Our previous dog, a black Cocker Spaniel, was a mess in every way a dog can be a mess. We finally had enough after three or four years. My wife searched for and finally found a place in downtown Chicago that would accept dogs for adoption.
We determined not to make the same mistake again, so we did our research. We wanted a dog that was good with kids, would bark at strangers and wouldn’t bite. The books recommended a Labrador Retriever, so that’s what we got — or half-got. We bought Chessie, who is half Labrador and half Chesapeake Bay Retriever. We brought her home on January 5, 1995. She’d been born just over three months previously, on September 30.
She came home in a cage. We placed it on the kitchen floor and opened the door. Standard procedure is to allow the dog to get used to things and let her explore on her own. So we waited. And waited. She stayed in the cage. We moved away from the opening, but she stayed inside. We left the room, but she stayed inside. We called, we coaxed … My younger daughter went to bed. My wife went grocery shopping. When she came back, the dog was still in the cage. Finally, late in the evening, I reached in and dragged her out. She was still very tentative, but slowly she expanded her world, sniffing and cowering. And that pretty much describes her approach to life.
Pound for pound, Chessie was the strongest creature I’d every known. She weighed about 40 pounds at her heaviest. (She’s very small for a Lab.) But I could not hold her down if she wanted to go. She used to give us bruises on our legs when we were hit by her wagging tail — and that is not an exaggeration.
My older daughter, in particular, latched onto Chessie. She’d sleep with the dog and wrestle with her and use her as a pillow when she watched TV.
Chessie has never been a dog of epic stories (although she did eat a Brillo Pad once — and there was this …). She’s always been content to be one of the family, earnest to please, a little bit intimidated by life. She never insisted on being center stage — she just wanted to be in the room. When she was about four, we brought home a half-grown cat — complete with claws. This cat did not like dogs, and whenever Chessie tried to leave her bed in the corner of the kitchen, the cat would attack. Chessie out-weighed the cat by at least five to one, but she wanted no part of it. After a few weeks of this, with Chessie’s nose scarred and bloody, we had the cat declawed.
Chessie spent the next eight years getting her revenge. She’d chase the cat all over the house, jumping at it and barking in its face. The cat didn’t like it a bit. She’d slash out with her paws, but Chessie just laughed. That’s the thing about Chessie — I’ve never seen a moment when she was angry. The whole time she pestered the cat, her tail was wagging and she was having great fun.
These photos were taken a couple years ago.
Chessie doesn’t chase the cat anymore. She doesn’t do much of anything. She’s almost blind and almost deaf. When we want her attention, we have to clap. She’s been losing weight for a couple years. The vet put her on liver medication and her appetite picked up for a little while, but lately she’s stopped eating. She takes a couple bites in the morning and that’s it. Her ribs show and her skin is hanging loose. Her back legs don’t work very well. She falls down when making sharp turns on slippery floors. She frequently falls down the stairs. We tried putting her bed downstairs and blocking the stairway with chairs, but she pushes the chairs aside, climbs up and sleeps on the floor in her usual spot outside the bedroom door. (We’ve always been happy that she sleeps there — if somebody ever broke into the house, they would trip over her.)
Here’s the method she uses to get up the stairs now. (I took this a couple months ago. She’s even slower now.)
And so we’ve decided. Sometime before the end of the month, I will take Chessie on her final car ride to the vet. I’m not looking forward to it. Not at all.