He had breath that could light a candle. It smelled like the back of a refrigerator once the milk’s gone bad and the onions have grown sprouts — as if his pipes had rearranged themselves, and his head and his tail had switched ends.
It wasn’t always that way, but as his teeth fell out over the years, it became his calling card: instead of turning heads as he walked into a room, he turned noses.
He was a stubborn son of a gun. He didn’t walk so much as he sniffed his surroundings for food: whatever scraps of chicken bone, pizza crust, or rabbit droppings he could find on the boulevards lining the sidewalk when garbage day came around. In winter, he’d plant his feet on the pavement and spread-eagle until you caved and turned around for home.
He wasn’t much of a listener. He could sit and lie down on command for a year or two, maybe, but he was never going to win the Westminster Dog Show. In grade school, he bit a hole in my friend’s ear who thought he wanted to play rough. He couldn’t have been more than 15 pounds at the time.
He was the runt of the litter. By the time we got him, he was the only one left — the bichon frisé whose sandy blonde curls stood out from the milky white of his brothers and sisters. He was so small, he hopped through the grass like a rabbit. We fell for him instantly.
He was a handsome fellow. On his third birthday, we threw him a party with a few of the neighbourhood dogs, and they ended up stacked three-high, humping one another. He was neutered by then, but it didn’t matter; his smile was as wide as can be.
He was infinitely huggable. No matter how many years passed, kids would still call from across the street, wanting to say hello to the puppy. On the couch, he would nestle himself into the folds of the blanket, resting his head on your legs and melting your heart into butter.
He was our watchful guardian. I would scoop him up under an arm and carry him around the house, giving him the bird’s eye view he always craved. In his younger days, he would scamper to the highest perch on the sunroom couch and look out the window as the neighbourhood kids walked by and squirrels performed high-wire acts on the bird feeder, angling for a free meal. He was Simba on Pride Rock, looking out at his kingdom.
Charlie would have turned 16 next Saturday — an old dog, even by old dog’s standards. His hearing wasn’t much anymore, and his eyes were cloudy with cataracts. He passed away this morning after a round of tearful goodbyes.
In truth, I had been mulling over the words of his obituary for months already — once the signs of old age became more pronounced and more frequent. Still, writing them today, the words don’t come any easier. Things fall apart. What begins must come to an end. Every now and then, a reminder comes along that life is made beautiful by its impermanence — even if it still hurts when they’re gone.
I loved him. And he loved me. And in the end, that was all that mattered.