Monday, August 29, 2011

For Charlie

On August 12, 2011, our family said good-bye to the greatest feline friend one could ask for. Charles Douglas Dunlap (known as Charlie or Chizzy) was not just a cat; he was a true friend and an important member of our family.

I haven't blogged lately because I knew that this was the post that I needed to write. And It's hard, writing about loss. Even if it's "just a cat." It's hard, feeling like you need to sum up the importance of a friend in one blog post. It's hard, having to say good-bye.

I found Charlie in my parents' barn when he was teeny-tiny and covered with fleas. He was sickly, dirty, and pitiful. And I loved him the moment I saw him, and I'm pretty sure he felt the same way about me. It was August of 2005, and Steve and I were visiting family and friends in Oregon during our summer break. I brought Charlie into my parents' house and announced that we had to save this poor soul. So I drove into town and bought some flea shampoo and a comb. My mom and I gave Charlie a bath in the laundry room's sink and I swear he was grateful. Charlie didn't even protest; he just purred his gratitude towards us for going to battle against those ding-dang fleas.

When Steve and I flew back up to Oregon that September, I convinced Steve that Charlie would be returning home with us. I don't know how I talked Steve into my crazy idea of purchasing a one-way pet airline ticket. Secretly, I think Steve had a soft-spot already carved out for that cat. Or maybe Steve has a hard time saying no to me...either way, Charlie flew home with us and thus began his life as a southern Californian kitty.

It's hard to explain to non-pet people just how important your animals are to your family. But Charlie came into our life pre-baby, and therefore, he was our baby. Charlie was around for some pretty big milestones in our marriage: me starting my teaching career, Steve starting his teaching career, the purchase of our first home, two pregnancies, two babies...Charlie was there for it all, even if he did choose to sleep under the bed for long stretches of the day once Delaney and Jude came along.

Not only was Charlie our baby-before-babies, but he was Delaney's kitty. Charlie was such a big guy, weighing over 18 lbs. before he got sick. We constantly gaged Delaney's weight gain against Charlie's weight, and celebrated the day that she outweighed him. It took Delaney over a year to do it, but Delaney finally had Chizzy beat! Charlie put up with Delaney's bear hugs, constant attention, and violation of personal space with great aplomb. One of the hardest parts of losing Charlie has been explaining it all to Delaney. Now that a few weeks have passed, she doesn't talk about him as much, and it's been difficult acknowledging the fact that she probably won't remember Charlie. But right after he passed, she would vacillate between statements such as, "Don't be sad, Mommy. Chizzy is in heaven, and he's running with Jesus" or "It's ok, Mommy, I go to heaven too and play with Chizzy." It's all so sweet and heart-breaking in the same breath.

Thankfully, when Charlie got sick, it all happened pretty quickly and he probably wasn't in much pain. A month before he passed I started noticing a few odd behaviors and that he seemed to have lost weight. I had a strange premonition that it was some type of kidney malfunction, and after waiting 5 hours in the vet's office, my fears were confirmed. However, the vet was pretty hopeful that with a day or two of hospitalization and a new diet and medication, we could get this problem under control. Well, a day or two of hospitalization turned into 5 days, and we were all so happy to have him home. Delaney made this sign to welcome him home:

Things were looking ok for a week or so, but getting Charlie to eat was a real challenge. He was on 4 different types of medications and let me tell you, shoving a slew of pills down a sick cat's throat is up there on my List of Things I Never Want to Do Again. On top of having a toddler, a baby, and dealing with my own set of emotions that come with returning to work and leaving my children with someone else. I'll save you the unpleasantries and let you know that Charlie put up a good fight, but in the end, kidney failure won. We had to make the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad decision to let Charlie go. As I sit and type, this part of the story is still really raw and difficult to retell, and yet, I know we made the right decision. It is what he deserved, but it was, and still is, really painful.

If you are still reading this, you are a champ and you must really love us. Maybe it's silly to spend so many words and tears over a cat, but if you know us, you know how important Charlie was to us. Our dear friends and fellow kitty lovers, the Heun Family, blessed us with a rose bush and we intend on planting it in Chizzy's honor. Now that Charlie is gone, we don't have to dwell on his sickness. We'll just remember how great the last 6 years have been and consider ourselves lucky to have spent them with our big, furry friend.

Charlie with Delaney at the end of his battle

Jude & Charlie...horrible picture, but proof that they were pals nonetheless!


traceyjay said...

made me cry Karen! :'(
So sorry...

andando said...

So Sorry karen. Love and hugs to you all.

Chris and Heather said...

Tears are streaming down my face! I'm so sorry for your loss! I know I will be just as broken when our pup goes, but it's part of life. It will come, and we will be ok in the end.

Anonymous said...

We had to make the same terrible decission not long ago with our kitty. The horrible reality is one day we may face that same decision about our loved one. But better to have loved and lost they say, and it's true. Memories of love last forever, and after awhile, they will even bring an unexpected calm and smile.
With all my love Karen,
Uncle Bill

Christina Ellis said...

I know it may seem silly to some people, but my heart breaks reading this. He wasn't "just a cat" to you guys, he was a special part of your family. He was very loved and had a good life with you guys. Love you friend.