Dog in a box: Things I learned about life from my dog Charlie


So last wednesday night, we went out as a family and scattered our labrador Charlie's ashes in his favourite park.  Carrying my beloved labrador in a box whilst I carried so many memories of him with me.

Charlie came into our lives December 2006, from Ireland, and one of the first things I said to my kids was 'remember he's a dog not a person'.  
He was in a bad way, age unknown, having been found roaming the streets. Most likely his owner died or went into care and Charlie was turned out to fend for himself.  (Ireland btw has one of the worst records in Europe for how the population treat dogs, with an approach to pets that is culturally rather different to many other countries)

Charlie was the most gentle, kind, considerate, soul I have ever met.  He found his way into our hearts and losing him was one of the most painful experiences I can recall.  I was glad I was with him when he passed away, my voice the last thing he heard, despite the  trauma of that process.

So everyday as I rise first in our house, I still find the silence and lack of greeting from Charlie with his wagging tale to be the most haunting.  Charlie brought so many things into my life here are just a few of them.

1. Unconditional Love & Acceptance:  Pure raw love on a daily basis, that no matter how tired, ill or in pain Charlie was, loving me was his priority.  I wonder if pets are a window into the possibilities of love between people and God, a reminder of how far from each other we are with the layers and complexities of life.

2. Allow interruptions:  I am highly introverted yet with my work spend long periods of time with people.  It took me sometime to get used to Charlie being under my feet early in the morning, when I preferred to be on my own.  I could have excluded him, but he wanted nothing more than to sit by/under/next to me.  The gift of time and company, with no words spoken is a great gift.

3.  Enjoy the moment:  For Charlie everything at any moment was something to smell, and look at and explore.  His way of entering into the world, made me think often of how much I miss due to all the things I was processing that he wasn't.

4.  Success: Charlie didn't care how much I worked, earned, or tired to make a name for myself.  His only concern was to let me know he was glad to see me, and make sure I was ok.  Charlie remind me of how passing life is and how the ways we measure it are often so vain and futile.

5. The power of touch:  The rhythm of stroking a dog, of the connection in touching, feeling fur, warmth and presence, is so powerful.  I was told Charlie would need to bond to us, I think I bonded to him first.  

6. Life is loss:  And the greatest gift of all, his life in our hands, saying goodbye, and in that moment of his passing being reminded of my own mortality, and whose hands my life was in.

Charlie in life weighed 48kg, was a large dog, and his remains required a large container.  As I  held then scattered him by my hands, the remembrance of his love and presence grew stronger, whilst the weight of him slowly dissipated.  I wondered then how my 'puppy' could still be so dear to me?

As the sun broke through the clouds to shine on the field where he now lays, I realised, that Charlie wasn't a dog. He was a person.