We had found our new dog.
Until that day I had thrived on a lack of spontaneous decisions. A myriad of lists, spreadsheets, and plans dominated my world. I had never done anything that even comes close to the impulsiveness of adopting Chester, but I powerless when it came to love at first sight.
I’d like to say that Chester (nee Burke) was as moved as I was but he initially displayed a cool indifference; a dog used to the easy come, easy go love of the shelter. But when we arrived with a shiny blue collar and new leash to pick him up, he strutted – he absolutely strutted – across the room when the shelter staff told him his new family had arrived. As the emotional volunteers crowded around to say their goodbyes, he raised his proud head and kept his eyes on me the whole time.
We were a family.
And while Chester was always giving, something else was slowly taking everything away from him. The brain tumor snuck up on us, ridiculously stealthy and cloaked in a myriad of other possibilities. At first, it was nothing more than worsening of his slightly arthritic hips, then maybe a thyroid imbalance. A world champion eater, Chester’s appetite failed him and pancreatitis was suggested as he slowly, then rapidly, dropped 30 pounds from his frame. He lost his balance; he lost his dignity. He no longer barked, no longer ran, no longer pounced.
It robbed him of the ability to wag his tail.
In the end, Chester was sleeping nearly 24 hours a day, all of it in our laps, with our arms around him. He tried so hard for so long and he put up such a fight. His monumental effort to stay with us was humbling and, as I sat with his head in my lap, I had to grapple with concepts I had never considered before. Words like “mercy” entered my vocabulary for the first time as we gradually then urgently faced the most gut wrenching decision of our lives.
The heartache of caring for Chester as he slowly faded away began to cloud my memories of the dog he once was, but I’m determined not to forget his exceedingly vibrant personality, his boundless energy, his unquestioning enthusiasm for life, and – eventually – his quiet, gentle, unassuming determination. Our house, our life is so unbearably quiet now, so I try to fill it with the happiest of remembrances.
Things like how he had a strict hierarchy for his toys, and how he would give little growls to keep his toys in line.
Or how his habit of crawling under the table to emphatically share his toys with the laps of visiting guests earned him the unfortunate distinction as the inventor of “Crotch-ball”
Or how he discovered water and would run back and forth along the shore for hours in a desperate attempt to pounce and catch a wave. The only time we ever saw him dig is when he engineered a canal to trap the incoming water.
Or how he had such a jaunty walk and we would occasionally call him “Mr Prance”. When the staff of the grooming salon told him how handsome he was, he was insufferable!
He was also nicknamed "Slink-ster", a tribute to both his ability to always steal a quilt to snuggle in, and also for a notorious incident when he escaped from the world's tiniest window.
He loved bacon, peanut butter, and cheese, but most of all he loved dried apricots and would come running when he heard me open up a mason jar.
He barked like crazy if you yodeled or if you pretended to “attack” his foot with your foot.
Despite our best efforts to the contrary, he enthusiastically and successfully snapped at and caught bumblebees.
He won first place in his obedience training class as the dog who did the most consecutive alternating “sits” and “downs” in a row. His prize was a can of canine pumpkin pie.
His ears were so incredibly soft and they had dozens of different positions to reflect his moods.
When he woke up in the morning, he’d come over to me and bury his head in my lap as I rubbed his eyes, scritched his ears, and told him what a nice boy he was.
Chester was a good dog.