Sunday, 19 February 2012

Remembering Charlie

Saturday 17th February 2012 (posted by Cath)
Charlie was the best dog in the world. He is no more. This post is to help me to remember him.

At the Quarry - one of Charlie's favourite walks
Charlie came to live with us not quite two years ago. We got him from the local rescue centre and he was just over a year old. We were told that he had been with a family, with two children - 7 and 10 years old. The story was that the mother had to go back to work full time and he had found it difficult to settle. We guessed that this lively dog had wrecked the place.


In fact, Charlie had some issues, but he quickly learned what we thought was acceptable behaviour. He was also terrified of brooms and vacuum cleaners, but he also eventually came to cope with both of those.

the colour of autumn beech leaves
He was a gorgeous looking dog, long gold/ginger hair, ridiculous ears, and a permanent wag.  We estimated some 20% of his food went to powering the wag.  We were very grateful that his previous owners had never felt that they wanted his tail docked. It was common to get stopped in the street by people who just wanted to pat our beautiful dog. Charlie lapped it up, he was a real attention tart - half a chance and he was rolling over asking to have his tummy tickled.

David checks Charlie's paw
He loved people, you couldn't walk into the house without Charlie around your feet, looking up adoringly, desperate to be greeted, but knowing that the "rules" said he had to be sitting. So he tried to sit, his tail wagging so hard that he couldn't get his backside on the ground.

Out boating - August 2011
Charlie was bright, very bright, and he loved learning new tricks. He understood: sit, down, stand, heel, in (into a room or house), out, move (go somewhere else), spin (turn on the spot), paw, look (look at me), roll over, find, hold, jump (over something), hup (jump up), wait, stay, catch, go on, in the bin, and the names of everyone in the house -  plus probably more that I can't remember.  "Jump" was an almost vertical leap over an arm held out a couple of feet off the ground, or a thigh parallel to the ground - or a 4 foot gate, which he'd scrabble at until he managed it. "Find" was a favourite, since it usually meant that we'd hidden a treat somewhere, around the house, or in the garden. He could identify a log that Michael had picked up, rubbed his hands over, and then put in a pile of similar logs. We spent ages finding new, and challenging, places to hide things.

On the Thames, Easter 2011
He loved to sit on anything that had anything to do with any of us - from a discarded bag to a foot - I wasn't happy when he backed across the room to sit on my basket of newly dried washing though.

Charlie loved to be helpful - he could be given a piece of paper or card and told 'in the bin', and he'd happily take it from you, and trot over to place it in the waste bin. Only eight weeks ago, at Christmas, we put a waste bin in the living room and Charlie helpfully disposed of all of the wrappings for us.  We were also getting him to deliver presents - "give this to Michael", "take it to Alan". My father was sitting with a £20 note in his hand, Charlie went and carefully took it from his hand, and delicately placed it in the bin.

Charlie on the Severn Valley Railway - August 2011
He could be trusted. He ate when he was told, not before. You could balance a treat on his nose, and he wouldn't move until you said 'go on'. Then he'd flip it in the air - if he missed it he'd wait patiently until you put it back on his nose. He knew it wasn't his until he caught it, mid-air - SEE HERE. Michael had even trained him to pick up biscuits and bring them to him - he could be asked to 'hold' a treat, and then hand it back to you, only eating it when you handed it to him and said 'go on'.

David and Charlie at Lechlade - Easter 2011
 Charlie was a spaniel, a water dog, a duck retriever, but for a long time he couldn't understand swimming. The first time he encountered a lake he tried to walk on the water, stepping repeatedly onto it, and looking puzzled when his foot went through. Then, only last Easter, he tried to drink water from a sandy bay on the banks of the upper Thames, and fell in. He quickly discovered that he could swim, and kept trying out his new skill, just a few strokes at a time - each new sandy bay he encountered he would leap in, and try out swimming again. By the time we got back onto the Grand Union Canal, a few days later, it was hard to stop him leaping in anywhere.  Three weeks ago, when friends visited, he was retrieving sticks from Marsworth Reservoir.

Sometimes he would surprise us. I brought him back from a very wet walk and he unexpectedly brought me a towel from his pile in the hall - he loved being dried (although that didn't extend to baths!) When his water bowl was empty he would carefully tip it up with a paw, pick it up with his mouth and bring it to you, placing it carefully in your hands.

In Milton Keynes, with Michael October 2011 (photo Chris Norris)
He also loved games. He had a 'tuggie', a rope tug pull, which he loved 'fighting' over. The 'fight' would sound really aggressive, with him growling and snarling as you pulled on the other end - but just one finger raised would have him sitting attentively, waiting for the game to continue with your 'go on'.  He would chase after thrown balls on a walk until you were fed up with throwing, and only days ago he played happily trying to catch snowballs that Michael was making up from the few remaining bits of snow lying at one of his favourite walk places.

Alan spent huge amounts of time with him, walking him, visiting places that he would not have gone to without a dog to exercise - cafes, the local castle, woodland, an abandoned quarry. Every evening, when boating, we would go out for a walk, discovering new places that we would never have found without Charlie.

Charlie had so much potential, he learned so quickly, and he loved people so much.  Then a few weeks ago he started to act strangely, hiding behind the sofa, growling if you approached him when he was seated under a desk. He was uncharacteristically defensive towards a friend's dog.

Earlier this week he made a completely unprovoked attack on Michael. I had been getting some food ready for him, but Charlie suddenly rushed at Michael and bit him on the arm. This was particularly hard as Michael had spent so many long hours training Charlie, and this was the dog that normally allowed you to take food from his mouth, or who would lie down if told to mid-meal.

We contacted the rescue centre, and the local trainer who had helped us with Charlie when he had first come to live with us. We had an appointment to see the trainer next Monday.

Then, two evenings ago, just after Michael had been patting him quietly, Charlie suddenly, without any warning, snarled and leaped up at Michael on the sofa, biting him and lacerating his nose. There was blood everywhere, Michael grabbed tissues as the family rushed around, getting dressings, finding car keys. We pressed dressings onto Michael's lacerated nose, and headed for A & E. I thought that Michael's nose was probably slashed from top to bottom, as I hadn't really seen the damage under the dressings for more than a moment or so. In fact, the wounds are messy, but have not gone through to the inside of his nose. He has had the wounds steri-stripped (they don't sew up dog bites, to allow any bacteria to come out), and is on anti-biotics.

The next morning we rang our vet, and asked to see the senior partner. He was wonderful, supportive and understanding, but explained that Charlie had developed 'rage syndrome', a very rare, but incurable, condition of red cocker spaniels. He told us that our wonderful dog could never be trusted again, that we would always be waiting for the next attack, and that Charlie would never be aware. He wouldn't know what he had done. No amount of training could make a difference, and he would be fine 99% of the time. The clincher for me was the explanation that a dog that is going to attack will almost always give a warning, a growl, a slightly snarling lip - Charlie wasn't doing that, he was just attacking, no warning. He told us we had a decision, but his strong advice was that Charlie could never have the same life again. It cannot be a choice in that situation, it doesn't matter how much you love your dog, you cannot risk the possibility that someone else might be harmed. The vet thanked us for making the right decision, we said goodbye to the best dog in the world, and left in floods of tears.

I thought, after the attack on Michael, that I would want everything of his removed from the house, every memory destroyed. But I don't - whatever happened, it wasn't Charlie's fault, he was ill, incurably ill. But I still love him, and I want to remember our lovely, clever, funny little dog. I was privileged to know him for nearly two years - he gave us so much in that time. We are devastated.

POSTSCRIPT (7th July 2012)

A new saga begins "Owning A Dog Again"


  1. Dear Cath, Alan and family, I was devastated to read this. I'm so sorry that you had to make that awful decision, but fully understand.

  2. How sad for you all and I admire you for taking the right decision in the end. He sounds a wonderful dog and after the pain of losing him dies down a bit, you will find yourself reminsicing about things he did for years to come.
    take care

  3. So sorry to read this, he looked like a beautiful dog, but a very wise decision I think.

  4. That is so sad..............but you have nothing to reproach yourself for. Sometimes things happen that we have no control over. You gave Charlie the best that you had to offer and he gave you the best of himself and there is no more to be said. Run free at Rainbow Bridge Charlie.

  5. Cath
    Thank you for writing this even though it must have been painful for you. Your wonderful intelligent dog has had two terrific years with your family and paid your love and care back in spades, so all of you were winners.
    I have never heard of this affliction in connection with Golden sad that this wonderful breed should suffer so from what is probably the result of poor breeding standards. You have made the right decision, awful as it is to live with.
    Here's to Charlie, the wonder dog...

  6. He was a wonderful dog... a faithful friend and companion... and you had the joy of his company!
    You saved him! And even if your time together was short, I'm sure you don't regret it... you gave him a lovely little life.
    Out on a boat... swimming... a family that liked to play and give him stimulating challenges... lots of attention, like taking all these beautiful pictures of him out and about...
    I hope you decide to open your hearts to another rescue dog. It will never replace your beloved Charlie, but it will fill the terrible void he's left. And it will heal your heart... And there are so many good and deserving doggies that need homes.
    You guys are such wonderful dog owners... responsible, capable, and fun! Please try to think about offering all you have to give to another doggie... there's another one out there that needs you as much as Charlie did.
    You gave him a good life, cherish the memories... you did the right thing...

  7. What a heartbreaking decision for you to have to make. I never met Charlie, but thanks to his appearances here and as Alan's avatar on the CWDF, he's become a very familiar figure. I've just been reading up on this condition, and I'm sure you've made the right decision, no matter how hard it was.

  8. It was obviously a difficult decision to make and equally obvious it was the right one. So very very sad.

  9. How tragically sad for you all :(
    But I too am sure you've done the right thing.
    At least you have many many happy memories and pictures of your wonderful Charlie.

  10. We had an alsation that bit two children and the baby sitter before we made the decision. Luckily all bites were slight but it is a horrid decision to have to make

  11. Beautiful dog. Heartbreaking decision. Wonderful memories and lovely photos. What fate drew me to read this and leave me in tears. A dog lover.

  12. Alan and Cath... So so sorry to read this but also glad to have shared in this story. You all will clearly miss him.

  13. My heart goes out to you - there is a consolation in knowing that you gave him a good life and made the right decision; but there are no words that can ease the sheer pain of their absence - that's a job for time alone....

    sue, nb Indigo Dream

  14. Sue,

    Thanks for those kind words.

    Only because of our tragedy has my attention been drawn to the recent loss of your own Lynx.

    It seems you had even less time to enjoy Lynx than we had with Charlie ?

    Ours seems a very empty house at the moment, so we have at least some understanding of your loss, I think.


  15. Thanks to everyone for your kind words. We are coming back to some normality, although we all have the same moments that we expect Charlie to be there - when we come in from work, first thing in the morning, when we move a computer chair (and find outselves checking that he isn't behind us).
    Michael has finished his course of anti-biotics, and the steri-strips came off a few days ago. It is not nearly as bad as it might have been, and he is healing well - we are very grateful that it wasn't much worse.
    David has expressed the sentiment that "everything you try to do is much easier without Charlie around trying to see what you are doing - but it's much less fun". Both of our sons have said that they want another dog as soon as possible.
    That isn't going to happen yet, we have things that we need to sort out, and they will just be easier without a young dog (or even a puppy?) around. Once those things are sorted, then we can start to think about having a dog in the house again.

  16. A corollary to this sad story, should anybody still be reading these comments 5 months or more on.

    Cath said above we were all fairly sure there would be another dog, but that it might not be for a while - my own feeling back then was any sooner than the autumn was not a real possibility.

    The reality has been rather different, and we all missed terribly having a dog about the place. So, despite Charlie's tragic story, we have decided not to wait as long as we thought we might. "Odin", an eight week old black Labrador arrived with us a couple of days ago, and a new saga begins. He doesn't know he is a boating dog yet, but he soon will be. Cath introduces him here