Our Lady of Perpetual Depression

“How I dearly wish I was not here”

“I personally believe that dogs are into quality vs. quantity of life, and he knows you’re hurting. And he wants to know if you’re going to be okay when he’s gone.”

In 2008 I hired a trainer to work out some kinks with Coco, and during some of our training sessions she got to spend some time with Chuck, witness his unique personality, watch him slink off when bored with the conversation. Once while traveling I paid her to board the dogs at her home, and when she returned them she handed over Chuck’s leash, pointed at him and said, “That ain’t no dog.”

I laughed open mouthed. How many people have met him and expressed something similar? There is no other dog quite so peculiar in an almost professorial way.

I had a long talk with her a week ago, and the quote above is what she told me after I shared with her what I’m about to share with you.

When I arrived home from dropping the girls off with their father in New York, I immediately noticed that Chuck’s condition was getting progressively worse. Exponentially, almost. He was waking up in his own feces every single morning. Because of the way that he is shaped, his poop comes out of the hole for his tail in every diaper that I’ve wrapped around his body. During the day he began pooping near the back door of the basement and smearing it around, sometimes with his face or head. He also stopped listening to or acknowledging any command I gave. He would not come when called. He refused to sit. He did not want to go for a walk.

And then, oddly, he remained lying in the dog bed that is situated near the desk where I work. Normally he prefers to be alone and will slink off to a dark hallway when I sit down at my computer, but last week he stayed put. He hung out all day sleeping, occasionally lifting his head to glance over at my furiously typing hands.

Late last Thursday night after finishing up a project I sat down on the floor next to his fragile, curled up body.

Wait… let me back up a few years. Chuck hasn’t always preferred to be alone. In fact, when friends would come over he’d come find my body and wrap his own around it somehow. If I was sitting on the couch he’d force his way underneath my legs and poke his head out from between my knees to survey the crowd. If I was sitting on the floor he’d authoritatively plop his butt down on one of my crossed legs and press his body into mine so that I had to look around his head to see and talk to my guests.

He preferred that I sit on the floor so that he could do this. He had a sense for it, a radar of sorts, where he’d be in some other part of the house and receive a vision that I was somewhere sitting on the floor. Without fail he’d show up and have a seat in my lap. I’d rub his ears and say, “Fancy seeing you here.”

Chuck hasn’t tried to sit in my lap in almost four years. Not once. There have been certain events that triggered Chuck’s reclusive nature. Yes, my divorce is prominent among them, but I can pinpoint several others that have sent him brooding into dark hallways. Aging hasn’t been a joyride for him, either.

When I sat down next to him last Thursday evening he didn’t move, didn’t blink, didn’t acknowledge that I was there. I reached over, cupped his head in my hands and lifted it toward my face. He didn’t jerk it away, but he did turn his head out of my hands to lay it back on the bed. I tried this again and achieved the same result. The third time I held the back of his ears a little more firmly so that I could catch his eyes.

He finally didn’t turn away.

I held his gaze with mine for a few seconds and said, “Hey, we need to talk.”

He blinked but then continued to look me squarely in the eyes.

“You need to tell me how you’re feeling,” I said looking back into the dark expanse of wisdom so deep that if you jumped in you’d never hit the bottom.

We sat there staring at each other for over a minute, neither of us looking away. I remembered the first time I fumbled with his leash on the corner of Stanley Avenue in Los Angeles, the moment he realized that his neck wasn’t attached to my hand and the electric current that circulated through his entire body to set off the lightbulb above his head. I had to chase that impish puppy for three blocks as he darted in and out of alleys and hid behind manicured hedges. Here I was searching for him again.

He finally blinked one more time, and then he very painfully stretched out his body from the circle of where he’d been curled up. I set my hands on the floor on either side of me and sucked in an involuntary sharp breath as he stood up, took a few steps toward me and climbed into my lap.

His dignity would have at some other point in his life preferred that I not talk about what happened next, but I know that he wants me to set that aside for now so that I can share this with all of you.

Chuck tried to sit down on my leg like he had so many times before, but he physically could not do so. His hind legs trembled as he attempted to set himself down. So I reached up, hugged him close to me and eased his butt onto my right thigh. I realized then that his diaper was wet, but that thought was pushed flat against a tiny corner of my brain as his words filled the whole of it like rising water.

He pushed his torso against my chest, tucked his head up under my chin and rested it on my left shoulder. I gripped him with enough force to communicate that I was listening, that I could hear him pleading, but gently enough to honor all of his protruding bones.

We remained in that embrace for over 30 minutes. I’m not sure I’ve ever been given a gift so valuable.

……

Yesterday afternoon at approximately 3:15 PM Mountain Time, The Former Congressman Henry Buck Chucklesworth died peacefully in my arms. I had the privilege of catching his last breath on my knee. I then cradled my baby boy like I used to do 13 years ago while dozing on the couch looking out at a California sunset, the sky under which he was born.

grieve

I know how much all of you loved him, and I reassured that marvelous, professorial dog in the hours leading up to those last moments that you, too, would be okay that he wanted to leave.

280 Comments
  • christina

    2015/07/12 at 11:22 am

    I’m not a dog person, or even a pet person. But I am a Chuck person. And I’m so sorry to hear this news.

  • Jennifer O.

    2015/07/12 at 12:36 pm

    So sorry for your loss. I know how monumental it must be for you and your family.

  • Sheila Jones

    2015/07/12 at 1:12 pm

    I shouldn’t have read that……. my first baby Bella is 14yrs old and suffering from cancer of the tongue. We just found out and it’s pretty horrific, but I’m pureeing all her food and she’s still eating/drinking surprisingly well. However, the vet has told us that it’s only going to get much, much worse and she will stop eating. Soon. There’s nothing at this point that they can do, so we are all spoiling her and dealing with the bloody slobber all over my house. The carpets are all stained with her cancerous drool but that can all be fixed. What I can’t fix is my Bella. You are so right that they tell you when it’s time, I just don’t know that I have the strength to listen.

  • Jane

    2015/07/12 at 3:21 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. I think I first found your site through a link to Chuck and I loved him from the start. Thank you for sharing him with us. (I even listened to Morrissey all the way through… ) Sending you love and thoughts from NZ xx

  • Laura Sambroski

    2015/07/12 at 3:37 pm

    I am crying so hard I can barely breathe. I have never commented on this site before although I have been reading it for years. Chuck brought me to this site. I am glad that he is finally at peace. XOXO Chuck

  • mditi

    2015/07/12 at 5:07 pm

    Moved to tears. What a gift our animals are, what a bright, comforting light in our existence. It’s a shame their time with us is so damn short. My husband always says “Don’t get too attached”. Impossible. Thanks for sharing him with us, Heather.

  • Megan

    2015/07/12 at 6:01 pm

    So sorry for your loss. Hope you and your girls are hanging in there.

  • Elizabeth A Ross

    2015/07/12 at 7:07 pm

    My love is with you right now Heather. I never knew i would cry my eyes out over a fur baby that is not my own. Much love to you and your family right now…

  • Closet Metro

    2015/07/12 at 7:45 pm

    It gets better.
    It takes a long time, but it does.
    You’ll expect to see him at the door when you come home.
    You’ll hear silence when you should hear “the slap-lapping of an empty nutsack and a dry, dog tongue.”
    You may replace him with another dog, but it isn’t really a replacement, it’s just a dog.
    You’ll accidentally call the new dog “Chuck” but he’ll never be Chuck.
    I lied. It doesn’t get better. You just get used to it.

    Very, very sorry for your loss.
    Dave

  • Sara Newberry

    2015/07/12 at 7:58 pm

    I had a similar exchange with my dog just before she passed. it was one of the greatest, and most heart-wrenching moments in my life. my heart goes out to you.

  • Kristan

    2015/07/12 at 8:31 pm

    I was traveling when I saw this post pop up in my RSS reader. I cried a little just knowing what it would be about, but I saved it for when I was back home and could read it properly. It’s time, and I still don’t feel ready…

    Much love to you, Heather, and to all of Chuck’s family. The girls, Coco, Jon, your extended family, and even us readers. <3

  • Jaclyn Schaibley Gelb

    2015/07/12 at 9:38 pm

    Heather, thank you for sharing this, so that we who ‘knew’ Chuck may honor his passing. As I sit at my computer crying, my husband asks, “Are you really crying over a dog you didn’t know?” I say, “I knew that dog.” My daughter, who has been agreeing with my husband says “Wait, is that Dooce’s dog?” I have read your blog for more than 10 years. I knew Chuck, and I miss him already. My heart is with you.

  • Anon

    2015/07/12 at 10:20 pm

    I’m really sorry for your loss, Heather. I haven’t been following you regularly like I used to, but something drew me back here today, and now I know what it was. Hold Coco close and know the pain will lessen in time. Chuck had a good life with you. You were both very lucky to have each other.

  • Tia Celeste

    2015/07/12 at 11:02 pm

    To call him a dog hardly seems to do him justice, though inasmuch as he had four legs, a tail, and barked, I admit he was, to all outward appearances. But to those who knew him well, he was a perfect gentleman.

    Hermione Gingold

  • Vikki

    2015/07/12 at 11:33 pm

    Oh Heather. I’ve never commented before, but I have been reading your blog since before you had Leta. I’m like so many others that have commented above, I’m sitting at my work desk crying like a big baby. It’s almost home time and I’m gonna have to sneak out of here so no one sees me! So SO sorry for your loss. Chuck was loved by all of us! RIP xxx

  • whatbandwagon

    2015/07/13 at 12:26 am

    Even though I’ve been trying to brace myself for this, I still feel so sad. I’ll miss this beautiful relationship that you had with Chuck, and the way you have shared it with us. My dog, who looks a bit like Chuck, has curled up on the sofa next to me (as she does when I cry), and maybe in honour of Chuck has just gifted me with a gag-inducing fart. I hope you are all okay.

  • Amiyah

    2015/07/13 at 3:25 am

    What you did, what you wrote – just beautiful. Chuck was so lucky to have you as his human.

  • KimberlyDi

    2015/07/13 at 6:53 am

    I’m crying at work. I knew this day was coming but it doesn’t make it easier. As a mom to our dog-babies, we have to know when to let them go peacefully. You can’t lengthen their suffering just to avoid losing them. I had to put my pom down a few years ago, but we had one Hell of a weekend first. I bought and cooked her the most expensive steak I could find. That and bacon all weekend long, she was happy in her last moments.

  • HBP

    2015/07/13 at 7:22 am

    Heather, I’m so, so sorry for your loss. I’ve never met your family, but I’ve been reading for many years. I’m glad you got to share those special last moments with such a special dog. I’m in tears and will be giving my two dogs extra hugs today. All the best to you and your family.

  • Alan Stubbindeck

    2015/07/13 at 7:22 am

    Having just lost our beloved border collie Casey, this hurts so, so badly. Our condolences to you and your family, Chuck was truly the internet’s dog!

  • Magatha

    2015/07/13 at 7:34 am

    Oh, Heather. We knew the day was coming, and soon. I love that the two of you communicated so well, and that his departure was gentle, despite the previous months of difficulties. I will remember him forever. May he find wings to the summer lands.

  • Steph Schmidt

    2015/07/13 at 7:50 am

    May your memories bring you some peace, comfort and smiles in the days and weeks to come. Thank you for sharing him with us, he will be missed.

  • Ashevillian

    2015/07/13 at 8:21 am

    You loved him right to end, as we are called to do for our beloved animals. Peace be with you, Heather. ~ Pascale

  • Tamara Tedd

    2015/07/13 at 8:24 am

    Chuck may have been a resident of SLC, but he was a dog of the world. By sharing his personality and antics with all of us, he was a companion and friend to us all. The world, this world, his world, mourns the loss along with you. Thank you Congressman, for all the memories and moments, and silly photos. And bless you Heather, for sharing him with us

  • Desiree Johnson

    2015/07/13 at 8:58 am

    What a beautiful gift he was to your family and us, and what a beautiful and amazing gift he gave you at the end. RIP Sir Chuck! We will miss you but never forget you!

  • Karen Tittelbach

    2015/07/13 at 9:45 am

    I’m so sorry for you and for your girls. Wishing you comfort and peace.

  • Lori Keller

    2015/07/13 at 10:41 am

    No matter whether we know the time is coming or not, it is hard to say goodbye to our pets who love us no matter what. So sorry for your loss, but thankful that Chuck has no more pain.

  • malisams

    2015/07/13 at 11:13 am

    goddammit, i’m so sorry. i’ve been following you and chuck since 2007, and i know my sadness at chuck’s passing is only a fraction of yours. having recently said goodbye to my cat of 12 years, all i can say is that the pain doesn’t get any easier…it just gets farther away. hugs to you all.

  • Heather Oakley

    2015/07/13 at 12:32 pm

    I shared this post with my husband who has never read your blog and who was unaware I had been following it for the last three years. We both cried together. Thank you for sharing your gifts with those who are touched by you and your family, whether seasoned readers or visitors for the first time. Wishing you peace from NC. Farewell, Chuck.

  • E D

    2015/07/13 at 1:02 pm

    I’m not really a dog person, I just haven’t felt much of a connection to them. I started reading your blog years ago, certainly pre-Leta, and for reasons I’m certain you understand but at the time I didn’t, something about the photos of Chuck were so charming and endearing and warm and charmingly aloof that I changed my dog orientation a bit, I came to think that maybe a select few dogs might be acceptable. My partner had been talking for years about wanting a dog but I had resisted. I didn’t really like dogs. I still don’t, as a rule. But it was something she really wanted, and I work from home, so having a friend here with me, even if it were a furry one, sounded…acceptable. We finally decided to get one, and in my mind, something I never really admitted, I really wanted a dog like Chuck. Or, to put it another way, Chuck was the dog that made me realize I might want a dog. Not one that looked like him necessarily, that wasn’t really important one way or the other, but that had his sardonic, charming, anti-dog-dog affect. Something in his face was I wanted to have in my own dog.

    Long story short, we found a puppy at the local animal that fit the bill perfectly. Looking at those old photos of Chuck, I do see our dog in him. She’s just as odd and charming as I’d hoped our dog would be, and, somewhat unexpectedly, I’ve also found that our pup is a wonderful, wonderful friend. I realize that most humans have known this for eons but it’s still news to me. So although I am sure it’s little consolation for your loss, please know that because of Chuck and your wonderful profiles of that strange fellow, another dog, in another state, a dog that will never meet or play with Chuck, that dog was saved from a shelter. I’ll admit I’m still not a dog person. But I sure like ours. And, lucky for her, now leads the charmed, spoiled, ridiculous life of a dog that is also our best friend. Your blog gave us that. Thank you.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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