Goodbye Charlie Bear
Animal Stories from All-Creatures.org

FROM Ashley Capps
October 2019

[NOTE: We at All-Creatures.org saw this tribute on Facebook and wanted to share with you the warmth and depth of Ashley's love for Charlie Bear, and his for her.]

In the days since Charlie Bear died, I have only wanted to hide away and grieve, but I also want to honor him, and to say what a special, joyful, gentle and incredibly loving friend he was.

Dog Charlie Bear

Three days ago, impossibly, I said goodbye to my beautiful Charlie Bear, the most loyal companion I've ever known and my sidekick of the last 15 years. He was at least 16 years old, probably more, when he finally left his tired, broken down old body behind. In the days since, I have only wanted to hide away and grieve, but I also want to honor him, and to say what a special, joyful, gentle and incredibly loving friend he was.

Charlie spent the first year or more of his life living on a 3 foot chain in someone's backyard, where he was severely neglected and physically abused. My brother rescued him from that situation on Christmas day of 2004, while I was home visiting my family for the holidays. I had just finished the first semester of my MFA in Iowa, and had no intention of getting a dog then, or any desire to take on that kind of commitment. But there he was and he needed a home, so back to Iowa City he went with me.

He was very scared of people at first, but came to trust me quickly. I felt so badly that he had lived on a chain 24/7 that all I wanted to do was take him to the woods and let him run as far and as fast as he wanted to, but that meant first training him to go off leash without running away. We spent most of January 2005 in the shining winter stubblefields of last season's corn, where he would gleefully run these huge looping circles punctuated by razor sharp, lightning fast reversals and turns. He could change course on a dime, and I soon learned his running patterns were the sort you see sheepdog do, which made sense; by all the best guesses, Charlie was a border collie/chow mix. When we graduated to off-leash hikes, whenever he would meet another dog, he would try to get them to herd him. He never wanted to be the herder, but he loved being chased and making other dogs run behind him as he flew his ecstatic loops.

Dog Charlie Bear

Everyone who met Charlie fell in love with him. When we lived in Iowa City, even my poetry professors told me to bring Charlie to class, so everyone at Dey House got used to seeing Charlie wandering through the halls or curled under the table during workshop or seminars.

Charlie traveled all over the country with me, and lived with me in 5 different states: Iowa City, Iowa; Exeter, New Hampshire; Houston, Texas; Bloomington, Illinois; Chicago, Illinois; and, for the last 4 years, Asheville, NC. He *loved* going in the car any chance he could get, and happily accompanied me on countless long drives between all of the aforementioned cities and Charlotte, NC for Christmas visits to my family. He would curl up in the passenger seat or in the back and not make a peep the entire time.

Charlie's loves:

He adored water and snow. The years we lived in Exeter, NH, the snow would be sometimes nearly to his chin (see pics), and he would fling himself into it with such joy, using his body like a snow plow, tunneling a trail to the woods with a giant grin on his face. When it was warmer, we'd spend hours walking in the forest there and he would splash through the bogs. Equally he loved the seaside, creeks, and rivers, and the tall, fragrant grasses of the Illinois prairie into which he'd disappear like a seal into the ocean.

Charlie thrilled at autumn leaf-litter and loved snuffling through it, smelling all the damp smells.

His paws smelled like doritos, always; and sometimes like a campfire.

He howled the most comically dramatic, prolonged, mournful wolf howl every time he heard a siren.

He was the most laidback, undemanding, gentle dog I have ever known, happy to just lie around like a throw rug as long as he had me nearby.

Charlie has been by my side through so many milestones; my MFA; the publication of my first book; the start of a PhD; a marriage; a divorce; and finally buying my first home this past March. I couldn't wait to get him into the new house and finally give him his own big backyard to play in; but when I finally did, I looked out at my boy and realized he couldn't even climb the hill. He wasn't enjoying the yard and playing, but only pacing back and forth from dementia, and he wasn't my young bear who could run for hours on end, but rather needed a ramp built just to get up the two stairs of the back porch. And I looked in his eyes and saw that he wasn't there anymore, and nothing brought him any joy; not even me.

Late this past Thursday afternoon, after a particularly pitiful and prolonged episode of his back legs failingó something he has been struggling with for a while but that's gotten increasingly worse the last few weeksó I dialed the number I have tried and failed so many times to call over the last few months, for a local companion animal hospice and euthanasia company. I had no idea they would be able to send someone out the same day for an assessment, but they did. The veterinarian arrived an hour and a half later. She examined Charlie and assured me it was time to let him go, that his dementia was very advanced and his world had grown very small, inside of which he was alone and suffering.

She offered that she could help him transition then, or come back another day. I knew I couldn't make that phone call again. As in a dream, unsure how I could do any of the things that were next required of me, I made a big soft bed on the floor of my living room and the vet left us alone for half an hour. I lit some candles and lay down on the floor and pulled Charlie to my chest and held him in a bear hug for the next 30 minutes. I told him how dearly I loved him and couldn't imagine life without him, but that it was time for him to run free again, as far and as fast as he wanted to.

Then the vet, one of the most compassionate people I have ever met, came back in and sat on the floor with us. She stroked his face and then my head that was buried in his fur where I was weeping. She asked if I was ready, then administered the drugs and he was gone in a matter of minutes, swiftly and so peacefully. I never let go of him as his spirit left his body. I was holding him and I felt it leave, but I don't know where it went. I would give anything to know, and to go there.

Instead he'll be returned to me as ash and a pawprint in clay, and I will learn how to live with this missing.

Goodbye my beautiful boy, beautiful bear. I will love you forever. Forever, forever. Thank you for teaching me.


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