Big Paw Prints to Follow

ELBEE Thank goodness she changed the title. This post was going to be called Life Goes On which I thought was depressing and kind of a cliche.

Last week I went to UCLA with Gus. Walking into the hospital for the first time since Charley passed was as emotional as walking in with him for the very first time years ago. Carol, a wise woman and honorary “aunt” to the Doods who helps out with PAC, said that Charley would always be by my side to guide me and keep me brave. He definitely was there in spirit that morning.

I asked Marsha, the groomer with all of the magic colors, to give Gus pastel ears and a pastel tail for Easter. To be honest I think it was to create a distraction. I also think I brought Gus instead of Elbee because there was no chance anyone would mistake him for Charley and lead to an awkward moment.

GUS I’m getting used to the colors but with Pack Leader keeping my hair long, about 10 people said that I looked like a sheep. Someone else commented that I looked like a member of an 80’s hair band. What is that?

ELBEE Normally I would be insulted about not going into the hospital but out of respect for my big brother, I get it. And note to self: try to explain to Gus how much P.L. misses the 80’s.

I was very nervous about seeing all of the people at the hospital who miss Charley almost as much as I do. I was afraid that I would end up a blubbering mess. Fortunately, everyone was so kind and supportive. There were hugs and there were tears but the morning was healing. Gus was a big part of that. He comforted me at the same time that he reached out to patients and staff. He showed a certain grace and maturity that I hadn’t seen before.

He really stepped up his game. It was as if he knew that he had some big paw prints to fill. He strode through the lobby with total confidence. Well, as much as a little guy can stride. He was sweeter than ever. A woman in the volunteer office was so enchanted that he became her favorite dog within five minutes. I noticed him doing something that Charley often did. He would sit very still and look around as if assessing the situation to see what he needed to do. Note to the daughters: No I have not lost it. He really did. I have witnesses.

He almost over performed. I’d give him the hand signal for down and he’d follow that but then add a bunch of tricks on his own. He got laughs. He got applause. He won people over. He helped me cope.

All in all the day went well. Gus was exhausted but worked like a champ. Despite more mood swings than I had during menopause and pregnancies put together, I didn’t end up a blubbering mess. That happened later.

At night my husband found a package on the doorstep and said,  “you’ve got something here from UCLA.” Having no idea what to expect, I tore it open and found this beautiful plaque. I was so moved by the thoughtfulness of the gesture and the sentiments behind it that the tears started pouring down my face. They were tears of sadness but also of pride and gratitude.




Dogs Cry Too



It’s obvious that Elbee and Gus have  been feeling the loss of their big brother. They are both more subdued. Yet each one seems to be grieving in his own way. At least neither one has a pimple like I did.

Elbee was howling in his sleep the other night and has even whimpered a few times. That’s something he’s never done before.

ELBEE But thank goodness I don’t have a pimple.

He was always happy resting on the floor. Now he sleeps in Charley’s spot on the bed with his head on the footboard. Speaking of the bed, he is sometimes prone to stomach problems during the night. When it happened in the past, Charley would always nudge me awake with his paw so that I would let Elbee out. Well last night was one of those nights. Elbee didn’t nudge me but instead did a soft bark (not his usual really loud annoying one) to get me up. It was surprising.

ELBEE I thought this was supposed to be about my grieving, not my personal habits.

He also seems to have become a lot more mellow. I think it’s because, as much as he loved Charley, he now has one less dog to compete with. It’s no secret that Elbee enjoys undivided attention.

ELBEE Has it ever occurred to her that I may be maturing.

Today was the happiest I’ve seen Elbee in weeks. My grandson Ryan, one of his favorite people in the world, slept over and really seemed to cheer him up.

Gus looks sad and a bit lost without Charley. As Charley quietly passed away in the yard, the little guy sat about ten feet away, watching intently and not moving. It was if he understood what was happening. More and more, I notice him sitting very still with that serious look on his face.

As I’ve shared in previous posts, Gus worked several events with Charley so not only was he bonded to him but Charley was his teacher. Together they comforted at the UCLA candlelight vigil. They taught an anti-bullying group from Compton about kindness. They showed unconditional acceptance to children at a special needs camp. At each of these events they would occasionally check in, licking each other on the face.

Gus has picked up some of Charley’s habits. He’s become a little “stalkerish” in a good way and follows me around the house. The other day he even pushed open the bathroom door to find me. Charley, and my kids when they were young, are the only ones who have ever done that.

He also does the “nudge” during the night. Unlike Charley, who did it so I would let Elbee out to throw up, Gus just does it so I’ll wake up and pet him. The poor guy is lonely.

Elbee Really?

As the weeks have gone by, Elbee and Gus have turned to each other more and more. Very rarely will you find either of them alone. This unusual “rug” is the two of them cuddled together for comfort and support.


And on a Lighter Note…Sort of


This post was going to be titled Confessions of a Hot Mess because that’s about how well I’ve been coping with Charley being gone. Just to give you an idea of how badly it’s been going, I have a pimple. I am way to old to have a pimple. A daughter said it was stress.

I’ve been hiking in the mountains and spending time with Elbee, Gus and Riley, our Golden retriever and Charley’s uncle, trying to come to terms with the loss. I miss Charley’s protective presence following me around the house. I miss that other welcoming bark when I come home. I miss walking into the hospital with him by my side.

This morning I pictured Charley sitting next to me, with his paw on my lap and staring at me as if to say, “get a grip.” Well, today I’m going to get a grip. I’m going to celebrate some of the fun we had when Charley was younger.

Many of you know we did the movie I Love You Man.

ELBEE Is there anyone who doesn’t know about their blink and you missed it cameo which Pack Leader thought put her in Oscar contention? Yes, I’m back. With my big brother gone, I have to be the voice of reason and be funny. You try it.

By the way, I’m wearing glasses to give the photo some gravitas. See, I’m smarter than I look.

Since Elbee mentioned the Oscars, let me share that Charley and I worked an Academy Awards gifting suite. To be honest, I don’t think it was an A-list event because the “stars” had to wear rubber bracelets so we’d know they were stars. In earlier posts, I’ve written about Charley being on Pit Bulls and Parolees, making the cover of the Bed Head Pajama Catalog and being in several parades, including the Hollywood Christmas Parade with the dog whisperer, Cesar Milan.

Charley and I also  participated in numerous street fairs and charity walks. Among others, we took part in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the Light the Night Walk Against Cancer and Mariette Hartley’s Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention where Charley was the mascot.

Speaking of mascots, for several years he was the mascot for the Los Angeles Police Academy Magnet Schools, a program that prepares high schoolers for careers in law enforcement. The kids loved him but the officer who had to introduce Charley at a meeting had trouble keeping a straight face when he brought out my huge, shaggy dog.

I can only imagine what former Chief Bratton was thinking when they shot this photo or when Charley took part in graduation exercises.


Charley initially got involved in the program because I was the weight training coach for the students. I would often bring him to events to teach the kids about the healing work of therapy dogs.

ELBEE Oh no! She mentioned weight lifting! So soon after Charley’s passing and she’s going to bring out a bodybuilding photo from the archives. I threatened to boycott the blog if she ever did it again but under the circumstances I have to cut her some slack. I mean the pimple and all.






A Life Well Lived



Sometimes it was hard to believe that Charley was a dog. Nicole, the middle daughter and the one who actually loves all the Doods, said that he was like a mystical creature who would never die. Like a unicorn.

Missing my wonderful “unicorn,” I took advantage of a beautiful, breezy morning to hike up into the mountains. As I enjoyed the healing freedom, the spectacular views and the wildflowers, thoughts of Charley came flooding in. I could almost feel his spirit.


In his ten plus years at UCLA Medical Center and at Providence Tarzana Hospital his interactions with patients, staff and families were so simple and natural but at the same time extraordinary. He entertained with tricks. He comforted. He healed. He always seemed to have an instinct about who needed him the most.

For some reason, as I climbed the trails that morning, I kept remembering many of the more difficult situations. Those were the times when his grace and kindness really helped me as well as the people we were visiting.

At Providence, with the okay of their oncologists, we visited cancer patients. Charley spent time with Susan, an absolutely amazing woman who was battling the disease. When she was in a “funk,” having him on her bed made her feel better for hours. On the day she confided that she was done fighting and going home, it was only Charley’s presence that kept me from losing it. She is gone but her husband has sent me touching messages about how much Charley meant to both of them.

We were asked to see a man who was terminal but waiting for his daughter to fly in and say goodbye. Without Charley by my side, I don’t know if I could have entered that hospital room. He truly did teach me to be brave.

The patient’s wife, who had been in tears, hugged Charley and started smiling as he leaned on her. I gave the patient a treat for Charley who gently took it out of his hand. Then we sat and chatted quietly as he petted my big sweet dog. We spent a peaceful, emotionally healing few minutes.

Years ago Charley did several visits with a young girl in the neuropsych unit at UCLA that I will never forget. Jani, according to doctors at the hospital, was born schizophrenic. She loved animals in general and Charley in particular. However, on a rough morning she tried to kick him. Unfortunately it was the same day that a reporter from the L.A. Times was doing a story about her.

The column one article talked about Jani having a very bad day and trying to kick the hospital dog. What the reporter didn’t know was that the next time we came in to see her, Jani ran over to Charley, hugged him and said, “I’m so sorry. I love you, Charley.” On our following visit, she gave him this page from a coloring book that she had signed. She even apologized for not having time to fill it in. I saved it because it moved me so deeply.

I emailed the reporter to tell her about the positive interactions and she got permission to put it on the newspaper’s blog. That’s why I’m able to share the story now. Charley with his kindness and gentle spirit was able to reach Janni.

After Charley passed, Ursula, a wonderful therapist in the NPI, sent me a note with an Irish saying that she felt applied to Charley,  “We will not see his like again.” How fortunate were all of those who saw his “like.” How fortunate was I to be at his side.