Monday, April 12, 2010

In Honor of a Good Bad Dog

It’s taken me forever to get up the nerve to write about my feelings of losing our beloved dog. The first dog that was ever truly mine and the first pet of my love. Our first dog together and for that matter our first child. An acquaintance of mine once told me that owning a dog means you are destined for tragedy, and now I understand just what she meant. Almost five months have passed and somehow it doesn’t feel any less tragic; I just don’t think about it as much.

Puppy Love:

We knew we wanted a dog and felt certain we wanted to adopt from a local rescue. We had a new house, a big backyard, and yearned for an extra heartbeat to help us fill up our space. It was then that our paths crossed a little speckled, crazy-eyed wonder. He was eight weeks old and so pitiful and he was ours. We had no idea what he even was, except that he was a ball of pudgy puppy belly love.

Wanting to be the best dog owners we could, we sprung head first into training and walks and praise and treats and dog toys and dog beds and more walks and soccer playing and agility training and socializing, aaaaaaand you get the picture. He learned so many cool tricks like “whisper”, “up the ramp”, “down the slide”, “jump over” and “bang” as well as all the standard canine trickery like “roll over”. His soccer playing rivaled Beckham’s and when he was full grown he was a loyal running partner never minding being roused from his morning slumber to hit the pavement with Mom or Dad.

Chaco falls in Love:

One of things that made Chaco more special than anything was that he introduced us to two incredible people we likely would have never met. Being the obsessive compulsive dog walkers that we were, we frequently passed by some even more neurotic dog walkers with a hot little Border Collie on the end of their leash.

After many chance crossings, we decided we should get our little canine friends together for some “puppy play dates” and lo and behold was it love at first sight (for the dogs) and the instant connection we made with new friends was wonderful as well. Chaco and Maia were the best of buds, and I do mean the BEST of buds. All we had to do was say, “Let’s go see Maia” in our sweetest of ice cream voices and he was ready to burst through the front door. They could spot each other from a distance in the darkness for early morning runs. They truly loved each other and were the best of friends.

In the too short time that our friends were in Norman we made many memories together almost always including the dogs. We walked and ran countless miles with the dogs, met up at the park for endless games of fetch and chase, and relaxed around the dinner table with loyal friends at our feet. It was ironic that after the painful move of our friends to another state, we also lost our dog. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who we miss more. That chapter of our life was written with much joy.

Good but Bad:

Since this post is to honor Chaco I don’t really want to go into the details of what made him such a hard dog to love, but that is just it, he was good, but he was bad…and it broke our hearts into pieces.

As much as we tried with training and love, there were just some things in life that he couldn’t get over. I still feel anger at how unfair it felt that we spent so much time with him, trying to be the best dog owners we could that he still had fears that could incite unpredictable aggression. All we ever wanted to do was to love a dog and have him fully be a part of our life. But sometimes things just don’t work out the way you plan.

A Walk to Remember:

Sorry Nicholas Sparks, but your title is the only one that seems appropriate for what I have to say. How do you say goodbye to a dog to soon? A dog that your heart bursts with love for and you would do anything for, except endanger your baby and family? A dog that is healthy and young and ought to live until he’s so old that all he does is sleep, eat, fart, nuzzle up to your knees for head scratches and sneak table scraps to his heart’s content.

It was a perfect afternoon with bright sunshine and a gentle breeze. We walked down some our favorite streets. Streets that had not seemed so profound until that day. We walked slowly, hand in hand with the dog at our side, mostly in silence. I felt as if I was memorizing every step. We walked west on McNamee under the towering trees and then down Windsor Way, Maia’s old street, until we reached Rotary Park. Our park. The park where we first discovered what a soccer phenom our dog was.

We played soccer until we thought he might collapse, still amazed at his agile in flight catches. In awe of his raw speed, the beauty of his gait, and the tharump, tharump, tharump of his paws on the ground as he bolted to snag a ball.

When his step began to drag along with his tongue, we found a nice shady area to sit and rest. His fur was hot from the sun and his belly was rapidly rising up and down with a “huh, huh, huh”. He was stretched between Rob and me luxuriating in the afternoon while we were secretly dying on the inside.

Rob reached for his collar to take off his tag but only found an empty ring. He remembered that on one pass to catch a ball he heard a strange jingle. He walked across the field searching for the “Chaco” tag and when he returned it was grasped in his hand. All those miles of walks and runs and soccer had worn the tag thin and on this day it wore through. It was time to say goodbye.


What makes the feeling between man and animal so intense? What is it that makes us love animals so deeply? I think it is perfect illustration of the human need to not only receive, but to give love and compassion. Perhaps it is even safer to love and nurture an animal than it is another person because there is a smaller chance of frequent heartbreak, until that big final heartbreak at the end. I can’t articulate exactly what it is, but it was worth the deep grief we had to endure at the end.

“Dogs aren’t our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” - Roger Caras


  1. You need change your title to "In Honor of a Good Dog." He wasn't bad, he just had quirks, and it's no ones fault. In Chaco's time he experienced more love from you and Rob than some human beings will in their lifetime. Feel proud in the life you gave him, and know that he knew he was loved.


  2. I read this with streaming tears. I fell in love with Chaco as a part of you and felt every pain you felt with the difficult decision you had to make. I still miss him. You and Rob were the best of pet owners and Chaco was very lucky to have been loved by you.

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  4. Chaco was the epitome of love, joy, and athleticism rolled into one exuberant big ball of lovable mottled fur. His spirit lives in all of us who had the honor to be accepted as his friend. He is missed, but will always be loved.

    A Chaco fan

  5. I cry along with you and Rob. Choices we something have to make really do hurt but please remember how much he was loved. Remember how much you and your family are loved.


  6. Man's best friend,thats what he was. They are like children for those of us who have none or those of us whose children have gone on to make their own way. Choco was shown more love in his short life that many people receive in a long life time. I shudder to think about life without our little feist dog...... Your grand mother and I can truly empathize with you, Rob and Cora.

  7. This reminds me so much of our dog Kirby. After seven years of love and training, he is still not recovered from whatever happened during his puppy years. He is the world's best dog, and the worst, and we wouldn't trade him for anything.