that today’s memory challenge was about animals. I have been trying to get up the courage to write this post. I still don’t think I have the courage but I need to write it now.
Monday, my 50th birthday, was not spent with cake and ice cream. There was no quiet dinner out at a favorite restaurant. Instead I came home from work early to spend a few last hours with my best four-legged friend Chelsie. Her time had come. And as always is the case, it is too soon for those of us left behind.
Was it only May that I wrote this post about her? I knew then that my time with her was coming to an end. Later in May I posted the sunflower episode. After that she slowed down even more, rarely wanting to move from one of her two favorite spots in the library, one of two corners, each with the safety of a chair for her to hide behind. She was less interested in saying hello in the morning or when I came home from work. She would skip meals for several days. After that it came fast.
Monday afternoon I sat with her for the last time.
I spoke softly and recalled every step of the journey we had taken together over the last 14 years. She came into my life at my absolutely lowest point, when I was living in New Orleans. She would jump up like a kangaroo to greet me each day. As I spoke, I reminded her of the great escape I gave her from the pound. It was a horrible place, filthy and she was covered with so many bugs. She was skin and bones but even then, not interested in food. I talked of the agility classes we had taken together and how much she used to love the tunnel and the poles. I laughed again at how she never met a puddle she didn’t want to roll in and how, in her younger years, she believed children and ducks at the park were meant for herding. She and my big orange cat Benjamin were the best of friends. I don’t know if she thought she was a cat or if she thought the cat was a dog but the two of them did everything together, including getting into cabinets for their favorite treat, bread. She wasn’t food motivated but she did love the scraps of plain tortillas and a spoonful of vanilla ice cream.
In New Orleans life was rough and many a day I didn’t want to get out of bed, not even to go to work. But I got out of bed for her. And while I lived in a very scary place and she really wasn’t that big of a dog, I felt a little safer with her by my side.
On the trip moving from New Orleans back home to California Chelsie was supposed to ride shot-gun but instead she scooted over as close as she could get, her nose always under the steering wheel. And when I got pulled over for speeding I think it was her goofy clown face that saved me from getting that much-deserved ticket.
She was terrified of most men but once we were in California and she met me soon-to-be husband, she didn’t hesitate to give him all the love she had reserved for me. She was content to sleep on the floor on the side of the bed until someone got up in the middle of the night and then she would quickly jump up and claim as much of it as she could. She and Benjamin would sit on the chest in front of the window to watch for me to come home. When she injured her back and had major surgery I had to move the chest and not let her jump anymore. I think she began to die a little bit back then, so much did that girl love to jump.
When Benjamin died she mourned him for months and some of the light went out of her eyes. She would lay in the garage staring at the last place she saw him and my heart hurt for her hurting, missing her buddy.
Monday I knew it was time. I told her to go find Benjamin. That it was okay to leave me now.
A wonderful vet, Dr. Apple, came to our home so we didn’t have to subject her to the vet’s office. (In recent years she had become so fearful of the vet that she had to be sedated for basic exams.) I worried that she would give me a look of betrayal at the end but instead I saw her finally relax and look more peaceful than I have seen in longer than I want to remember.
This morning when I came downstairs there was no black and white clown face to greet me. When the doorbell rang there was no answering bark to make sure I heard it. My husband went out to get the paper alone. The house is emptier than I could have imagined it would be.
Chelsie was not my first dog nor will she be my last. But she was the dog I needed most for one of the toughest struggles in my life. I was so proud to call her friend.
Goodbye, my friend. Run wild. Run free.
#1 I am the sort of person that needs to be around plants and flowers and bugs and birds and stuff like that.
At my last house, even though it was a rental, we put in a small native garden. When I would come home from work I would head out the garden just to deadhead flowers or see what new bugs had come by to visit. It was soothing and inspiring.
#2 Sunflowers make me smile.
#4 But sometimes I CAN have them outside.
I have been patient, waiting this first year in the house as we learned what we did and didn’t want in a garden. We’ve done the prep work, ripping out everything in the backyard save one tree and the lawn and the lawn will be gone too. But I missed flowers. The birds were coming to visit. But all we had growing in the yard was a Japanese maple that, while lovely, had no flowers. While the garden I am designing will be filled with many natives that will flower I didn’t want to plant them now because we still have to take up the lawn and the concrete and do some more prep work. So I decided I could have just a few sunflowers out back. I picked up 4 plants in the little 4″ pots but the sunflowers were already over a foot tall. I planted them out back, near the bird bath. They all had flowers about to open. The second day, one flower opened and one of the local hummingbirds came to visit. (Hey, it was the first time I had something new to offer him besides the bugs on the maple tree.) I was thrilled.
The next day I opened the blinds, looked out back hoping to see a little hummer darting around or at least a smiling sunflower face beaming back at me.
Instead I see this.
That would be just a stem of what used to be a sunflower. One of the four flowers were gone. And I don’t mean broken off and sitting in the dirt which was my first thought. I figured a bird or squirrel had landed on them, broken it and that we’d fine the flowers in the dirt. Nope. We looked all over the yard (which, remember, has been stripped of everything but the one tree and the lawn. There’s just dirt.) There was no flower in sight. There were no seeds in the flower yet but we finally decided that a squirrel must have carried them off. There was no other explantion.
Or was there?
The next day when I was at work my husband was working from home. He sent me a text message that said “I know the creature that is eating your sunflowers.”
Of course I had to call him right away to find the answer to our mystery. He said we had lost another flower but that he caught the criminal in the act.
#5 Dogs will eat anything, even entire sunflowers.
Yes, my picky eater dog was the one who calmed ate an entire sunflower and then, went back for more.
Sigh. I still have two left but I don’t know for how long.
She’s a Southern girl. Part Border Collie with a little bit of Aussie Shepherd and Spitz.
I got Chelise in New Orleans. Yes, I know that is not the way most people spell Chelise but trust me, it was the only small battle I could win about her name at the time. I wanted to call her something literary. Sigh. I did not intend to get a dog. I had a cat. I was living in an apartment (albeit a nice sized one) and I was working a full-time job. But I went to the pound with a friend (always a big mistake) who was looking for a replacement dog. Replacement because he had adopted a dog there and then when they went to spay him, the dog had some disease and they had to put it down. So he basically had a gift certificate to the pound that he didn’t want to use.
Then I saw Chelise who was scrawny and covered in bugs. I figured she was about 9 months old back. She leaned against the cyclone fence and it was love at first sight. I remember being worried about have the same pound spay her. When I went to pick her up she was still out cold, sleeping in a pile of urine. They let me take her home even though she wasn’t awake and I remember carrying her up those very many stairs of the apartment and hoping I didn’t drop her. Benjamin (my cat) was fascinated with the sleeping dog who didn’t move even when he poked it with a paw.
I gave her a sponge bath and waited for her to wake up.
This is the oldest picture I have of her. I think she was about a year old.
Here she is a few years later. Filled out a bit more but she still has the goofy black eye that I fell in love with.
When I lived in New Orleans she was always happy to see me come home from work. I thought she was part kangaroo the way she would jump into my arms. I’d have to be quick to put my purse down so I could catch her.
Not so much anymore. I often have to go find her to let her know I am home. Part of it is I think she is starting to go deaf and part of is she just doesn’t care as much as she used to.
For the longest time my cat Benjamin was her best buddy. (She mourned him for months after he died.) The two of them would wait anxiously for me to come home from work. We had a special cushion made to fit on this chest so they could look out the only window in this very tiny place we lived in when I first moved back to California.
Back then she could still jump up on all sorts of things but now that she is older and has had back surgery, she hesitates before deciding if she really wants to make the next step up or down between the library and the rest of the house. Now that we finally have a big house with a yard it is sad. She doesn’t go upstairs at all and really doesn’t care to be outside for any longer than it takes to do her business.
She is the least food motivated animal I have ever had in my life. At least now. When I was in New Orleans and she was still so afraid of everything and hungry she would do more for food but not anymore. She saves her treats until after dinner. No matter when you give them to her. No matter how many you give her. She just lets them pile up. At the end of the night she could have 5, 6,7 treats piled up. And while she will eat a milk bone or a greenie, she would much rather have a piece of a plain tortilla or lick the ice cream bowl.
She does, eventually eat them though.
She’s a bit of a snob.
She’s not fond of most men and doesn’t like other dogs. She takes a while to warm up to anyone new.
And she’s easily bored.
She is also the first dog I’ve ever had who didn’t know how to play with a ball. In all the years I’ve had her I’ve never been able to teach her how. She doesn’t play much at all. Never did. She has some stuffed toys and will sometimes run after one once if you throw it, but only once.
She’s also a bit silly.
Whenever I sneeze, she leaves the room. And my office has two sets of French Doors, one from the library (where she spends most of her time) and the other from the living room (where no one spends any time.) If I close the ones to the library and leave the ones to the living room open, she can’t figure out how to go around and get in the other way.
She appreciates a good nap.
In fact, nowadays that’s what she spends most of her time doing. Sleeping. Behind the chair in the library or in the corner of my husband’s office. Sometimes in my office but not often. Getting her to eat anymore is a major chore and she doesn’t want to be petted or brushed so it is always a struggle. She just wants to be left alone and sometimes I find myself resenting the caretaking I am doing without any of the fun of having a dog.
But then I remember being in New Orleans with only Chelsie and Benjamin to keep me company. I remember how Chelsie and I would run laps around the inside of the gated apartment complex (because it was too scary to run anywhere else) and how she would always stop to roll in a muddy puddle (of which there were always many) and then jump up and shake like it was the best joke she had ever heard. I remember when a stray mama cat deserted the last kitten in a litter and I brought it home. My own cat wanted to eat it but Chelsie let it sleep between her outstretched paws and growled whenever Benjamin came close.
But most of all I remember how very lost and alone I felt living on my own for the first time (even though I was in my 30s) and how easy it was to get depressed and feel like my life was never going to get any better and how knowing I had to get up and take her outside was often the only thing that got me through the day.
And I figure being a caretaker to her in her old age is a mighty small price to pay for all she has done for me.