Ode to a Giant Mini-Schnauzer from Mars

Our dog Charlie is now in doggy heaven. The truth is, the only thing to say about him is that he was The. Best. Dog. Ever.  But I’ll say a bit more.

He loved us with all his doggy heart, and those of you who have been loved by a dog know how powerful their hearts are. We adopted him on Columbus Day 2002; he’d recently gone blind due to a genetic disorder and needed a home without small children. Well, he actually adopted us about a week before when we first met him and he put his feet on our legs and pointed his nose to the sky and from then on, we were his and he was ours.

We named him Ray Charles so that, as a blind dog, he’d have a good role model. We discovered over the next nine years just how big and wide and deep Charlie’s soul really is. It had room for two crazy humans, two nutty cats, a whole neighborhood of great smells, shrubs, fire hydrants and telephone poles (aka p-mail servers) and other dogs, his groomer Bonnie, the folks at Queen Anne Animal Clinic and the Animal Eye Clinic, and a collection of various fans and supporters who followed his exploits in our annual holiday letters.

Charlie came to us blind and later on he lost an eye. “You only got one eye, and it ain’t no good,” I’d tease him when we were out for one of our many walks together. But Charlie could see better than most sighted humans. He taught me to see the joy of a walk and the sweetness of a tail wagged in greeting. He taught me to see good from bad, and how to kick dirt on invisible evil-doers with your back feet. He taught me to see beauty in imperfection and handsomeness in a one-eyed blind dog.

Charlie loved the smell and taste of shrubs, grass, dirt, poop, leaves, and snow. The first snow of the season, he’d go out for a dance, not a walk. Charlie’s blindness made him wary, his Schnauzerness made him bossy, and the combination made him snappish; but most of the time, he missed (sorry to the three folks he didn’t).  We took him to visit the “memory cottage” where my father was cared for while he suffered from dementia; in that place, Charlie never barked, snapped, or showed any signs of wanting to do so. He let the patients and staff alike pet him, talk to him, love him, all the while wearing a toothy doggy grin.

When he first lived with us, he’d scare the crap out of us by stopping dead in the middle of the street, as if something was making him unsure of where to step next. “Come on, Charlie!” we’d call, and sometimes scoop him up if a car was coming. “No stopping in the middle of the road!” He never refused a challenge and learned his neighborhood well enough over time to own it. He took doggy obedience classes and passed every test, including heeling with no leash, to the surprise of the teacher. He was smart, funny, goofy, cranky, silly, loving, generous. He never refused a dog cookie. Never.

Charlie always reminded us of that little Martian on the old Bugs Bunny cartoons – the one who doesn’t understand he’s small, and believes himself to be the center of the universe, in charge of everything. So Charlie became the Giant Mini-Schnauzer from Mars, finding his way into my first (as yet unpublished) novel as the dog who saves the human race.  Not that we really deserve it.

That’s dogs – they save us and love us anyway, even when we don’t deserve it. His papa, Bob, has deserved every bit of love Charlie’s given him, the way he’s taken care of the little dog since Charlie’s stroke months ago. The way he’s taken care of Charlie his whole life with us. But even if he didn’t deserve it, Charlie would love him anyway.

We are deeply grateful for the care Charlie (and we) received from the doctors and staff at Queen Anne Animal Clinic, especially Dr. Maura Westerdahl, who was unflagging in her support for us as well as for Charlie, and who helped ease him into peace at our home on October 13, 2011. And thanks to all our friends and family who continue to send prayers, wishes, and thoughts of love and kindness and concern.

And thank you, Ray Charles the Giant Blind Mini-Schnauzer from Mars, for making us laugh, walk, work, care, and cry, and most of all, for loving us the way only a dog can do.

PS. Read a bit about the character Charlie inspired in the book here, on The Book page.

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