To Chloe, Our Good Dog: A Love Letter

1923864_517518312149_68_nAs I sit on our back porch in Richmond tonight, my heart is miles away — 271 miles to be exact. Because 271 miles away, tonight, our family dog Chloe is in a veterinary hospital in South Carolina for complications with diabetes, heart problems, and liver problems. My daddy just called and said the doctor doesn’t think Chloe will make it through the night. And as I type this, my parents are driving to see her – maybe one last time – to give her a rub on the head, some comforting kisses, and most of all — all of their hearts.

I’m writing this piece tonight to honor Chloe — our spunky, sassy, oft grumpy miniature schnauzer. I’m writing this to perhaps lift a tiny piece of the heaviness that is weighing my heart down like an anchor. I’m writing this for anyone who loves, or has ever loved, a dog. And, I’m writing this for the love of Chloe’s life — my dad.

Chloe came to us in September 2001, only a week or two after the devastating September 11 tragedy. She was a tiny, squeaky little puppy from Hopewell, VA. I didn’t want her before I met her – but after I did, I couldn’t live without her.

I initially did not want a miniature schnauzer. Though we had a miniature schnauzer/poodle mix when I was a little girl (Pepper, She of No Teeth who was often purposely led into the woods by my parents’ other dog, Ginsy, and would be left there to find her own way home). I was much more excited about the idea of a Golden Retriever, or maybe a Lab – breeds like my friends had. Big, beautiful, spirited animals that left mountains of hair and a sea of drool in their wake – that’s what  I wanted.

But my parents had their hearts set on the miniature schnauzer – a breed they knew, a breed that didn’t drool, a breed that didn’t shed, a breed that wouldn’t knock you smack down when they greeted you. So I begrudgingly accompanied them to the breeders.

We were greeted by an older, bald gentleman, wearing an undershirt and khaki shorts, casually wheeling around two adult schnauzers in a baby carriage down the street like it was the most normal thing in the world. We went inside their home, where a playpen of furry nuggets of black and grey clumsily, sleepily milled about, occasionally collapsing on a sister or brother for a quick nap before making their voyage of 8 inches to their next siesta destination.

The spoken-for puppies all wore different colored silk ribbons around their necks — pink, yellow, blue, green. I picked up a little black puppy without a ribbon – a girl. I held her close to my neck, then looked at her squarely in the face. Then, she licked my cheek.

Chloe came home with us that day. I held her on my lap on the way home, and she cried a little – maybe out of hunger, maybe missing her mommy and siblings, or maybe just trying to figure out who the heck these people were and where she was going. That first night, my mother slept with her in the den, and placed a little clock in her crate to simulate her mother’s heartbeat. And ever since then, my mom has been the heartbeat for Chloe. Silently loving her, always taking care of her, and never complaining when she had to do the dirty work of picking up poop or cleaning up (many, many, many) pee stains on her gorgeous Oriental rugs.

I was a senior in high school when we brought Chloe home. Chloe and I would play for hours, and I loved watching her slip and slide on the hardwood floors in my parents’ kitchen as I rolled a tennis ball across the room. I remember her hopping through the snow that was at least six inches taller than her, disappearing into the white fluffiness after each leap. She was my dog– a sweet, fun, loving addition to our family, and she came to us at exactly the right time.

When I left for college (albeit only a few miles down the road at the University of Richmond), Chloe helped fill a void my parents so desperately needed after sending their only child off to school, away from the nest. And while I was away, something really special happened – Chloe found a best friend. A soul mate, really — my daddy.

Both my parents are animal lovers, though my mom likes to resist admitting it, likely because she always ends up with the short end of the stick with clean up duty. My mom grew up on a farm in Lake View, SC with German Shepherds (curiously, all named Troy). My dad grew up in Bennettsville, SC, in a home that was never wont for a hunting dog, a Chow Chow named Muff, or even a goat named Billy. As a little girl, he regaled me with stories of the animals he loved as a child, and of the adventures and mischief he would stir up, all under the pseudonym of Tooker to put more drama into his non-fiction bedtime stories.

My dad loved all of his dogs with all of his heart – and they loved him. When Ginsy died, my dad buried her under her favorite tree. Later that day, during a summer soaking rain, he dug her back up and moved her to the garage because Ginsy hated the rain. He still feels guilty, more than 30 years later, for not adopting a shelter dog he met, because the next day, JazzMan was euthanized. We often call each other over sad, happy, and funny dog-related YouTube videos. We both tear up over videos of dogs greeting their long-lost owners returning home from war. He, and my mom, love our dog Millie as if she was their grandchild (in fact, they call her their “grand-dog” and brag on her to all of their friends in Cheraw, SC).

My dad is a dog lover through and through.

But the bond between Chloe and my dad was something different, something special. They have walked so many hours, so many miles together, I couldn’t begin to try to calculate it. In fact, last year Chloe’s vet said she had an “athletic heart” at 13 years old – I attribute that to the hundreds of miles they have walked together.

Chloe’s spot has always been by my dad’s side — under his feet at his desk, by his side of the bed, in his lap as my parents wound down with FOX News every night. Chloe loved being in the car, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an open car door that, in her mind, wasn’t an invitation for Chloe to hop in.

Chloe sincerely believed that everyone loved her and couldn’t wait to get your attention — whether you were the neighbor, the mailman, or a visiting friend. If you didn’t pet her right away, she would let you know – with a yip. And another yip. And another, until you pet her. Then, she was satisfied. However, she did have a height requirement. Children were personae non gratae in her book – the smaller they were, the more threatening. And as loving as she was, man – that dog was a grumpy old bitch sometimes.

Chloe liked to be picked up on her terms, and she would make it known with a snarl and bearing her teeth if she wasn’t in the mood to be held. She rarely bit – but if you pushed her buttons, she wasn’t past a good chomp to show you so. She was as sweet as she was tough, clingy as she was independent. A typical woman, my dad would say.

Chloe’s toughness was also endearing. The 25-pound dog had the heart and bravery of a 100-pound dog. She was a warrior in a tiny package.

When I first introduced Chloe to my new puppy seven years ago, she really couldn’t be bothered with her. Chloe was herself seven years old, and the rambunctious, clumsy, playful Goldendoodle puppy was not her cup of tea. She mostly ignored her, but would give a warning growl if Millie tested her limits too far. Millie tirelessly tried to engage Chloe in play: barking, swatting, jumping, nipping. Chloe ignored her – and I was pretty sure she kind of resented having an 80-pound dog forced upon her usually calm, quiet, spoiled existence. Or so I thought.

Millie is a big dog. But she is a wimp. Other dogs sense this, and she is often bullied and corralled like prey by dogs a third of her size. One afternoon while playing outside at my parents’ house, Millie found her neck in the jaws of the neighborhood bully– a huge, feckless yellow Lab mix who often jumps the fence and can be ferocious and dangerous when she wants to be. Poor Millie may have fallen victim to injury if not for Chloe — all 25 pounds of her — who came to Millie’s rescue, and whose bark sent that dog off with her tail between her legs, never to bother sweet Millie again. Chloe saved my dog’s life that day. And I’m forever grateful.

I could write pages and pages of other Chloe tales — filled with sweet memories, funny stories, and quirkiness only her family could know. But those are our stories – just like the stories you have with your beloved pets. They are too many to count, yet too few to hold onto as you say goodbye to a precious family member.

I could also write an epic tome of the thousands of dollars spent, the hundreds of pills given, the plethora of health problems that come as a senior dog ages. I could tell you of the hurt when you see a pale blue lens encompassing your dogs eyes as they begin to develop cataracts. I could tell you of the pain when you receive another diagnosis, worse than the one before. I could tell you how much it hurts to know you only have a few short moments left with your pet. But that’s not what dogs’ lives – their memories, their legacies – are about. Those are not the things you will remember for the rest of your life.

The legacy of Chloe – and of all the dogs we love so much – is that of love. Unconditional love. It’s a love that fills you with comfort after the worst day of your life. It’s a love that assures you someone is always going to be happy to see you. It’s a love that promises to keep you warm on cold nights, to walk with you while you clear your mind, to play with you when you are feeling joyful.

Where dogs lives are short on years, they are long on love. They are long on lessons. They are long on memories. They are long on comfort. They are long on joy.

In honor of Chloe, and all of the other dogs that love us, here are a few Dog Lessons for People.

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass. On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Never pretend to be something you’re not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.

Follow your instincts.

Never underestimate the value of a belly rub.

Be loyal and faithful.

Be quick to forgive.

Accept all of life’s treats with gratitude.

Love unconditionally.

I love you, Chloe.

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