A Piece of my Heart
Content warning; grief, losing a pet This is going to be a personal post and one that I've had in mind to do for several months but kept putting off because I wasn't ready for it. By 'not ready' I mean I was waiting for a day that I could talk about this without tears, but I'm still not there yet and not sure I ever will be so I'm just going to go for it. This is a story about my Charlie boy aka Charlie Beans, Charlie Chuckles, Beans or even Beanarino! Charlie came into our lives in September 2011. He was around 6 or 7 months old and came to us via an acquaintence who's elderly parents had decided to get a collie pup after getting one for their daughter, seeing the cuteness and not thinking far beyond that. They had some health issues and were struggling with him in all senses of the word, so decided to do the decent thing and find another home for him where he could get the attention he needed.
I was told he was fully house trained, but had started snapping at the male owner. They didn't want him to be put down so their daughter approached me as she knew I had a collie already and might be better equipped to deal with him and me being me, it was a no brainer. I said yes, I'd love to have him. Charlie arrived by car and was handed over to me, a floofy eared leggy bundle that seemed unphased by this sudden change of scenery. Bedding and toys were handed over, goodbyes were said and off they went. I'd given both my boys the heads up we were getting another family member so did the usual pep talk beforehand of it was going to be all new for him so don't expect too much the first few days, he was a different dog with his own personality and I didn't know how well he was behaved or what training he'd had. Turns out it was very little. Ten minutes in the house he'd drank all the water bowl (twice!) like he hadn't seen water in a year, peed all over the hallway, jumped up and stole half my youngest sons sandwich, and when he was crying about that, Charlie jumped up and stole the other half. I'd been so busy giving the pep talk to the lads, I'd forgotten to give myself a talking to and within the first couple of hours I felt the overwhelm sinking in, wondering what on earth I'd taken on and what was I thinking!
I won't regale you with all the toileting incidents, but needless to say there were many. Part of that I now know was due to the change in environment, but there was no way this dog had been trained for anything. They really weren't kidding when they said he'd started biting, but thankfully it was only me as I was the one attempting to exert authority which his obstinate self didn't like one little bit. He'd learned that biting gave him control so for several weeks it was an absolute battle of wills between him and me and I can't gloss over it, it was frustrating. I spent a lot of time online reading on best ways to deal with and counter it to train him out of it. I know he did it when he felt threatened and this was a learned behaviour and there's not a day goes by that I didn't wish I'd only had him from a younger age.
It's going to sound horrible, but I didn't feel properly bonded with him for years. Don't get me wrong it wasn't all bad, but all the challenges that he threw my way were a lot of hard work to deal with. Thinking back, I think I kept that emotional distance in case I failed him. Like recall for instance - he had none. Zero. Once that dog was off lead, that was it. I mean I don't blame him. A taste of freedom after his whole life to that point having none .. he'd be happily running around the field, coming close when I was shouting on him then running off again as soon as I went to grab him. And games! He would not give up a toy. In fact he used to steal other dogs toys if he met them out on walks which was mortifying! His favourite game in the house was to drop a ball at my feet then bark at me until I went to pick it up ... then he'd snatch it and run off. And repeat. It was seriously the least fun game ever, although Charlie seemed to enjoy it.
My youngest, who was 9 at the time bonded with him immediately and same in return. We had a crate but Charlie chose to sleep at the bottom of his bed. I was covered in bite marks and scratches but this was an entirely different pup around youngest son and that alone kept me going with him. I knew he wasn't a bad pup, he just didn't have the greatest start in life. I'll hold my hands up too that I wasn't the perfect owner by any means. It was my first time taking on a dog with problems and I only wish I could go back now and do it all over again knowing what I know now. I'd yell when I should've had more patience and my own lack of experience meant it took a lot longer to get on some mutual footing than it should've done. My other dog I'd had from a pup and she was a dream to have around. Eating rocks and laces aside that is.
We moved to Cornwall in 2013 and our first house there was on the main street but with a large back garden that backed right onto the river. Training was still ongoing - Charlie hated traffic and there was a steady stream of it daily outside. We eventually got to a stage where he wasn't hauling me away on the lead but a lot of things did make him nervous. Pedestrian crossing noises had him yowling with anticipation at crossing the road regardless of whether we were actually crossing the road or just walking. Big vehicles had him cowering as far from the road as he could get. And other dogs he was extremely wary of, having been attacked by one before we moved to Cornwall. Since then, he'd stare intently at any dogs coming his way which did nothing to enamour other dogs to him and he would get reactionary if they barked or growled so always had to make sure he was kept on the literal and proverbial short leash around other dogs. He was definitely better with female dogs but maybe that had something to do with living with Effy .. I don't know. All I do know is if it was reactionary, he didn't like it, didn't trust and didn't want it near him which is fair - I'm pretty similar.
Humans, he adored. There was no denying he had a big happy handsome face that loved nothing more than attention. He loved cuddles too, unlike Effy who will stick around long enough for a quick pat, or slightly longer for a belly rub, but hugs? Bleurgh! Charlie just wanted to be near his people all the time and would clamber up on you but slowly, as if the lack of speed wouldn't give away what he was doing.
I think it was around 6 years ago it suddenly dawned on me that at some point, I'd only gone and fallen in love with him. Moving to Cornwall definitely helped with that and having a bit of self discovery going on. It gave me a perspective shift on a lot of things and the absolute love I had for this dog was one of them. I mean how could you not love a dog who slept like this?
Friday 11th March Charlie woke up and would barely walk and had no interest in food. This was so unlike him I was on the phone to the vet to see if I could bring him up for a check up. The vet agreed he didn't seem himself and did a thorough exam including drawing bloods and checking his reflexes. They found he didn't correct his feet when they were turned under so they suspected Intervertebral Disc Disease IVDD but without an MRI it couldn't be given a definitive diagnosis. Charlie's age plus the expense of this made it not viable but we settled on booking him in for a scan to check there was nothing going on internally. Bloods came back that same day and were showing some anomolies but again, nothing definitive. Notably his platelet count was very low but the vet explained that can sometimes happen and it's just a false reading but we could book him in to get it done in a couple of weeks again just to double check. This was on a Friday and he was booked in 9am Monday morning for a scan and xrays. By Sunday he had perked up considerably so I thought maybe it was just his hips or joints causing him some problems, maybe a flare up or arthritis or something. Monday morning came and he was like his old self but took him up anyway at 9am and went home to wait for the call to get him. Vet phoned before midday and said look, he's looking like there's nothing wrong with him now which is great to see - we can still go ahead with the tests but it's a lot of money for a dog that looks fine. I wasn't going to disagree so just went and picked my boy up. He was so happy as soon as I walked in and all the staff commented on what a lovely boy he was. We went home and had lots of cuddles. He didn't leave my side and even sneaked up on the sofabed with me which I'd set up so he didn't have to attempt the stairs to get up to youngest sons room, where he usually slept.
Wednesday morning rolled round and he wasn't walking again. Another call to the vet (different one this time) and after seeing him again, he agreed it might well be arthritis or something related that was maybe the cause so he gave Charlie an injection and also gave us some painkillers for him which he'd now be taking daily. Me being me, I was looking online for things that could help my boy because I was told just short distances for walks for him now otherwise it could make it all worse. And that's when I found dog strollers; a perfect way to still include him on walks so he wasn't being left behind when I had to take Effy out. When it arrived we made a big fuss over him and dubbed it the Charlie Car. This is him sitting proudly in it when it arrived March 18th.
Days went on and Charlie seemed to be getting on fine with the new mode of transport which gave him plenty chance to rest. Between that and painkillers, it seemed to have eased any symptoms he was having and he was back to being our happy boy again. It wasn't until over a week later when I noticed he looked like he was starting to put on weight round his tummy - nothing to note and possibly because of having less exercise. A day or so after that I noticed he'd started to pant a lot and was favouring lying down more and looked like he was struggling more to get up from that position. In the early morning hours of March 31th I lay with him as he panted and saw his tummy was now looking a lot bigger than it was from just a couple of days ago. He was still wagging his tail as I spoke to him, telling him what a good boy he was and crying because I knew this couldn't be good news. I called the vet and was told to bring him up, so got my boy into his Charlie Car and off we went. The vet had a feel of his stomach and recommended we do the scans we'd put off a couple of weeks beforehand. I asked if it was ok if I left the Charlie Car in reception as it made no sense to take it home then bring it back up with me when I came back to get him and once again made the walk home to wait on a phone call.
When the call came I knew it was bad before the vet started telling me because of the pause and tone of his voice. The scans revealed Charlie's abdomen was filled with blood and they'd found a mass on his spleen. A second blood test had been done too and the platelet count was so low, even if he did have surgery to stop the bleeding, he wouldn't survive it. The vet asked what I'd like to do and I knew the kindest thing I could do for my boy was let him go. I told my youngest son to get ready and called my eldest to tell him if he wanted to meet us up there then go now and we'd be there in 20 minutes by the time we walked up. When we arrived there the waiting area was empty with just the vet and another staff member. We walked into the room I'd left my boy in and the vet brought him through and he did his happy panting smile and a tail wag when he saw us all there. We were left to have some time with him first to say goodbye which we all did through tears, telling him he was such a good boy and we loved him.
The next part was over quickly and I held him as he slumped and he took his last breath in my arms, surrounded by people who loved him most in the world. I am so grateful to the vet for the way they handled it all and could see he was affected too. It must be the worst part of that job, seeing that pain from losing a much loved family member. We were told to take as much time as we needed before leaving the room and my boy behind but trying to process any of it ... well there could never be enough time for that.
That walk back home with an empty buggy broke me. The scene we'd just witnessed kept playing on a loop in my head as it would for weeks after. I didn't think it was possible to cry that much. We got home and Effy was there to greet us, not understanding that the world had just ended. I felt like the worst person in the world not taking her up with us to say goodbye but honestly I didn't think about it at all in that moment. She kept looking for him on walks, running back to where we'd walked from as if he was just loitering behind. Those first couple of weeks felt so raw and didn't manage a single walk without sobbing my way through it. If you've ever went through the loss of a much loved pet you'll know. Everything sets you off.
I spent the first night reading everything I could about what had happened to my boy, the cause and if there was anything I could've done to prevent it or look out for the signs. I needed to know if getting the initial scan would've helped or if catching it earlier would've given him a chance. Part of it was grief but part was shock and also guilt and needing to know why this happened. Apparently it's not an uncommon thing to happen in dogs and it's called hemangiosarcoma; a tumor that often appears in the spleen or liver and at some point they start to bleed. They can get treated in some cases, but it's a temporary fix for a few months at most. There's nothing I could've done.
We chose to have him cremated and when the call came to collect the ashes, I thought I was ok until I felt the weight of that box in my arms. My youngest son and Effy were with me and we walked back along the river and you guessed it - I cried most of the way back there because I was carrying my boy in a box, instead of seeing him sniffing and running along beside us. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and I noticed I'd missed a voicemail. It was from the vet to say they'd found Charlie's collar and lead there and did I want to collect them. Of course I did, or rather my friend popped in to collect it for me and dropped it off but I've yet to look in that bag. I found a quote not so long ago from Keanu Reeves "Grief changes shape but it never ends". And that's where I'm at with it now. I couldn't imagine life without him and now I can't imagine a day where I don't miss him. If you follow any of my socials, you'll know we got puppy Milo a month after Charlie died, not to replace him, but I knew the grief was so much, if anything happened to Effy I would never get over it and likely never have another dog again. And I have a lot of love to give another dog, heck if I had the space I'd have a whole load of them!
I had initially looked at getting a rescue dog, but with having an existing dog and no transport, I was aware this would be an issue in them getting acquainted with each other first and creating a bond with all of us. I would still dearly love to adopt a dog but maybe it'll happen once I'm in a different area and can visit as frequently as needed. Which brings me to the end of this post and my way of paying something forward... I created a tree in Charlie's name which I'll be donating all profits from to bordercollierescueandrehabcentre.co.uk/ I've followed them on Twitter for a while and it seemed right that given Charlie's history, that something in his name would help other collies who also didn't have such a great start in life. Thank you for reading Charlie's story. He was the bestest boy, even when he was covered in mud ❤
An update; the tree was only listed for a short while before it sold so was able to donate £65 the same day this post was published.