What happens when a desert rat moves out of the desert? Life, the universe, and everything! The way I see it and take it all in, anyway.
Sunday, June 01, 2014
Yesterday, we had to say goodbye to a dear four-legged friend, Chewbacca. We called him “Chewie” for short. When people asked why I named my dog Chewie, I’d tell them it was short for “Chewbacca” and they’d laugh over a dog so small being named after something so big. Well, he may have been a small dog, but he acted like he was ten times bigger than his size. Chewie entered my life when I was 19 years old. I named him Chewbacca because he looked like a Wookiee when he was born.
Chewie was one of the pups that my mom’s dog, Rosarita (“Rosie”), gave birth to. His father, Jose, also my mom’s dog, was a Chihuahua and Rosie was a Chi-Poo – part Chihuahua, part Poodle. Chewie had a strong Poodle side to him because he was so furry and his tail would curl up. The other pups went to siblings as well as my cousin, Joe. My sister, Melissa, ended up giving her puppy, Hershey, away so we were never able to keep tabs on him. My sister, Jeanette, kept another pup, Toby, with her until he passed away. (You can read my post, “Remembering Toby,” here.) My other sister, Millie, also had her pup, Baby Bop, with her until she passed away. The youngest pup, Josita, tragically drowned in a swimming pool. Later on, Jose was given away when my mom was not able to take him with her to her new house and I was not allowed to care for him anymore (my landlord at that time raised hell over us having the extra dog, despite my telling him we were taking care of the dog for someone else). Sometime after that, Rosie ran away and we never found her.
For a long time, Chewie shared my attention with another dog I had named Lukas. Lukas was an Australian Shepherd. They were together since Chewie was born. Lukas died when he was 8 years old and for a long time Chewie was depressed over losing his friend. He would not eat, mostly slept or just sadly laid around the house. After a while, Chewie got used to being the only dog in the house. When I watched a friend’s sister’s dog for her, with the dog being a Chihuahua, Chewie was back to his old happy self again. He was obviously the kind of dog who wanted companionship and for a year this dog was his companion. After she left, he wasn’t so active or “happy” anymore. But because we were not allowed to have another dog, we often spoiled Chewie and gave him lots of love and attention. He wasn’t just our dog; he was family.
Chewie adapted really well when I had my first child, at age 27. Really, there were none of the problems of introducing a baby into the home when there was a dog there. Chewie and Jennifer were like best buddies. Things were different when Jesse came along, though. Chewie had this whole “who are YOU?” attitude with Jesse. He was curious about him. I made sure the two of them got acquainted with each other in their own way and at their own pace. Jesse and Chewie often hung out together and pretty much got along, but Chewie always had this wariness about him with Jesse. In fact, he was always wary with every single male he came into contact with. (He often nipped at the feet of male friends who were in the house. It got to the point where I had to keep him in my bedroom when a male came into the house and after that person left, I’d open my bedroom door and Chewie came charging out of the room, running around the house and sniffing and barking. Seriously, sometimes he even snapped at my own husband!)
For a long time, Chewie slept on my bed with me. This was actually a good thing for me, being deaf. Anytime someone knocked at the door, Chewie made such a commotion barking and moving around on the bottom part of the bed that he woke me up. (One of my aunts and I tried to teach Chewie hand signals once, like how they use for service dogs, but it didn’t work very well.) Then he couldn’t sleep on the bed anymore because my husband was affected by the pet dander, so I got Chewie a couple of comfy dog beds and kept one by the desk, where he often slept as I sat there writing, and one at the end of my bed. (The pet bed by the desk is still there. I haven’t had the heart to move it away yet.)
The thing about me is that I have moved around quite a bit. At first, in California, it was from one city to another, and Chewie was right there in the car or the truck with me. He also rode in the truck, on my lap, when we moved to Oregon. When we went to California to attend a nephew’s wedding, however, a friend’s son watched Chewie. When we went to California again to visit family, we hired someone, a professional pet sitter, to take care of him. Then when we traveled to St. Louis to see my mom, Chewie was cared for at Tall Oaks Dog Resort. The folks there just fell in love with him and he got along well with their family dog, Midnight.
There are so many memories I have of Chewie. After 21 years, I suppose that is to be expected. We have a lot of pictures of him. He DID NOT like having his picture taken (neither do I! LOL) but sometimes we were able to get him in a picture. Sometimes I had to be quick to take his picture because he often turned his head away. (I actually have a picture of him turning his head away from the camera – I was not quick enough to snatch the pic!). Oh, and Chewie also did not like baths. One time, he was standing outside the bathroom door when I turned the faucet on. He heard the water come on and took off running! Many times he would hide from me (even for those times he somehow knew I was going to take him to the vet) but I usually found him. He was VERY grumpy during bathtime! He also didn’t like having his nails clipped.
Chewie was a house dog but he loved being outside, too – as long as the weather was nice! He hated the snow. (After 9 years in Oregon, he never got used to the snow.) One time, when we had “Snowpocalypse” last winter, Chewie actually got stuck in a giant mound of snow! (Jennifer had to run outside to rescue him.) But if the sun was shining, he was a happy doggy. He LOVED the sunny weather. (I guess that’s because he was born in and spent most of his life in the desert.) Many times, when the weather was good, he’d run around and play in the grass. (He LOVED the grassy yard – which was a nice change from the dirt and sand in the desert.) He’d also go exploring in the yards and hang out in a favorite spot. So if the weather was good, I’d leave Chewie outside for a while so that he could enjoy it.
Another thing Chewie loved was car rides. I often had him with me in the car when I ran errands but only for those errands that did not mean leaving him in the car. Like, sometimes when I had to drop off mail at the drive-thru mailboxes, or return library books at the drive-thru window, or use the drive-thru at the bank, Chewie got to ride along. He’d love sticking his head out the window as he sat on my lap, enjoying the wind in his ears. Sometimes he even barked at people! As he got older and could not stand very well, I would take him out for a ride in my car and hold him up near the window so he could feel the wind.
As he got older, Chewie suffered from some pretty bad health problems. He had glaucoma in both of his eyes, making him nearly blind in his final days. He also had arthritis and a level 4 heart murmur. His hearing started to get worse in old age, too. His spine became curved in his last days, making him look like he had a hunchback, and many times he’d become disoriented and walk around in circles. Sometimes he would walk into the walls or a door. Then he started having seizures. When the first one happened, I didn’t even know what it was and I was scared. I thought he would die right there. But he did not. As his health got worse, I was too nervous to be away from home for too long. I mean, what if he had another seizure? (Well, I know I have always been a homebody, but having a senior dog with serious health problems made me even more so.) Sometimes Chewie could not get up to go outside to the bathroom and many times he’d fall off the step when trying to come back inside the house. Sometimes he would fall when going to the bathroom, making it a job for me to clean him up when this happened. Chewie had lost some of his teeth when he bit the sleeve of a visiting male friend, but he started losing more of his teeth. Eventually, the bottom part of his mouth became rotten and he could hardly eat or drink water.
As much as it hurt me, I realized that the time had come to consider euthanizing him. It was a very painful decision to make. For a while, I was against it and I fought with my husband over it. But after it got to where Chewie could hardly stand up anymore, I knew that it was time. Especially after my husband told me one morning that he’d found Chewie on the floor in the hallway the night before, twitching and going to the bathroom on himself. I knew he was suffering and I had to do the responsible thing as a pet owner: I had to put him down. I loved Chewie dearly but I knew that it was selfish to allow him to continue to suffer like that. I mean, he could hardly eat. He couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom. That is no way to live, especially for a dog.
However, when I told the kids we would have to put Chewie down, they fought me on that. They kept pleading to me to allow Chewie to die naturally. I told them I wanted that to happen, but he was suffering and it was not right to allow him to continue to suffer like that.
This was the conversation that has been going on for the past several days. Meanwhile, I prayed for an alternative solution. I just asked God to please help Chewie and bring an end to his suffering. And many times, when it was peaceful in the house and I was alone with him as he slept, I let Chewie know that if he left us, it would be okay. We would be sad and we would miss him, but we all knew that he had to go home now and be with his family again. We knew and accepted that it was his time to go.
Yesterday ended up being the day he went home. And, thank God, he was able to have a natural death. I did not have to move forward in putting him down. We all knew that it was going to happen any day now. We gave Chewie extra love, support, attention and hugs because we knew that each day with him could be his last.
In fact, I made preparations for his final arrangements. And I made sure that, for every day the sun was shining, Chewie had some time out in the backyard to enjoy the weather. I had to carry him in and out of the house and sometimes he could only lie there in the grass, but I made sure he got to spend some time outside in the weather that he loved so much.
He was outside yesterday when I walked out there and discovered him having a seizure. It was the fifth one and it was pretty bad. I quickly wrapped him up in a towel, lifted him up and carried him inside. But when I came in the house, I sat right down and held Chewie against me, telling him, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” The kids were in the same room and noticed what was going on. I told them that he was having a seizure and that they needed to come over to tell Chewie that they loved him one last time. I just knew that this was his last seizure – and that it would be a fatal one. I just knew. I could tell just from how badly it was affecting him. Well, the kids came over and talked to Chewie. Each of us took turns telling Chewie we loved him. First Jesse then Jennifer. After I said “I love you, Chewie,” he gave one very large shake in my arms then he fell limp. I held him against my chest, fighting back the tears. I looked at the kids and said, “I’m sorry. He’s gone.”
After a while of just sitting together right there and grieving, we began texting friends and family and letting them know that Chewie had passed. Jennifer wanted to take a picture of Chewie before we buried him and even though I did not like that idea, I respected her request. Unfortunately, try as we might, we could not get my phone cam to work. (It hasn’t worked for a while.) There was no other working camera available. I tried to ask a friend if we could use her camera just for this request but never got a reply. So there was no last picture.
The task of preparing for burial was so hard for all of us. I got Chewie’s favorite dog bed that I wanted to bury with him. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t fit into the box with the cushioning, so we took the cushions out. (I kept one, Jesse kept the other.) Jesse and I also kept a clipping of Chewie’s fur. Jennifer kept one of Chewie’s toys (it’s a toy doggy and it even kinda looks like him – she named it Chewie Jr.). Jennifer also placed a picture of each one of us on each flap of the box. At first, I DID NOT want to put Chewie into the box we were burying him in. I just sat there holding him as he was wrapped in my sweater (that he often slept on) and just held him for a long time. I didn’t want to let him go. Then I eventually found the strength to put him into the box. I broke down crying after I gently placed him inside of it then I broke down and cried again after Jennifer asked my husband to cover the box up with packing tape. I hated that request. I know, it’s not like Chewie would magically climb out of that box and be all better again, but putting the packing tape on the box was like turning him into this lifeless THING we were going to ship at the post office! It just really hit me hard. Chewie was officially dead. When we had been sitting there together with him and grieving, I kept wishing he would wake up again. But he never did. I even checked him to make sure he was dead (then Jennifer checked him and so did my husband) so I knew he was not going to wake up again. But I still hoped he would. I could not really grasp that our beloved animal friend had died. I was glad he was not suffering anymore and out of pain, but I just wished he was not gone. (A selfish thought, I know.) Then Jennifer broke down and cried right in the middle of a conversation with her dad. I held her close while she sobbed against my chest. It was just a really sad time.
Before it was time to bury Chewie, Jennifer wrote on the side of the box:
R.I.P. Chewbacca Wilson (Chewie) March 1, 1993 - 2014, May 31, 4 P.M. Human yrs = 21 Dog yrs = 168 We will love you forever and miss you always -Jen, Jesse, Dawn, Jason
Chewbacca was buried in our backyard two hours later. He is buried next to Jennifer’s tree. Jennifer, Jesse and I took a turn saying our final goodbyes to Chewie before his grave was filled. I am happy with where his final resting place is because he often explored that part of our backyard and he is close to us, as he should be. (I am so glad the kids talked me out of burying Chewie at a local pet cemetery.) I told the kids that anytime they needed to talk to Chewie or be near him, they could go out to his grave to do that and he would hear them. I reminded them that Chewie will always be with us in spirit.
Chewie started out as my dog but he definitely became the family dog because we all just loved him so much. He was my dog, Jennifer’s dog, Jesse’s dog and Jason’s dog. He belonged to all of us. He was very special and definitely a part of our family.
Rest in peace, Chewie. We will always love you and miss you every day. Most of all, we will never forget you. Thank you for giving us 21 years of your life.
Writing by the name of Dawn Colclasure (my maiden name). Author of books for children as well as poetry books, writing books and books on the paranormal. I occasionally collaborate on books with Martha Jette or Jennifer Wilson.
Former editor and publisher of Burning the Midnight Oil Book Zine. Book reviewer for Night Owl Reviews.