We said goodbye to Chelsea today, our most faithful friend these last twelve years.
Just six months ago, the vet diagnosed Chelsea with aggressive liver cancer. Since then, the tumors have spread to her lungs and lymph nodes, making it increasingly difficult for her to breathe and swallow. Despite the discomfort and weakness and pain, Chelsea enjoyed eating and traveling right up until the end.
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Chelsea first came home with me on a sunny November day.
Chelsea, as a young pup.
She was one of a litter of eight puppies — seven sisters, abandoned in a dumpster. Everything amazed her: men with pizza boxes, men on bicycles, birds landing on her leash, birds hiding in bushes, geese migrating south, games of chase with me and the cats, realistic cat toys in the form of huge furry mice. Again and again, she helped us see our familiar world with fresh eyes.
We later learned that Chelsea had been adopted — and returned — twice before coming to us. People who picked her up weren’t prepared for her enthusiastic blend of passion and energy. But in our home, she fit in just fine. Even the cats, normally aloof, had no problem welcoming Chelsea into their day bed — a practice that continued for years:
When I would write, little Chelsea would saunter along the back of the couch and lie down around my neck, draping herself over me like a warm mink stole. When we would travel, she would stay at Jackson’s fabulous Dog Wash, where she became such a favorite she was allowed to work the front desk and greet incoming guests.
Like many other dogs, she loved to play surgeon, and many a stuffed animal — The Mousie, the ducky, a monkey, a lion, a squeaky rabbit — underwent long, slow, earnest destuffings. We would often come home to find the deflated skin of some poor unfortunate soul laid out like a rug, surrounded by puffy white clouds of cotton stuffing. But Chelsea had a good sense of what belonged to her and what did not, and she never once destroyed anything that wasn’t specifically given to her.
The one survivor of the destuffing holocausts? Little Red Dog. When we acquired Chelsea, we worried that she might feel lonesome in her bed at night, so we found a little cinnamon-colored fabric dog to be her bedtime companion. She adored Little Red Dog from day one, and while all other toys were eventually destuffed … Little Red Dog (almost exactly the size of Chelsea as a pup) remains intact to this day: the best-loved toy.
* * * * *
Chelsea, then, was always a dog who protected what she loved. This includes Clyde, whom she quickly and corrected identified as the Alpha Dog in our house. Chelsea loved me, but she adored Clyde. When Clyde worked in the office, Chelsea appointed herself his secretary and sat on the couch behind him, ready to take dictation:
When we would come home from short trips to the store or long trips to Australia, Chelsea would rush to greet us — and always in this order: Clyde first, then me. On t.v. nights, if I sat right beside Clyde, she would insist on squirming right in between us. (Clyde, trying to spare my feelings, would say, “Oh, she likes to be where she can touch us both,” but I knew the score.)
This was hard on me, at first, since Dixie, our last dog, had a special bond with me. I am honest enough to admit that, at times, I was even jealous of the attention she could command, and a little hurt that I was so clearly Number Two in her heart. But with time, these distinctions didn’t matter. Chelsea, unfettered by traits like human shame or self-consciousness, was just honest about her love. That’s a quality people would do well to imitate.
* * * * *
So many walks. So many road trips. So many bowls of popcorn or pork skins shared among the three of us. So many mornings learning tricks and playing “School.” So many slices of ham snapped up. So many chases. So many evenings, spent right next to us watching t.v. on the couch. So many trips to see my Mom or Clyde’s dad.
In all these things, Chelsea expressed an unbridaled enthusiasm for life. When she would see one of us from a distance — Clyde, at the end of the hall, or me, walking home from work — she would streak toward us, an unstoppable embodiment of unfettered joy. When she would be invited to “go” — to the store, to the park, on a ride … it didn’t matter where — she couldn’t stop herself from leaping into the air over and over again with sheer excitement. Every moment, she was present. She gave everything her all.
* * * * *
When the time came, we were with her. One easy injection brought sleep, and the next ferried her quickly and peacefully away.
I’m old enough to know that the passing of time blunts the pain of loss. But right now, today, the world seems broken, and there is a hole in our hearts exactly size and shape of a Little Red Dog.