Chachi was a birthday gift I didn’t know I was getting. He turned out to be my child. My son. He was, in the end, about as much work as a real human son. He jumped out of a 2nd-story balcony. I had to pull him around in a little red wagon for three months while his legs were in casts. He chewed his way out of his travel crate on an airplane and roamed the cargo hold on a flight to Atlanta. When the plane landed, he jumped out of the cargo hold and delayed flights at the nation’s busiest airport. He was THAT GUY.
I named him Chachi because I thought it would be a funny, ironic name for a timid dog – give him a spicy name to offset his skittishness. Well, it wasn’t long before he grew into his name. Everyone in the neighborhood knew him. People I’d never met would cry, “Chachi!!!!” as we walked through Westwood. He had personality-plus, and was a devilishly handsome, mischievous little imp with (as it turns out) a lot of girlfriends.
He survived being shot – in the hip, with a pellet gun. This happened some time before I got him, in the days when he was neglected and abused, but the x-rays were clear. The bullet was inoperable; it would have caused more damage to get it out than to leave it in, so it stayed. He had street cred. He braved – and beat – cancer in 2011. I knew that whatever time was left after the cancer diagnosis was a gift, and we really did enjoy every day together with that knowledge.
So last night, when he was vomiting and eating grass, pacing around the house disoriented into the wee hours, I knew something was wrong. I took him to the vet first thing this morning, and he had a fever of 104.8 – that’s high, even for a dog. Something was definitely wrong.
When the vet called to tell me it was a stone on his bile duct, I was crushed. Chachi had been fighting liver disease for many years now, and had been doing so well. Last night was the tipping point where the stone completely blocked the duct, and he was at risk of gall bladder rupture, which would have been fatal. Also, the vet added, the cancer was back – evidenced by his grossly enlarged sub-lumbar lymph nodes. And, Chachi’s fever (which had initially receded) was back at a higher level than when I brought him in. Surgery could kill him.
“What do I do? What comes next?” I asked the vet, using my strong chest voice, all business. “If it was your dog, what would you do?” The vet paused for a moment, and quietly said, “I have two girls, both twelve years old. I wouldn’t opt for surgery for either of them”. Waterworks. I lost it.
With that, I realized that today would be THAT day. The day no one wants. The day when you get a gaping hole ripped into your life. The day you know is coming, but you push it off like it’s some kind of urban myth. THAT day. That day was today, friends, and I didn’t see it coming.
With a dear, sweet friend by my side, I held Chachi’s sedated face in my lap and kissed his nose, sang him songs, and told him how much I loved him. How we’d meet again on the Rainbow Bridge. To look out for his friends who were already there. He sniffed me and sighed deeply, comfortable and at peace. It was time.
Chachi left this world for the Rainbow Bridge in a peaceful slumber. I can’t express how comforting it was to be able to say goodbye, look him in the eyes and thank him for all the joy he brought to my life, and for all of the lessons I learned through him. Things like: Anything broken is fixable. Love can change your life. No fear is insurmountable. Perhaps most importantly, he taught me that skipping work in lieu of a hike or a trip to the park is a perfectly acceptable act of rebellion.
I will miss my beautiful boy for the rest of my life. It’s a weird thing that his life – up to now, so vibrant and vital – is now only a memory. He only exists in memory forevermore.
I told the vet that I only had one request – to please remove the bullet from Chachi’s hip. I wanted to save it as a symbolic gesture for Chachi, whose once-harsh life was transformed by love. I wanted that bullet, as a message to anyone who would abuse or neglect an animal. I removed the fear and mistrust from his heart long ago, but now I have the bullet, motherfuckers. Chachi is free.
Godspeed, my sweet, crazy, stinky, mischievous, cou-cou, baby-doggy angel. Mama loves you so. We will meet again, my love, and I will think of you every day.