When you adopt an almost ten year old dog, you are faced with the inevitability that the end isn’t ever that far away. My wife and I knew that going into this. “Old dogs need love too” became a bit of an early theme. “We’ll enjoy what time we have” was another rallying cry. When things took a recent turn for the worse, we went back to those to help give us comfort. Truth is, no matter how difficult these past days have been, neither of us would trade anything for the time we had together with our Chewy.
Chewy, aka Chewbacca, aka Chewbert, aka El Cheberto, aka Uniboob McFluffypants (due to his pronounced basset hound chest and the fact that I believe all dogs should have the last name McFluffypants) was our dog for thirty one spectacular months. His past is an unknown for us. We think he’s part shih tzu (face, hair) and part basset hound (body, bark, temperament). His face looks like that of a muppet with impossibly large eyes and teeth that don’t point in any consistent direction. He’s a mutt in all of the best connotations of that term. He was, without any doubt, the best dog to have ever lived.
You already know how this story ends, but all good stories have a beginning, a middle, a plot twist and then an end, and should be told in that order. So here goes. This is the story of Chewy, at least the part he lived with us. A life lived with unrestrained and boundless happiness and love.
While my wife and I were traveling in the Czech Republic late in the summer of 2013, on a night in a Prague beer garden we made the commitment that we were going to adopt a dog and would start looking when we were back in Halifax. It is easily the best thing I’ve ever decided while having a few cold ones. Like many of the good things in life, Chewy presented himself to us before we were emotionally ramped up and ready for him. He ticked the boxes of what we were looking for – older dog, quiet, lower energy, hair rather than fur, small enough for a condo and independent enough to spend the day at home while we were working. We made an appointment to visit him at his foster home.
It was pretty close to love at first sight for us. We spoke with his wonderful foster mom, Fiona, and she questioned us as much as we questioned her. As we were standing in her dining room discussing him, Chewy walked over beside my foot, laid down on his side, then rolled completely on his back, tail wagging. Fiona laughed as she hadn’t seen him do this for any of his other suitors while up for adoption over the previous five months. How no one adopted him for more than five months is a mystery to me. We gave him the first of what would become uncountable belly rubs. There was no doubt about it – for as much as we had fallen for him, he had just picked us.
Ten days later, Chewy walked into our condo with two beds, a harness, a leash, ear medication, allergy pills, some food, a set of water and food dishes, and one ratty old toy he had had since he was a puppy. We put Chewy on his leash and took him for his first walk in downtown Halifax to buy him a jacket. On our way back, he knew which building was now his, and knew which apartment door to turn toward. For most of that afternoon, we introduced him to our home and sat in a bit of shock that our family had grown by one.
The first month was difficult. Chewy didn’t like being left alone and nothing we seemed to do would keep him from trying to tear apart our blinds, drapes and door frames. He re-injured his paws almost daily. But slowly, something started to click, and he understood we’d be back for him. We set up a webcam to study his destruction and plot our defensive moves. When he started scratching our front door, we put a tarp on it. One day, he scratched the tape off the tarp, and created a tent with it, then laid under his new tent for three hours. It was like he gave up trying to escape. He never scratched again. He was home.
As Christmas 2013 got closer, Chewy had settled in nicely. He had figured out most of our patterns and we had gained insight on how to read his body language and understand him. His personality burst out of him as he realized this was his home too. When he moved in, he didn’t know how to play with his one toy. Now, he had a basket of toys and a short evening game of fetch in our hallway became a ritual.
When he moved in, he was exceptionally quiet and reserved. He was a pretty quiet dog, but he started having his moments of expressing himself, most usually by invoking his basset hound voice. And whenever we would return home together, my wife would hide at one end or the other of our building’s hallway, I’d open the door, and twenty eight pounds of fur would come bounding out to find his most favourite person in the world. That favourite person wasn’t me. Chewy’s bond with my wife was mesmerizing. He loved me, but toward her, he felt some type of greater emotion only known to dogs, something well past complete and total devotion. No matter where she was, he could just stare at her for hours at a time.
We shared a remarkable number of fun times together. Road trips to a family cottage in New Brunswick, dressing him up as a chicken to make our niece and nephew laugh at Halloween, taking him up to the magazine store for people to fawn over him and for him to get a treat from the stash they keep behind the counter… he always pulled on the leash in that direction whenever we were nearby.
He loved to sleep. We joked that if he didn’t get his twenty hours of beauty sleep, he’d need twenty one the next day. He adored jumping up on the sofa in the evening to curl up beside me. Many times he’d fall asleep so soundly that he’d start sleep barking. He was a creature of simple pleasures. He had an insatiable appetite for belly rubs (many times, just walking past him, he’d roll over on his side and spread his legs to ensure I couldn’t misunderstand his intentions). He loved his meal times and asking him if he was hungry sent him nearly into orbit in excitement.
Even in his advanced age, Chewy would sprint out our front door on cool dry days for his walks. It was those times I might look back on the most fondly as it opened a brief window into what the puppy Chewy might have been like. He could find a french fry on the ground from fifty feet away, and anytime a group of young women walked past, he would just stop, look up at them and start wagging his tail. He was the perfect wingman, even for a guy who hasn’t needed one of those in a long, long time.
There were a few rough times along the way. He had two wicked seizures in the first few months, both lasting upwards of five minutes each. We got through that with some medicine that initially made him stoned for the better part of the week. You try taking care of a furry stoner starving for food around the clock… Ok, that part was actually pretty funny. We had a nerve racking trip to emergency when we were worried he was seriously ill. We had a bunch of visits to our vet for minor ailments, but each time the little guy came out the other end perfectly fine.
The Plot Twist
For an older dog, Chewy was an impeccable specimen. Strong heart, strong lungs, bones and body in pretty good shape save for a bit of a wonky back right knee. About a year ago, we noticed him not being quite himself and chalked it up to him being a bit moody or having eaten something from beneath the snow. A day or so later, he started refusing food. He never refused his food.
We made the trip to the vet and I can still hear the words: “He has a mass on his spleen and he’s bleeding internally”. The vet kept talking while I tried with all my might not to start crying. It was a probable cancer diagnosis without anyone saying the C word. The next few days were a jumble of trying to get him into an ultrasound to determine if a simple spleen removal would have him back to being his old self and flinching everytime he made a noise we hadn’t heard before.
In true Chewy spirit, there was nothing wrong with his spleen. He just had a crazy large spleen (we have no idea what kind of doggy DNA he’s got, but judging by his spleen, something large must be in his unique mix). That was the good news. The bad news – he had chronic pancreatitis and was anemic. A few more pills added to his evening snack, and he was as good as new in no time.
More than a year from his last near death experience, he started being fussy eating his food and started to lose strength and coordination in his back legs. A series of vet appointments unfolded just as I was about to move to Saskatoon. Back in Halifax, my wife noticed him going downhill quickly while I started a new job on the prairies. Another vet trip later he had exhausted the capabilities in Halifax and was referred for an urgent consult at the veterinary hospital in PEI. A few tweaks, some new medications, and he looked like he had beaten back death’s door one more time. But alas, his liver was badly damaged, and as our road trip with Chewy across the country to Saskatoon was nearing its end, the coordination issues returned with a vengance. On May 27th, he fell asleep for the last time in my wife’s arms when we decided he shouldn’t suffer any more. He was twelve and a half years old.
I wasn’t entirely truthful earlier. Good stories do have a beginning, a middle, a plot twist and an end. But the great stories of lives lived have legacies. And the end didn’t seem like right way to conclude this story of Chewy. He touched so many people.. those who walked past us when out on a stroll whose faces lit up in a smile as they looked down at this improbably goofy looking dog sauntering past, tail perpetually wagging. Those who stopped us to say hi and spend some time with him. Our families. My wife. Me.
His spirit and love helped both my wife and I through some difficult times. He held a mirror up to me and made me realize I can love more, care more. He’s made me reflect on my approach to life and made me want to be more like him – to trust more, to relax more, to appreciate the simple things more. I was entirely in awe of him as a living being and feel blessed to have had him in my life.
Departed, but never to leave me. His brown eyes, soft touch, and sound of his tail thumping on the floor whenever I walked past will be forever with me. He wasn’t with us for a long time, but it was one hell of a good time.
Here’s to Chewy, my friend, the best dog that ever lived.