With a gigantic smile on my face, I like to tell people, “this is all his fault.” The moment Charlie came into my life everything changed – for better or for worse.
It was 2007, I was 20 at the time and in college. I was working at a local pizza shop and my boss came into work one day complaining that a dog that he had given away had just been given back to him – for the second time. This should have been a red flag, but I was young and dumb and felt for the poor dog. I was living on my mom’s couch at the time, putting myself through college and going through a major life transition. Why not add a dog to the mix? (So much sarcasm here.)
The first time I met Charlie, I couldn’t help but think he was incredibly funny looking. I had never met a Boxer before. What, just what, is wrong with his face? It’s so smushed! But, I pushed forward. I could live with a funny looking dog I thought, why not?
When I went to pick him up the next week with my boyfriend, he barked and barked at us. Once we finally got inside the house, we went over feeding instructions, got his crate, shoved it in the back on my little two door coupe and off we went with my new 75 lbs dog sitting on my lap. We were unsure of each other, but that was okay. We were going to be best friends, I was going to take him everywhere – my new partner in crime.
But much like I have discovered life to be like, nothing is ever the way you picture it to be. After getting home that night, I went into the bathroom and shut the door. I heard Charlie start to whimper and cry. Before I could even process this thought, I hear him pee! (Remember, at this point in my life, I knew nothing about dog behavior, at all.) I open the door and there is my new four-year old “housebroken” dog peeing on my mom’s carpet, right outside of the bathroom door. Oh my god!!!! I had convinced my mom this dog was going to be perfect and now here he is peeing on the carpet. I scrubbed the carpet that night so my mom wouldn’t know. Surely he must be nervous and this would be a one time thing. Ha..haha.
The next day, I decided to take Charlie out for a walk downtown. I couldn’t wait to do stuff with my new best bud. We got maybe an eighth of a mile down the road before we came across a man walking towards us. Without a care in the world I keep walking. The man starts to move out of the way, and I say, “Oh, don’t worry, he’s friendly!” As the words leave my mouth, Charlie lunges up and grabs the man’s hand. The man jumps back, yelled at me for not having my dog under control and then moved along quickly.
I was shocked, devastated and confused. My boss had told me Charlie was friendly, crate-trained, housebroken and a great dog. But here I am, with a dog that had, within the first 24 hours, cried every time I walked into another room, peed on my mom’s floor and had now bitten a man as I walked him down the street. And no, he was not crate trained. He barked and barked and cried. I thought long and hard about giving him back. I really did.
But, then, I didn’t.
Flash Backs are Hard
It’s been a while since I’ve thought about Charlie. In fact, the sadness of losing him has not overcome me in quite sometime. I think this is a big part of moving on with a loss. Life goes on and you learn to live with the void that you know will never be truly replaced. I’m not sure if you ever really recover, but you learn to accept it as truth.
But as we all know, the emotions behind a loss can be triggered without warning. And so here I was at a newer friend’s house last night. Since I only moved to Vermont last year, newer friends I meet will never understand the bond I had with Charlie. And so, knowing I am a crazy dog lady, they began playing a video on YouTube. They were so excited to show me this ridiculous video of Boxer running down the beach and blatantly disregarding their owner. And initially, I was laughing – the video is hysterical. But that Boxer bounce, awkward tail wags and the smushy face got to me. Floods of memories came back in an instant. The snorts. That look. The black eyes and face all of my friends used to joke about. “It’s because has no soul, obviously.” And then I got sad. Very sad. So much has happened to me in past year and half and my best friend, my super buddy, my awkward companion couldn’t be a part of that.
So, I try my best to remember “the good times.”
Introducing Charlie to new people was always this process. This drawn out thing. First, I had to explain to people, “Okay, so before you come in the door, go to the mailbox. Retrieve three treats. Yes, three. Then knock twice – that’s it. Got it? Great. Then, make sure you don’t make eye contact with him. Ask him to sit though. Then give him two of the treats with your palm open. Why? Because he’ll chomp your hand off for that treat, duh. Then, he’ll move away from you, so you can proceed into the house. Ignore him from this point on. If he comes toward you, throw the other treat away from you and he’ll go chase it, take that moment to sit on the couch. He’ll come back so let him sniff you. Don’t make eye contact. Got it? Great.”
So, at this point, most people would nervously ask, “Okay, so how many people has he bitten?”
“Only a few really, but it’s never that bad!” I would gracefully reassure them. “He only barely breaks skin, you’ll be fine.”
So it was an initiation process for everyone. And it was always this really stressful, tense moment. Some people were better at it than others. Those who kept their cool and listened were typically fine. Those who walked in stiff as a board, well, those are the ones who struggled a bit. But, lucky for me, Charlie was never a dog who was overly aggressive and would cause major damage – he would make light contact to get his point across. I also spent his entire life carefully managing situations, so his behavior never escalated beyond that point.
But once through this process, Charlie would become your best friend with time and it was always this awkward process I got to watch evolve with each and every person. Usually, the moment I knew he was comfortable, but would put newcomers on edge, would be the instant his barrel-chested 75lb body would climb onto their lap and start licking their face. His nub, oh his nub, would be racing a million miles a minute, tucked super tight to his body. The looks on people’s faces would be hard to replicate, but it probably resembles what it looks like when most people reach the top of a roller coaster – a mix of fear, excitement and adrenaline.
But once you were in that club, you were in it. Even if it was months later and you walked into the door of my house, he would charge at you like there was no tomorrow. At the last second, you could see the recognition and his body language would change in an instant. All of a sudden he’d just be all like, “Oh, hey dude, sup? It’s been a while. How ’bout that butt scratch?”
Unless you’ve been in a similar situation, it’s hard to understand the anxiety and stress dog introductions can be with a dog who is semi unpredictable. I never really want to go back to those days again – my pre-dog knowledge days, my total lack of dog behavior understanding days- but in reality, Charlie gave me something that I use every single day with my clients who have pets with behavioral issues and aggressive tendencies. He gave me the gift of walking in their shoes and knowing what that feels like. To live with that fear every single day. Every single door knock. Every single walk down the block. So for that Charlie. I thank you and even if they don’t know it – so do many of my clients.