"Her and Her Episodes" Acrylic on paper... All content copyright! 2005 - 2017 and so on, and on, and on....

Thursday, February 23, 2006

(Photo left - shot during a "mandatory" grooming break)

When Charlie came into my life in late 1993, I was just entering into the yet unknown, not even remotly understood "twilight zone" of deep emotional and intellectual turmoil as well as chronic physical pain… (also kkknown as "the dark night of the soul").
Little did I know about what was yet to come…!
As if I would not (already) have had enough set backs in every aspect of my life, one day, twenty minutes after a hasty phone call, Charlie was unceremoniously dropped off and, voila! I had a dog.
A pure-bread American Cocker Spaniel.
Well, actually it was a matted black fur ball with a (mostly) nasty attitude. The proof of this aggression became permanently carved into the dashboard of my car.
Although, we had previously met under more pleasant circumstances when he was a puppy and, we fell in "love at first sight", our re-acquaintance remained rather strained for the next three months, when, after hours of crying I called his Veterinarian and announced to him there was no room for both Charlie and I in this house - as he was sitting at my feet watching.

I didn’t want to do this (besides all else) to Charlie, but I have reached the end of my rope. You see, he had been mercilessly and consistently using his stinky-staining-bulky-weapons on my off-white carpet… after being "walked" five times a day!
That evening, I began suspecting that Charlie’s understanding of the spoken language (English) was quiet good, because there was an immediate and radical change in behaviour.
By now, I began learning that besides his medical neglects that we have been attending to, he had also been abused. (Five children, chained-up, left outside in the cold, continually scolded/yelled at.)
So lets see.., how do I like to be treated
And thus, our re-training began. Soon, I also found that for “a dog” he was awfully wise and had become an expert in boundaries. His were very clear.
With consistent and gentle coaching on my part he changed other “uncivilized” habits and, began to “tiptoe” around the many "hyper" squirrels in our neighbourhood.
We were bonding. We identified and began trusting each other’s gentleness. We became inseparable.
Charlie was capable to lay motionless next to me day after day, when my migraine headaches rendered me still. As I woke up from the much-needed naps, upon opening my eyes, they met his. Loving, waiting, with his head rested on my arm, only the light reflecting on them to indicate movement… Those were truly blessed moments. As I moved, he moved, but not sooner.
He came to love my family and many friends and due to his uncanny sense of etiquette, he was not only welcomed everywhere but was also invited along for dinner! Without exception, one by one, all of them slowly succumbed to his “quiet charms” and went also as far as preparing special meals for him.
Since he had a “hanging palate” condition that was fixed as soon as it was diagnosed, in my desperation to feed him, I began to cook for him regularly and must admit that he was a rather great gourmet.
As it turned out, the attention he needed took my mind off the physical and emotional pain I was carrying around. He became the darling of our building, each neighbour contributing a unique delicacy to satiate his taste buds.
Spoiled? Absolutely!

A year later we moved to the Okanagan, where a change of career, climate and size of population was thought to be the answer to many of my inexplicable ailments.
Charlie adapted. Although not a water dog, he liked to walk the sandy shores of the lake, where he soon learned to nonchalantly stroll by the mallards and geese (no sweat!).
He became so civilized, that one day I noticed he was no longer “pointing”. At this time I almost felt guilty, yet I would not allow myself to fully indulge in the feeling, because I love observing harmony between the species.
Eight months later, due to an unknown dog policy (you must get rid of the dog – that will be the day!) we had to move.

In the meantime as I attempted to rebuild my life with a home based business, Charlie became the subtle “s” at the end of the word Consultants in my company’s name. (It was between us).
He diligently sat by my feet for countless hours and if there was any filing left on the floor he made sure to keep it safe by doubling as a paperweight.

We moved to downtown Kelowna. My business activities accelerated somewhat and, it all looked as if it was slowly heading in the right direction.
Well, business contacts/deals are not always what they appear to be. One thing led to another and I ended up finding myself in the midst of a monumental "meltdown".

Charlie was a “real ladies man” a “gentleman”, as a neighbour looking after him while I was in the hospital described him. She fell so hard for him, that a few months later she ended up with a Cocker Spaniel puppy herself.
At this point I was sure he “understood” three languages, had became and apple connoisseur, as well as lover of many other fruits and, a hazelnut “junkie”, but above all, the truest of friends. And as such, I had to reciprocate and take care of him.
The year that followed the hospital stay and subsequent treatments, I spent in a deep fog. Would it not be for Charlie having been there, I am not sure what would have become of me. My life revolved mostly, because, and around his.

Charlie somehow developed (also) by now a keen sensitivity to recognize the internal/emotional states of humans. I began noticing that he gravitated towards the one individual in a group that most needed support and quietly took place next to them availing himself to give and receive love. He did this in a totally unobtrusive manner.

We moved again (once more, we had to), this time further away from people, to the country. An abandoned cat joined us, whom Charlie grudgingly accepted once he understood Alex wasn’t going anywhere. However, he went on pretending that he didn’t care for him at all. I say pretending, because some months later I discovered they had a secret life. I spied them playing, "mouse-ing" and even sleeping together but, never in my presence!
What bliss. I felt often moved during the evenings when we gathered in the living room to rest and watch television. Those moments brought much-needed warmth into my heart and provided the required stimuli to keep on getting me up each morning.

At one point I came to believe (as I heard that angels manifest themselves in many shapes and forms) that Charlie was indeed a special four legged furry angel.

The recovery process had began as allergies to the dry climate increased. We had moved again, this time to Vancouver - no lack of moisture there!

Charlie, whom once upon a time, growled at everyone including those walking on the other side of the street and, did not hesitate to nip into anyone just passing bye, was now a changed dog. A woman said to me: "gosh, he is like a lamb". I swelled with pride knowing where we both came from…

During our walks he became more and more accessible to anyone that cared to pet him. I was moved to tears one afternoon during our walk, when a distraught woman coming towards us fell to her knees and embraced him… he understood and participated motionless with an occasional tentative tail wag.

That interaction was slowly to repeat itself almost daily, and I was moved each time. I began referring to it as Charlie’s Street Ministries. He had a way of accepting everyone. He made a lot of homeless and pained people happy. He made them smile. They called him “buddy”…
He really drilled into me (by example), no matter what the outside appearances, our common human bond is that we all need love.
Charlie was very good at it; his entire demeanour changed to allow all special needs people to come close to him, to be part of the whole.
For those eternal/fleeting moments there was no judgement, only acceptance. And the world stood still for all of us involved, as I lightly held the leash and observed in owe… Once he stilled himself, he had a way of leaning onto each previously unknown human and be there for as long as needed. I felt privileged to witness such surrender. I felt privileged and happy to facilitate these opportunities, once I lost my apprehensions… I had some at the beginning, I must admit! I have always felt/claimed not to be prejudiced. Those encounters became “the proof of the pudding”, if you know what I mean…

Charlie was not only my support, but became that of others in need. And just as once I began suspecting that he may be a four legged furry angel, I also began to suspect that once I was “back on my feet” he would exit my life, just as suddenly as he entered it. I tried not to pay much attention to those thoughts. However, at times, they did weigh heavily on my mind.

As I began to slowly re-integrate myself into the community once more, he accompanied me on my volunteer work schedule and became the “dog in residence” at our local theatre.
He developed some back problems running up and down the stairs. And also, due to some overly neurotic actor that felt “distracted” having a dog around before performances, he had to stay home for a couple of weeks... Inevitably, as passions and personalities flowed and collided, it came time for me to go. It was too much “drama” and too little respect for my taste. In a moment of self-esteem regained, I stood up for myself and wrote a letter of resignation.

“My” turmoil immediately subsided into a pleasant calm. It felt like the “right time” to take a couple of days off…and just hang out at the Quay, visit friends and relax. So we did, and slowly walked the length of the promenade stopping to talk with our acquaintances, share some ice cream and come Saturday early evening stop by our elderly neighbour. Charlie visited for a brief sniff-off with Briska her cat and we headed home fully content for the first time in a long, long time.

After a late dinner, when I was about the settle in for a movie, I noticed that Charlie was “not quiet finding his place”. At last we both settled with our tummies full…
At about 11:30pm, he cried out and I thought he might be having a bad dream. Still keeping my attention on the film, I sat next to him and (as of late) gently began to massage his back.
I am not sure when or how, but he appeared somehow too still for me… I called out his name. He kept still… I stumbled to the phone five feet away - called my neighbour - opened the door - run back…
It was evident then, that my friend was gone. Suddenly, there was an eerie emptiness in the room.

Sunday afternoon, as I was sharing the heartbreaking news with a good friend and, still in shock, she reminded me of my premonition…
As it is true, that the theatre experience was a major turning point in my life, it is also true that Charlie knew and understood that before I did. A wise dog indeed.

(As I continue life “solo”, Charlie will always have a special place in my heart, and every time I sit at my computer, he is still symbolically at my feet through his favourite stuffed toy (the first one I ever gave him). Also in his memory, the panda is now sporting one of his festive bow ties).

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