Goodbye My Gentle Giant

 

When Charley was six months old, we were in the waiting room at the vet when a woman walked over and commented on his demeanor, saying that he would be a perfect therapy dog. The very next morning this thoughtful stranger called me with the number for the UCLA People Animal Connection. Little did I know, it was a phone call that would change my life.

Charley was my dog but as we worked together over the years, he became my friend, my partner, oh let’s face it, my soulmate. The daughters referred to him as my “other husband.” He died the same way he lived, with grace, dignity and concern for my well being. He knew that I could never make the decision to let him go so he made it for me.

In early posts I wrote about all of the training and testing, but nothing prepared me for the emotions of walking into the hospital with him for the first time. I confess that I have a basic fear of hospitals and a bit of “white coat syndrome.” Yet when I went into the hospital lobby with that big, beautiful animal by my side, I was at ease.

Charley’s first bed visit was with a patient who had been been hospitalized for quite some time waiting for a heart transplant. She looked so frail in the small bed surrounded by huge equipment. My hands were shaking as I helped Charley step gently onto the bed. As he instinctively cuddled by her side, the woman wrapped her arms around him, started to cry and then to smile, sharing how lonesome she was for her own three dogs.

I watched in wonder as Charley comforted her. Any skepticism I had about how much a dog could accomplish completely disappeared. It was the moment that I became a true believer in the healing power, or maybe magic, of therapy dogs.

Two other patients experiencing “Charley love”

 

Charley became my teacher. That first day in the hospital, he taught me to be brave. Over the more than ten years that we volunteered together, he taught me to focus and be present for the patients, families and staff members who needed us. He taught me about unconditional love.

Charley was a special soul who lived a life of joy and purpose. His kindness, intuition and ability to heal were legendary.  People still talk about the day that a woman who had been catatonic for over a week smiled and petted him. No one who experienced the Charley “lean” or the gentle grip of his big front paw ever forgot it.

At twelve, Charley was slowing down but still seemed to enjoy special events. The night before he passed, he and his mini-me Gus were visiting Bruin athletes at the UCLA Hall of Fame. He was his usual charming self and worked the room like a pro.

 

He seemed restless when we got home, so I spent most of the night sitting with him. In the morning, I left him on the bed while I went to feed the rest of the pack. When I came back upstairs, he wasn’t there. I found him in the yard. He had chosen a quiet spot under some purple flowering bushes to lay down. A half hour later he was gone. His giant heart had stopped beating.

 

 

 

The Pink Trees

It’s no secret that I’m a little, okay a lot, obsessed with the dogs but I confess that I have a few other obsessions. For instance, why are there three or four helicopters flying over the mountains near our house at all hours of the night? The middle daughter was about to tell me that I was losing it when she looked out the bedroom window and there they were.

I also have a thing about wood rat nests. I took a class at a nature center and was fascinated. A rat family will build a nest out of sticks and leaves at the base of a tree. Each time a new rat moves in they add on. The nests can get huge. For some reason they remind me of condos. By the way, even though I like the living arrangement, I did not touch the stuffed rat when they passed it around in class. I have standards.

I am really obsessed with the cherry trees that grow around a small lake in a nearby park. In February I start driving by almost every day to see if they’re in bloom yet.

THE DOODS Pack Leader is not kidding. Can we tell you how many times we’ve had to act excited to see the trees. Just look at this photo. At least we look cute and aren’t wearing hats and sunglasses. 

Pink Trees and the Doods

One year I convinced the whole family that we should meet by the lake on a Sunday to see the pink blooms at their peak. Apparently, I was not the only one who had that idea. It was chaotic. There were people everywhere. Parking was a nightmare. The oldest daughter, who couldn’t care less about the pink trees, thought it was one of the worst ideas I’d ever had.

A few weeks later she walked into our house, looked at me and said, “Mom you win.” Driving over, she had seen some pink trees, that she normally would never have noticed, and immediately thought of me. I think she’s afraid that the pink trees and I will haunt her forever.

Today she texted a photo that is the main reason I decided to write this post. That is my granddaughter smiling in front of some pink trees! Not to mention that she loves to find wood rat nests when we go hiking. I did win!

 

 

For My Brother Stan

 

When I sat down to write this post, I couldn’t understand why I was having so much trouble finding the words. Then it dawned on me. It was because it was about someone so dear to my heart.

THE DOODS Wonder which one of us she’s talking about.

 

My brother Stan’s birthday was March 3rd. He was like the Jewish dog whisperer long before Cesar Milan took the title, without the Jewish part. He was a television director in San Francisco but had a real knack for training his dogs. I never remember him taking a class or hiring anyone. It just seemed to happen naturally. He was also one of the funniest people I have ever known.

He always gave his dogs people names like Max, Stella and Dave, a dog named after David Letterman because Letterman had a dog named Stan. The fact that he gave them those names may explain why they felt obligated to live up to his trust. Somehow that hasn’t always worked for me.

ELBEE And would you care to explain my name. No wonder I have issues.

In the fall of 1995, we were living at the beach in Malibu while our house was being repaired after the Northridge earthquake. One morning my brother called to tell me that he had been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and would be undergoing major surgery. After I picked myself up off the floor and got the phone back to my ear, we decided that he would stay with us while he recuperated. His only request was that he bring Larry.

Larry, a Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix, was the most special of all Stan’s dogs. When they arrived at our house, Larry instantly bonded with Cody, our  Golden Retriever. The two of them became best friends. They would explode onto the sand, doing laps, swimming, sunning. Yet much of the time they sat quietly by Stan’s side or took walks up the beach with him.

After a few months, feeling somewhat better, my brother decided to move back to his house in Oakland and return to work. Despite a positive attitude, he knew that his time was limited and wanted to live his life as fully and normally as possible.

When it came time to say good-bye to Stan and Larry, I don’t know who was a bigger mess, me or Cody. Being a realist, Stan asked me if, when the time came, we would adopt Larry. Since he was being so direct, I couldn’t offer all of the platitudes that were trying to jump out of my mouth, so all I said was, “of course.”

I have a confession. I started to write about Stan and Larry coming back in the months before my brother’s death but it got too depressing. Let me just say that we lost Stan on July 22, 1996 at the age of 47. That was also the day that his beloved Larry became my beloved Larry.