I’m old enough now to recognize the different stages and seasons of life. I’m going through a wonderful one with a two year old boy and another one on the way. When I got a phone call from Lauren Thursday afternoon asking me if I’d seen our Golden Retriever Charlie when I left for work, an unmistakable tinge in my gut mounted. He had been in good health, despite hearing loss. He was a champion. Not necessarily by blood line, but by heart. While we all have read essays on dogs and what they mean to us, I find myself compelled to grab “the pen” and share my thoughts about a beautiful golden retriever and what he meant to me. I didn’t bargain for crafting a eulogy on this Saturday morning, especially for Charlie, but here goes. I’m learning that putting thoughts together is therapeutic for me. Thanks in advance for allowing me to do that in un-edited, raw form.

I never knew him as a little puppy, although I saw him as a younger dog. I had no idea that he would become mine when he was five (5) years old, which is almost precisely nine (9) years ago. I was living in my family’s small cabin on the Hiwassee River. Charlie was the late P.B. Abel’s dog and after his death, his wife Pat moved into town. And although Charlie, “never met a stranger,” he was not a “town” kind of dog. He loved the river and everything about it. We shared the same passion for the place. It was a boy’s perfect theater for play–an outdoorsman’s consummate haven. The river region thrust all five of my senses into a constant state of fancy. It really was a magical place for both of us. I remember one day shortly before adopting him. I was fly fishing for brim in my grandfather’s old Crosby boat and Charlie decided to take a lengthy swim beside me just to hang out. He spoiled the fishing that day but I didn’t care, as I marveled at his swimming ability. He was 107 pounds of muscle, with a big square head. He had a beautiful, light-toned coat, with gigantic paws. When I adopted him, I took him to Taylor Animal Hospital to be clipped and bathed. He was looking pretty frazzled. From the moment I picked him up at their office, he clung to me. He was mine. Charlie had a way of teaching me life lessons and taking me interesting places. In many ways, I felt like a little boy who was just as enamored with his dog as his dog was with him. We played catch with tennis balls, took long rides in my truck, we fished, hiked, ran and sometimes even took naps together.

When I met Lauren, he immediately embraced her and it was really cool to see how a girl that didn’t grow up with dogs and who was even allergic to his dander would fall in love with Charlie the way she did. Lauren is the love of my life. I’m not so sure if we would have made it if her feelings toward Charlie were any different. This may sound a little puerile, but Charlie, in many ways, held me and Lauren together in an undecorated, yet beautiful way. He was actually the ring bearer in our wedding on the farm in October of 2003—his performance was smashing.
He has always been gentle and never jealous of our two year old boy Garrison.

Charlie offered us a lot of unforgettable moments. I remember when I first moved out to the farm; I received a call at work from a Fed Ex driver, who found him a long way down the street and gave him a lift in her truck to drop him off at the house. She was laughing about him placing his chin on her knee (one of his signature “beg” moves) where he positioned himself closer to the bag of chips sitting in her lap. Of course he got some. She said that he made her day. Charlie made lots of days for many people. He put smiles on so many faces.

I remember the time Lauren and I hiked with him at Benton Falls. Out of breath, he waded in at the top of the falls and lay down on his belly in the icy water, with a look of sheer delight. He didn’t get up for 5 minutes and he was so close to the edge, we were worried that he would go over and down. There was the morning he recovered a frozen squirrel from the woods and boastfully displayed his haul by running around for an hour. The more I laughed at him, the more he hammed it up. The picture we have of him with the squirrel in his mouth is priceless.
I reminisce this Saturday morning about the boat rides, the games of “stick” we played in the water, the trip to Florida to see Lauren’s family, the walks and how he looked so forward to my scraps. Back to the walks for a second, he never needed a leash. He just knew how to stick beside me and mine his manners in public. On weekends he consistently scored us an extra burger or taco from various fast food drive-thru’s. Simply put, people loved him. When I came home from work, he would always give me his “love bite”, where he would gently hold my left wrist in his mouth for a few seconds. I can’t tell you how heart-warming it was to receive this.

It’s been a couple of days since he’s been missing. He was to turn 14 in a couple of months. My theory is that he trekked into the woods to die. I just wish I could have said “good bye”. The morning and evening searches for him through the woods and pastures on the farm have been solitary, morose, tantalizing and rose colored; hopeful—all wrapped into one. We’ll visit the dog pound in a few hours and we’ll search for him again today. Our efforts to find him have about expired. Last night we perused through probably hundreds of pictures of Charlie. He was the keeper of the farm. He kept our younger Golden Jake in line. Jake and our barn kitty Thomas are lost without him. They’re confused. I tracked down a poem that I had written about him on the back of a paper sack dated July 2002. I had just finished spending the day on the water with him, and I was watching him nap, I too fading asleep. At the risk of being sappy, I’ll share it with you. It is entitled “My Best Friend”.
My Best Friend

He don’t ask no questions
Don’t care what I do
He waits on me each day to come back and play
My buddy ‘til the day………..Oh the day
That’s why each one I pray
I can at least give him a small pinch of what he gives to me
A friend and fishin’ pal like no other
In a sense, another brother
Soul mate is not a stretch
Good for so much more than a game of fetch
He’s given me a view of what it really means to be free
Thanks, Charlie-Mo, for what you mean to me

JGR III – July 2002

Oh, the day has come, I’m afraid. I don’t think it’s hit me yet that he’s gone. I’m not sure when I’ll face it. I wish I could just find him. He gave me a taste of companionship that I had never had the pleasure of sampling before.
God put him in my life at just the right time. And he’s been there for me ever since. Yes, I’m in a wonderful season of my life, where finding time for a dog is challenging. I never took him to Montana like I promised him. For that, I’m remorseful. I think it will serve me another lesson that life zooms by and you better do what’s important to you. Charlie was a champion. There will never be another companion like him.

I’ll close with another poem that put a lump in my throat when I first read it a few years ago. It was written by Jean W. Sawtell and can be found on page 135 of Dr. James Dobson’s book
The Wonderful World of Boys . It’s entitled, “It’s Tough on a Dog”:


It’s Tough on a Dog

It’s tough on a dog when his boy grows up,
When he no longer romps and frolics like a pup.
It’s tough on a dog when his boy gets old,
When they no longer cuddle on his bed when it’s cold.
It’s tough on a dog when his boy gets tall,
When he’s off with the boys playing soccer and baseball.
They no longer paddle through the mud in the bog,
Hoping to find a stray turtle or frog.
They no longer run through the grass up to their knees,
Or roll in the piles of fresh fallen leaves.
It’s tough on a dog when his boy gets tall,
When’s he’s off to school, looking at girls in the hall.
It’s tough on a dog when he has work to do,
When he forgets to play as he used to.
It’s tough on a dog when instead of the woods or field or pond,
His boy becomes a man—and the man is gone.

Charlie, I miss you. What a beautiful friend you’ve been. I’m still going to look for you today. We’ll all be looking for you, imagining you’ve just gone for a long walk and you’re coming back. I had to write this essay to remember and honor you, to tell friends about you, and to make this a keepsake for my boys to read some day. I know in my heart that a ticket to heaven is not earned, it is given with full grace to me because I trust and accept Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. The gift of heaven is something I cannot earn. I can only selfishly hope that part of God’s grace includes everlasting life where we run together again in green, green pastures and swim in crystal clear waters some day…..oh, the day.

Sue from TX