Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My dog, my inspiration.

Chuck at 1 year old.

Meet Chuck, or Mr. Chuckles as he was originally named (this will be explained later). He's my big black beauty of a mutt, a German Shepherd/Doberman mix, and today is his 14th birthday. He's my baby, my buddy, my best friend. He's my guardian, my protector, my therapist, my entertainer, my muse, my doorbell, my furry personal alarm system.  He's a personal space invader, an indiscriminate destroyer of plush toys, an attention hound, and a basketball humper. He's 90 pounds of pure love, is smarter than 98% of the people I come in contact with on a daily basis, and lets the cat jump on his tail. He likes when I sing to him and he's a champion Frisbee catcher. He's my big mush, and for 14 years he's made my life better just by being in it. Here is his story.

 Mr. Chuckles was found on the street in 1997 in Perth Amboy, NJ by my then-boyfriend's brother. Both my boyfriend and his brother were living at home at the time. His brother, who we'll call White Trash Teeth (WTT for short), brought the puppy home and decided the very next day to move out with his crackhead (literally, I'm not even kidding) girlfriend, leaving the puppy with his parents, who did not want him and refused to take care of him at all. Because you know, I'm sure they didn't want anything to get in the way of the 5,000 cats they had.

Sleeping under the Christmas tree, 2011.
My then-boyfriend and I, who we'll call American Rockstar (AR for short), decided to make him ours. He couldn't have been more than 4 or 5 months old, and I could not possibly resist him. Unfortunately, I could not bring him home, as I was also living at home at the time and we already had a dog. No way would my mom go for two at once, and it wouldn't have been fair to Deegan to bring another dog into the house at that time. So Chuck lived with AR in his parents' house for the first 7 years of his life. There are no words I can use to properly describe how disgusting this house was. The hordes of cats peed wherever they wanted to, and AR's mother couldn't be bothered to clean it up. Like ever. She claimed to vacuum, but I never saw evidence of such a thing. I never wanted to eat anything she cooked, because her kitchen was nauseating. AR pretty much lived in his room upstairs, and so did Mr. Chuckles, who was named such because, and this is pretty much an exact quote from AR "Won't it be funny when he grows up and looks so tough and has a goofy name?" Yeah, hilarious. Moron.

I did pretty much everything for Chuck, even though I didn't live there. When AR went out of town to wrestle in some hillbilly state for $35, I'd take care of Chuck. When AR was just a lazy fuck who couldn't be bothered to give him a bath or take him for a walk, I did it. I took him to my mom's and let him run around the backyard as often as possible. I took him to his vet appointments. AR claimed he loved Chuck, yet he wouldn't do the most basic things, like make sure he had enough food when he was alone. At the time, I had yet to realize that AR wouldn't know what love was if it punched him in the face.

Chuck at a little over a year old.
Chuck had separation anxiety from the get-go. Oh boy, I wonder why. He never wanted to be separated from me or AR, and if left alone would destroy anything not nailed down. AR did not understand (because he's a fucking retard) that Chuck couldn't be left alone so much, but I did everything I could do to try to make it not so bad for Chuck. We had a set path that he and I would walk every day (yes, I walked him every day though I did not live there). When Chuck was about 3, AR and I were standing outside AR's house talking to someone I can't remember now (which means they could not possibly have been important), and Chuck was inside crying because he wasn't out there with us, even though we were in full view of him. Somehow he managed to get the screen door open and make a run for it. And holy shit was he a fast little fucker. I was so scared he'd get hit by a car, but then I began to realize that he was running along the exact path I where I took him for walks. AR, WTT and I were running after him. When he reached the end where he and I would usually turn around, he turned around and started running right at us, attempting to pass us. This was a wonderful game to him, judging by the look on this face, and by then I was laughing at AR's futile attempts to catch him. Eventually WTT was able to tackle him and we got the leash on him, but to this day I still believe that he allowed himself to be caught once he was bored with the game. Like I said, smarter than most people I come in contact with.

Come on Mom, throw the Frisbee!
A couple of years later AR was out of town for the weekend at yet another $35 wrestling gig and I was taking care of Chuck. As we were doing our nightly walk, one of the mean-ass Rottweilers from across the street came flying right at us. Chuck jumped in front of me and fought the other dog off until I started screaming for the asshole neighbors to come and get their stupid killer dog. It was nighttime, and both dogs were black, so if I had tried to kick the other dog, I might have kicked Chuck. Eventually they came and dragged their dog back across the street, both he and I realizing full well that his dog was the more injured. Chuck kicked his ass. Fuck yeah he did, my little warrior dog. Only then did AR's parents come lumbering out onto the front porch to ask what was going on. Useless.

In 2003, AR and I broke up for approximately 8 months. I was absolutely heartbroken that I would not see Chuck again. In retrospect, I realize the thought of never seeing Chuck again was worse than the thought of never seeing AR again. That probably should have told me something. Anyway, I took him back after about 8 months, when he came crawling. Yeah, yeah, I know, I've heard it all. Colossally stupid life move.


Going for a car ride, yay!
We got an apartment together, another dumb move on my part, but I did get to be with my Chuckles. There were alot of little dogs in this apartment complex. Once, one of our neighbors was allowing their 4-year-old to "walk" their little black Pomeranian around the neighborhood unsupervised. Needless to say, the dog got away from the kid, and came running at Chuck, dragging his leash behind him. Once he got to Chuck, he immediately proceeded to start biting at his paws, since that's the only place on Chuck he could really reach. And what did Chuck do? He started lifting up his paws like a little pony; every time the little dog would lunge for one of his paws, he'd lift it up, then put it down and lift the other one when the dog went for it. Picture a high-stepping horse and you'll get it. But he didn't try to bite the other dog. He seemed more confused by it than anything else. However, to this day, he has issues with small dogs. I can't say I blame him.

Somewhere around 2004, I went on a road trip to Tennessee with AR and his friend, Fat Fuck (who we'll call FF for short). Yep, one of those $35 wrestling gigs. I don't remember why I even went. Anyway, on the way to the show we stopped at a gas station and AR and FF when inside while I sat in the car. While I was sitting there I saw something moving by the dumpster. When I realized it was a tiny black puppy trying to hide, I got out of the car and, heedless of fleas, picked her up and brought her back to the car with me. It was pretty obvious someone had just left her there, as they had scattered some kibble on the ground in front of her and she had a tiny little red collar on, but no tags. And you wonder why I hate people?

The happiest dog in the world.
When AR and FF got back to the car and saw the puppy in the backseat with me, they both tried to tell me no way were we bringing her home to NJ, but fuck them both, it was happening. She was a sweet little thing, and soon won them both over, so much so that FF decided he would make the puppy his wife's Christmas present. However, Christmas was still several days away, so AR and I agreed to board her at our place until then so it wouldn't spoil the surprise. I have to say, Chuck was so great about it. She was a tiny little thing, but very rambunctious and yappy. At first, Chuck was completely confused, looking at us like "um, what the fuck is this?" But after a few hours, he stopped chasing her under the bed and stopped sniffing her ass and decided he was done with the whole situation. He tolerated her for the few days we had her, and was incredibly patient with her, but he was so not thrilled about it. You could almost see the look of satisfaction on his face when the puppy was scolded for peeing in the house. He was extremely happy when she was gone.

A little aside for you...
Christmas came and FF brought the puppy home to his wife, who named her Miracle, as in Christmas miracle. However, they soon made me regret allowing them to take the puppy. For a while it seemed like they genuinely loved her. Then they began to keep her caged all the time and rarely let her run. They were always telling her to shut up. They only really trotted her out when they had a party and one of their friends brought a dog with them. And then they had a baby, and the poor dog was almost never out of her cage. I think she was about 2 years old when one day she chose just the right moment to bolt out of the slightly ajar screen door and run down the street. They looked for her, but never found her. I can't blame the poor thing for running away after the way she was treated. I would've too. I like to think that someone found her and loved her the way she deserved to be loved.

He tolerates her. :)
Also in 2004, Trixie the cat came to live with us. She followed me home from the parking lot one night, jumped up on the windowsill, and meowed her head off, driving Chuck insane, until she finally broke me down and I brought her inside. Chuck adapted pretty quickly to the new addition, given he had lived with a zillion cats when he lived with AR's parents. She's become his annoying little sister. When he leaves the house to go for a walk, she cries at the door until he comes back. When she gets her butt smacked for peeing in the tub, he joyfully chases her down the hall. And about 5 minutes ago, when Trixie got her claw stuck on one of her toys and was meowing loudly at me as I was trying to help, Chuck came trotting down the hall to make sure she was ok, sniffing her from head to tail once she was free of the offending toy. They're quite the pair.

In 2007, when I finally decided to leave AR, I did so in grand fashion, leaving him with nothing to come home to. No apartment, no car, no dog, no fiance (as we were engaged for the second time by then), nothing. I had his brother, WTT, come and get his shit after I'd taken what I wanted from it. Don't judge me. WTT said he'd be back for Chuck. Yeah, because I was going to let him take Chuck from me. Idiot. With the help of my family, I broke my lease and moved while AR was out of the country for 3 months. Chuck, Trixie, and I got our own place, untainted by AR's douchebaggery, and we've been very happy here.

Chuck loves the hose.
Chuck still has separation anxiety, but it became more manageable once our lives and our routines began to stabilize. But when we first moved in, holy shit. He destroyed everything he possibly could, including but not limited to DVDs, CDs, clothes, books, a pair of headphones...yeah, he made sure I understood he was not thrilled with the change in venue. I put everything out of his reach, so instead he started peeing in the kitchen every time I left the house. Nowhere else, just the kitchen. And only in one spot. These are his "angry pees," as I've come to call them. He doesn't have to pee, and he certainly knows better. He's just mad that I left him alone, and this is his big "fuck you" to me. Ah well, at least it's easy to clean up if it's on the kitchen floor.

I was so happy that Chuck took to Josh while we were dating, and quickly moved from "hey, who's the new guy?" to "I love him I love him I love him." And Josh loves Chuck, and Trixie, like they've always been his. Which of course makes me love him even more.

He loves this Frisbee. Can't destroy it!
We've had very few issues with other dogs in this neighborhood, like the evil dachshund upstairs darting into my apartment and going after Chuck's ankles. That was a mean little fucker. He went after Chuck every chance he got, snarling and snapping like he thought he was a rottweiler. Not friendly, and Chuck wanted nothing at all to do with him.
Chuck made a friend named Haley, a pit/shepherd mix. He loved Haley, and I loved watching him play so happily with another dog. He was very sad when she moved away. His friend Mikey, who lives next door, isn't as much fun as Haley because he's older. But then again, Chuck's older now too and probably wouldn't have as much patience for Haley's antics as he once did.

Chuck is not fixed, which was AR's decision, under my protest. He thought it would change his personality and he wouldn't be as much fun. Keep in mind that Chuck was only about 6 months old when we discussed it. He would've been fine, but whatever. Technically, he wasn't my dog, in AR's eyes, so I didn't have a say. Let's not get into that whole can of worms.
Chuck at the Bark Park.
Because Chuck's not fixed, he's not allowed at dog parks, which makes me sad. I was determined that he have the experience at least once. So one day, after a rainy night and a mostly cloudy day during which not many people were out and about, Josh and I decided to see if there was anyone at the dog park. It was also around 4pm or so, late enough for most people to have gone home anyway. When we got there, lo and behold it was empty! We let Chuck run and sniff and do whatever he liked until he got bored. Right about that time, another dog showed up, so we decided to leave. The woman got out of her car and said "Don't leave on our account." I told her we weren't, it was just time to go. Her Husky wanted to check out Chuck. I knew this was a bad idea, as Chuck has become cranky with other dogs as he's gotten older. I told her no, that I didn't think it was a good idea, that Chuck might get cranky, but she insisted that the 2 dogs would be friends if only I let them sniff. Listen, dog owners: If someone tells you NO, they don't think letting your dog near their dog is a good idea, LISTEN TO THEM. I absolutely hate when people do that shit to me. "Oh come on, they'll be fine." No, they won't. And of course, the Husky sniffed somewhere Chuck didn't like, and Chuck predictably snapped at him. Fuck you lady, I told you it was a bad idea.

At least when we took him to the beach for the first time there was nobody else around. I was also determined that he experience the beach at least once, and so he did. And he loved it. He jumped at the waves, he tried to dig in the sand under the water, he chased the birds. That was a good day.

No pictures, please!
In March of 2010, Chuck became suddenly and gravely ill. During one of his walks, he just stopped and laid down, panting hard, and refused to move. Once I did get him moving, he had black diarrhea, and once he got in the house, he wouldn't eat and wanted to do nothing except lay there. I took him to his regular vet, where they did absolutely nothing useful, and kept saying things to me like "Well, he IS 12 years old." Really, assholes? And what does that mean, that I should just give up on him? Fuck off. That's why we no longer go to that vet.
My very favorite photo of Chuck & his smile.
They did an ultrasound, blood work, other tests, and figured out only that he was bleeding into his intestines, but could not figure out why. They also noted that his intestinal walls looked like things had passed through there that shouldn't have (which I'm assuming are things like the socks he used to steal out of the laundry and eat when he was younger). They kept us there all day, and then finally referred us to Garden State, the emergency vet in Tinton Falls. I wish we would have just gone there in the first place. They had to redo the ultrasound because the one done by the original vet was blurry. Incompetence. His blood count was dropping, and he was becoming more lethargic. At first, they were preparing me that they might not be able to save him, that he might die, because they couldn't figure out what was causing everything. Emotional wreck does not even begin to describe what I was at that point. But, they gave him a blood transfusion and some IV meds, and he was in the hospital for a week. We visited him at night just like at a human hospital, and it broke my heart every time I had to leave him. Finally, his blood count came back up and stabilized, and his poop was no longer black. Only then could we take him home. And to this day, there was never a diagnosis. He just got better. My miracle dog. However, no more rawhide or pig's ears for him, because they could tear his intestines, and his diet changed to: chicken & rice mixed in with his dog food, senior Milk Bones, a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt each day to help his digestion, and when he gets pills, they're wrapped in turkey. But that is all he eats now, and since he can't chew on rawhide anymore, we've substituted tennis balls, which satisfy his need to chew and make him happy when he destroys one (which is quite often).

"But Mom, I HATE this thing!"
At the beginning of December, Chuck was attacked. See the story by clicking here: PURE RANT. He has bounced back beautifully. He's the same happy, sweet dog he's always been, but now he has a pretty big scar on his ear. I've been calling him my little warrior dog. It makes him wag. :)

This past year (2011), I began to notice the arthritis in Chuck's back legs getting worse. He has a hard time getting up sometimes, but not always. Stairs are no longer his friends. Car rides aren't as much fun because it's so hard for him to get in the car. His vet (the vet he's been going to since we left his old vet) is wonderful, and is a senior dog specialist. She wanted to put him on anti-arthritis medication, which I was all for once she explained how it worked and how much better he would feel. However, she needed to do his blood work first to make sure he was still a good candidate for it. Turns out, he no longer was. His liver levels had spiked, so this became a whole new concern. They did an ultrasound and saw that his liver was inflamed. They also found a small "nodule" (their word) in his liver, which they didn't believe to be cancer due to the lack of crystallization. His prostate is also inflamed, which they say is most likely because he's "unaltered." Goddammit AR, still a douchebag all these years later. Anyway, they put him on antibiotics and liver meds, and he was doing well on them. His liver levels all went down. Not back to totally normal, but enough that the vet decided to keep on the meds a while longer. This past weekend they did his blood work again, and his levels have gone back up. Not all the way back up, but up all the same. They've consulted a specialist, and I have two choices right now. I can keep him on the Denamarin, which is a liver function support supplement, and keep him happy and comfortable, but in that case I always run the risk that he'll get worse. Or I can put him through more tests, and more trauma, because the other choice is to do yet another ultrasound AND aspirate (stick a long needle into) his liver. And there's no guarantee that they'll even get clear results. This is yet another hard choice I've had to make for my Chuckles, and it's tearing me apart trying to figure out what's best for him.

Matching red bandages, 12/31/11.
The important thing is that he's still smiling. Through the blood work, the ultrasounds, the liver tests - he still smiles for me. That photo to the left is from this past Saturday when he had his blood work done, resulting in the current quandary in which I find myself. But look at him. He got stuck in both legs, because one of the vials clotted and they had to redo it, and needed help getting in the car (you'll notice he literally takes up the entire back seat), but he's smiling. He's always been a happy dog, and that hasn't changed even after all he's been through in his life, including his previous illness and his current condition. I call it a condition because they haven't yet been able to diagnosis it.

He still has so much life in him. Sure, he can't do some of the things he used to do. He can't run around my mom's backyard anymore, he can't jump up on the bed anymore without a considerable amount of help, he can't really chase squirrels anymore (though he does try). But none of it has changed his personality or his outlook on life. Some say the fact that he's such a happy dog is a reflection on me, and sure, I believe that to some extent. I've given him the best life I knew how to give, the best life I could give, and I've given him all of my love, unconditionally. But let's face it folks, I'm pretty neurotic. And being that Chuck has always been so closely tied to my emotions, he's somewhat neurotic as well. Happy, but neurotic.

Happy happy snow dog!
Chuck can find something to love about every season of the year. In the Spring, he loves to walk in the rain and splash in the puddles. In the Summer, he loves to lay in the sun and fight with the hose. In the Fall, he loves to run through big piles of leaves just because he can, and because they make lots of noise. And in the Winter, he loves to frolic in the snow and try to catch snowballs in his mouth. No matter the season, Chuck can find a reason to be happy. And perhaps that is one of the lessons he's tried to teach me in our 14 years together. I taught him how to high-five,and he taught me how to enjoy life. Somehow it doesn't seem a fair trade.

Happy Birthday, my Chuckles. You are my heart.  

By Rick Schreck, House of 1000 Tattoos
I realized only after I published this post that I left out one of the most important photos I wanted to share, the photo of my Chuckles tattoo. So here it is, on the back of my right calf. This is Chuck's actual paw print; I used an ink pad and fingerprinted him like a human, then brought it to my artist, who came up with what you see at right, and I absolutely love it. I had always planned on getting a Chuckles tattoo, but it got bumped up the list following a horrible dream I had one night (yes, one of my end-of-the-world-disaster dreams) in which Chuck died in front of me. I woke up crying hysterically and hugged Chuck for an hour. About a week later I was at my tattoo artist's shop, getting this done as a permanent memorial to my pup. It's one of my favorite pieces, and it makes me happy every time I look at it.