Charlie is my only child who did not go to college. My son left first, and my daughter three years later. They come and go, returning home over school breaks, work vacations, and during the summer. But Charlie never leaves, he always stays. Charlie is our 11-year-old goldendoodle.
Charlie joined the family as a puppy
Charlie was a puppy when he joined the family; my children were 8 and 11 years old. He settled in quickly, walking his human siblings to school each morning, accompanying my husband and me to their soccer games, and tennis matches, and tagging along for a game of catch in Central Park.
When my son and daughter were young, they invented “The Clown Game.” My son was “clown one,” my daughter “clown two,” and Charlie “clown three.” They would ring a bell to call an “emergency clown meeting,” behind closed doors. I have no idea what the three of them did during those meetings, but I heard lots of giggling, and I know that Charlie would run to join them, excitedly wagging his tail.
In later years, when my son came home from high school, he would sit on his beanbag with Charlie next to him sharing a bag of chips. I would hear them both crunch as I walked by. After my son left for college, my daughter often said her walks alone with Charlie were a calming activity, in the midst of high school busyness.
As we all got busier, the dog pulled us together
As my kids got older, and involved with various activities, there were times when it seemed our family was pulled in different directions. Yet, Charlie had a way of bringing the four of us together. Whether it was for a family dog walk, or just a conversation about something funny he did that day, loving Charlie was always something we all agreed upon.
When my son and daughter were in high school, they would often disappear into their rooms and close their doors. Charlie would follow me from room to room, he still does this. My human children would accuse me of asking them too many questions. Charlie looks at me waiting for direction, and I ask him as many questions as I wish.
After my son and daughter left for college, my walks with Charlie became longer and more leisurely. I interviewed author and professor, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog cognition expert, for a story I wrote. “Let the dog choose the route, choice is important for their well-being,” she said. So, Charlie and I began to spend more time meandering.
My husband calls this type of walk “wandering around aimlessly without a purpose.” He could be right, but I enjoy letting Charlie take me on new routes without an urgency to get home.
A family dog that grows up alongside your kids is special
There is something special and difficult to put into words about a family dog, one that arrives when the kids are young, grows up alongside them, and stays when they leave. For many empty nesters, myself included, dogs help fill that void when we miss our kids. Even though our dogs get older too, they remain dependent on us.
Over the past month, two of my friends said good-bye to their family dogs. Maisy and Pepper both arrived around the same time Charlie did. Their human siblings were in elementary school with mine. Like Charlie, Maisy and Pepper stayed when the kids left for college.
I am sad about the loss of Maisy and Pepper because my friends are heartbroken, because they were wonderful dogs, and because I will miss our walks together. Yet, there is something else. The loss of these dogs feels monumental, it feels like a punctuation mark, the end of a chapter in life.
Perhaps, in time, there will be new dogs for these friends. But the new dogs will never be the ones that their children grew up with. We don’t get that time back.
Charlie teaches us about love and loyalty
I watch Charlie’s beautiful nose moving ever so slightly, as he smells things and observes his surroundings. I see the back of his ears perk up when he is curious about something. He is fascinated by the sound of an insect, or the squirrel that is too fast. He knows where to find every store in our neighborhood that might have a treat for him.
Charlie is accepting and forgiving. He is ecstatic to see his human siblings when they come home, but he doesn’t hold a grudge against them when they leave. He teaches us every day about love, loyalty and living in the moment.
I recently read a book called The Forever Dog, which talks about dog health and longevity. I give Charlie his longevity vitamins and feed him healthy meals every day.
He gets more exercise than any dog I know. I want many more years with him. He sits next to me while I write, I listen to him snoring gently by my side. We have walked thousands of miles together. I want to walk thousands more.
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