Sunday, February 21, 2010


We lost Charley this weekend. Mike found him collapsed in the snow on Friday night, and the vet said he most likely suffered a heart attack. We had to let him go Saturday morning, and the house feels very empty without him. He was a part of our lives for so long, and we lost him just days before his twelfth birthday.

Charley came to me in October of 1998 when I was in graduate school at the Art Institute in Chicago. He was just 7 months old -- awkward, big-nosed, and gangly. I lived on the top level of a two-flat in Chicago, and my landlords, Art and Barbara, lived on the bottom. They were breeders and rescuers of Rhodesian Ridgebacks. At any given time they had between six and nineteen dogs, depending upon whether it was puppy season. We often left our back doors open and their dogs and my Great Dane, Claire, would come and go as they pleased. One late evening when I returned home from school, I noticed a rather odd looking Ridgeback in my apartment. Thinking that Art and Barbara had accidentally locked a pup out of their flat, I attempted to return him. I believe the response I got was, “Nope, not our dog. Must be yours.” And Charley was with me ever since.

Charley was abused by his former family, so there were a lot of preexisting conditions and issues that needed attention. He always accepted that I was his new caretaker, but he growled and barked at Mike for 3 months when he first moved in, and for years he would do the same to anyone else who stepped foot in our apartment. He seemed to dislike and mistrust everyone he came into contact with, but at the same time you just couldn't help loving him, and everyone did. I remember our friend Chris once whispering to me, "Don't tell the Danes, but Charley's my favorite."

Somewhere along the way, Dan and Chris gave Charley his own slogan: “I’m not gonna bite ya, but I don’t like ya.” So true.

Charley was extraordinarily strong, and could jump 6 feet into the air from a sitting position. I guess that trait came in handy when hunting the grand lions of Chicago. His neck was massive, hence his mafia name, “Charley the Neck.”

When we would walk Charley around Chicago without the Great Danes, we unfailingly got comments such as “Good Lord, that is a big dog!” And Mike and I would turn and look around for the big dog. Since we had the Danes, we always thought Charley was more of a lap dog. But at 90 muscular pounds, I guess he wasn’t really all that small.

His later years were marked with mountain activities. When we moved to Colorado we took him hiking, walking, doggie sledding down the driveway – he loved it all. Once when our friends Kevin and Kelly were visiting, we took Charley on a fairly long hike. At the destination waterfalls, he played with another young dog, and unfortunately stepped on some small pieces of glass. We didn’t realize this until we were on our way back down the trail and he just stopped. Literally dug his heels in and wouldn’t budge. We tried pulling him. We put Kevin’s socks on his paws, which lasted all of 10 seconds. We tried fashioning a stretcher out of those same socks and large branches. None of those solutions worked, so Mike and I ran to the trailhead, got into our car and drove home to get the Jeep, which we proceeded to illegally drive onto National Forest property for a few miles (surely the statue of limitations on that crime has expired – fingers crossed) and picked up Charley, Kevin and Kelly. My heart still races a little bit at the thought. We may still be rotting in a federal prison had we been caught.

Charley had a special fondness for my mom and my brother, Matt. Matt thinks it’s because Charley knew we are siblings. Just last week Charley got up on the couch and put his head in Matt’s lap, which he never does with anyone else. He would sleep in bed with my mom when she visited – they were perfect bedfellows – neither moved an inch during the night. As he got older, he seemed to love everybody in his own way.

We’ll miss Charley’s quiet, unassuming nature. When he loved you, it really made you feel special. We have holes in our hearts, but I just know he’s chasing the lions now.


  1. Emily,
    I'm so sorry. Big, big hugs to you.

  2. I am so sorry for your loss :( losing a dog is so hard... he had a great life!

  3. Emily, this is a beautiful tribute to Charley. He was my favorite too :-(


  4. Charley is kinda one of my heroes. He taught me you don't give up on love. I've never seen such a dramatic (positive) change in a doggy as I did with Charley.

  5. what a great piece em. charley was loved BIG. i didn't know him but i love him dearly too. HUGE warm hugs sweet friend.

  6. Charlie was so lucky to have "found" you, and vice versa. Beautiful Boy. XOX to you and Mike and the Danes, Em.

  7. Boo, Sweet Charley is gone :( I will forever picture him wearing a tiny plastic yellow cowboy hat with an expression that simultaneously said "I dare you" and "I guess I will indulge you in this ridiculousness". He will be missed by many, which is a tribute to what a great dog he was :) I'm sorry, Sweet Em & Mike
    The Lone M

  8. So very sorry to hear of Charley's passing Emily. Our thoughts are with you and Mike.

  9. What a touching tribute to a wonderful dog, Emily. As many have already said, Charley was so lucky to have found such amazing companions. Tyson and I will miss him when we visit again.

    Love to the four of you!
    Elisa and Tyson

  10. Thank you all for your lovely comments about our Charley. They do help.


  11. Hey Em - did not get to really tell you how sorry I am about Charley. I know that you will miss his kind, gentle soul. He would have liked the new chicks.

  12. Aww, I just found you via the fishbowl and started crying about this post; sensitive much ??

    I am such a dog lover, and am so glad Charley had you :)

    I am sorry he had to go, but I am quite certain his life with you was one of healing, safety and warmth.

    Thank you for that. I am such a dog lover and have so much appreciation for gentle people and their dogs.

    smiling from the fishbowl.


  13. Thanks for sharing his story,
    I have tears in my eyes as my own one is eleven

    and I see his twighlight years ahead.

    He sounds like he had a wonderful life after his first one.