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.

 

 

 

Published by

Ellen Morrow

In her former life, Ellen Morrow was a carpool mom and award winning bodybuilder. Today she is a nationally certified therapy dog handler who volunteers at UCLA Medical Center and Providence Hospital with her GoldenDoodles. She's also the mother of three grown daughters who all think she's a little crazy or in the words of a friend, "a little unconventional." She is also an avid hiker who has survived a rattlesnake bite!

4 thoughts on “Goodbye My Gentle Giant”

  1. Dear Ellen,

    It’s Judy Bin-Nun and I want you to know how much your writing about Charlie has touched me.

    I did not know him personally, but knew he was one amazing dog. They are our soulmates and I know how difficult this transition is for you.

    I love my Griffys as you love your Doods and we both have been so fortunate to have multiple dogs in the PAC Program. I want to send you comfort and blessings for all the work you and Charlie have accomplished and know the love between you that will never leave your heart.

    His influence is far reaching.

    Love,
    Judy and Griffys 4

  2. Dear Ellen,
    That was one of the most beautiful things you have written and so heartfelt. I can hardly believe the story of how he passed away. He really was looking out for you till his last moment. Thanks you so much for sharing him with us and for sharing the stories of his many accomplishments. As they say in Ireland, we will not see his like again.

    Ursula

  3. My friend and I took classes with you with Best Friends. So sorry for your loss. We lost a Poodle recently and it is so difficult. Thoughts are with you!

  4. Ellen, I am so deeply sorry for your huge loss. We lost our darling Mitzi over a year ago and the love never vanishes. I miss her sweetness every day! You and Charley were a special team. I always loved seeing you and the doods in the neighborhood. I know how hard this is for you. I’ve been there!
    Love to you, Donna

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