Monday, 3 August 2009


Thirteen years ago his mom, a Siberian husky, backed up to a snowbank to accommodate his dad, a Shetland sheepdog.

That's what the owner told us when we went to Mount Albert to pick out a puppy.

Seven of them romped around in an enclosed dog run. Some resembled mini-collies, and others looked like grey-furred huskys with blue eyes. We'd Googled "How to pick the perfect puppy" and tried all the tricks:

1) Call the pup. If it comes to you and follows you, it gets points.
2) Pick up the pup and turn it on its back. If it struggles briefly, then settles, it gets points. If it freaks out, no dice.

3) Stroke the pup from nose to tail. If it tries to reach back and bite you, it loses points.

There were more, but I can't remember. Two pups were in the lead. They looked the same - sable tri-colour markings - except the female had a broad strip down her nose and one blue eye. She lost the contest because she was a little nippy (bitchy). We chose the male.

During the drive home, the kids listened while Mark and I discussed names. We went through a list of my former pets - Sabado (Saturday in Spanish) Quasanche (Little Girl in Ojibway) Gidgimidge (Asshole in Mik'Maq), Tippy (well, you know, tippy). Can you tell I'm into languages?

My husband's past name choices were simpler: Morris the cat, Chloe the sausage dog, Chester the other cat, Chester the cockatiel, and Simon and Garfunkle the budgies. And he's the one with English as a second language. Go figure.

While cuddling the puppy in the back seat, my four year old son picked up on the name Chester and declared that should be the puppy's name. And so it was.

Chester passed more tests - housetraining, sit, stay, speak etc. There was one bad habit we couldn't break. He was an excellent escape artist, and when he got loose he ran. He ran and ran. It must have been the sled dog in him because we couldn't get him to stop. Several times, neighbours called to tell us our dog was in their backyard playing with their kids.

During one chase I drove around the neighbourhood in the dark and caught the white tip of his tail waving in my headlights. By that time he was exhausted and glad to get a free ride home. Another time my son (by then about ten years old) chased him for blocks and lost a shoe in the snow. He didn't take time to stop and kept running through the slush until he caught up with the little bugger. We never recovered the shoe.

I posted a while back about Chester's aversion to loud noises. Lately, it seems his hearing is suffering. When a storm brews, the cat hides behind the furnace but Chester keeps snoozing. This was a welcome relief during the last fireworks display at the end of the street. At least my rugs are now safe from panic pee.

I ask him if he wants to go out, but doesn't respond until I point at the back door. Hand signals I'd taught him years ago are now alternative forms of communication.

He gets up slower and walks bowlegged. I taped squares of carpeting to the hardwood stairs so he could make it to the main floor of our raised bungalow without stumbling. His butt is disappearing. If he was human, he'd look like one of those guys who yells at kids to get off his lawn. He sleeps most of the day and paces around like a Nervous Nelly most of the evening.
He's starting to smell like an old couch.

I know he's getting older, and the inevitable scenario approaches, but like Scarlett O'Hara I don't want to think about that right now. His vet says he's healthy considering his age. My daughter, however, worries about every wart and lump and nosebleed.

I always took the logical approach when dealing with pet loss, offering condolences when needed and looking back with affection at the lives of various beloved companions. I took my neigbour's dog for her final journey to the vet when he couldn't. It was a sad event, stroking Gypsy's ears when the life left her eyes, but I didn't cry.
She was no longer suffering. She was going to a better place.

When a co-worker recently chose to euthanize her dog due to age and disease, I gave her a hug and wondered why they'd taken so long to make their decision. The dog had seizures, couldn't stand on her own, didn't eat, etc. They had made repeated visits to the vet with no diagnosis for her various symptoms that had taken away her quality of life.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Marley and Me against my own advice. I teared up more at Jennifer Aniston's post-natal depression than Marley's decline. I wondered if something was wrong with me. Am I some kind of emotionless bitch?

Yesterday I looked at Chester and called him over to me. He stiffly sauntered close and I stroked his smooth forehead like I always do. The fur on his forehead is so soft unlike the mass of unruly fur that only leaves his body to infest every corner of the house.
He closed his eyes and sighed with apparent contentment.

I started to cry.

Pictures: My daughter took these while Chester slept through a yard sale.


Mary Cunningham said...

Oh, Chumplet. I can SO relate to what you're saying. Molly went through the same decline as Chester is now. We finally had to make the decision several months back. She was 16.

I can still see her sweet, brown eyes and feel the softness of her muzzle resting in my hand.

My thoughts are with you.


Barbara Martin said...

Sandra, you haven't lost your's there strong as ever. Chester is part of your family and when the time comes I'm certain there will be someone accompany you.

Dogs age and then it's time to help them on their way. I have done this numerous times, and each time isn't any easier especially when it's your dog. My thoughts are with you in this time.

Anna C. Morrison said...

I am so sorry. I recently lost my Chessie (not a dog, but a cat). She was 15 years old. It's like losing a child, but then again it's not, because they are not children, they are senior citizens. They have lived long, blissful lives. It just feels like they are carved out of our hearts when we let them go. This blog is a beautiful tribute to Chester and your family's love.

Liane Spicer said...

This has to be one of the hardest things. I know how you feel.

We had to put Reno down when he was 17. That dog had grown up with us but he was almost blind, kept walking into things, falling down the stairs and hurting himself. Getting to his feet was a painful struggle. I imagine he was glad to go when my parents took him for that final ride. I was just happy I wasn't the one doing it.

I no longer have a dog. The one that grew with my son was stolen and I don't think we ever got over that. We raised her son then had to give him away when we were leaving the country for an extended period. I don't want to go through that again.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

He's stll trucking along at a slower pace and I hope he has a couple more years in him. I've had other pets but this one grew with my kids.

Four years ago we lost our cat Trixie at fifteen years old. She'd had a rough time and I hope Chester doesn't spend his twilight years in pain.

Thanks for your kind thoughts!

Amber Green said...


Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Amber lost her beloved dog a few months ago, and the process was long and painful. I only hope that when Chester goes, he slips away quietly in his sleep.

Unrealistic, but one can hope.


BernardL said...

Yep, BTDT. No matter how cold and calculating I tried to be as my second dog reached fourteen, his passing convinced me I was too old to endure a third.

writtenwyrdd said...

That's sad! I hope Chester hangs in there for a long time!

I had to put down two cats last year, one because of old age/illness and the other because she became, basically, crazy. I really miss them still.

MichelleR said...

This is a beautiful tribute. I know how hard it is to see a pet age. I lost my most beloved Sheltie over 2 years ago now, and it still hurts. I still remember the day he wasn't minding me, and he always minded me, and it occurred to me that he couldn't hear me. He had a birthday a couple weeks before the end and had no interest in his celebratory hamburger -- it almost broke my heart.

But I'm stupid enough to keep getting pets, often as seniors.

I just read an ARC of Dean Koontz's Big Little Life about his dog, Trixie. Recommended.