Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.
All I knew at the time was that I wanted a dog. We had been married for a year and having always grown-up with a house filled with animals I felt our sweet lives were missing just a little something. After months of talking Corey into it the seemingly perfect situation arose.
She was found in the woods of North Carolina hanging on to life. She was a small puppy who had clearly been abused (gun shot wound), covered in fleas, her ears filled with mites. They took her to the vet, nursed her back to health and gave her the attention, care and love she needed to be healthy again. Now, all she needed was a home. We were 10+ hours away, living in Memphis at the time, but our home was empty and she was just what I wanted.
We decided to name her Chili. Chili Cudzili. We headed to Knoxville for my 24th birthday to retrieve the best present ever. I’ll never forget the ride home. I was so excited I drug her from the back of the car into the front onto my lap. She was already getting big and her nails kept digging into my legs, but I didn’t care. I held her like a baby. And, that’s just what she was: our first baby.
Chili, like so many animals often do, became to me so much more than a four-legged animal. She became the one I needed more than I ever could have realized …
Ahead for me and Corey were some daunting years of med school. Years you can never prepare for, never fully know what to expect, never truly see just how hard it’s going to be until you’re in the thick of things. And, in those moments was when her presence was the richest.
Chili, of course, taught us how to live life always considering someone else. Our wants, needs, personal schedules and time away was no longer just ours. She was to be considered every hour of every day. With every memory we share in the beginning years of our marriage she was there.
She made us laugh and she made us yell. She would go out of her way to listen and be obedient and then eat a hole through the carpet when no one was around. She would slither her head under our resting hand reminding us that touch heals so much and she would get mad at us for leaving her behind and pee on the carpet in our bedroom. She would run circles around us at the park showing us the beauty of being outside and then once she was nice and muddy would jump up on us leaving paw prints on our clothes. She found a way to get out of our friend’s backyard every single day (where I dropped her off on my way to work), but would always return letting us know that going out to explore is lots of fun, but we are where her devotion will always be.
And, then came some of the darkest years of my life. A new city for residency, with long winters, a husband who was working roughly 80 hours a week and sleeping when he was home, and the inability to get pregnant.
I believe it was God’s intention to use her to get me through. I’m not sure where I would be had she not been there.
There were days when I stayed in bed until 2 p.m. severely depressed and unable to find a reason to get up. And, then she’d come and she’d scratch on my side of the bed and “talk” and scratch and whine. She never did give up until I was out of bed. And, then once I finally peeled myself off the bed and onto my feet she’d run around the room as if to say “You made another day! You’re going to be okay. I promise.” And, I would believe her.
I would put on my tennis shoes and we would head out to a park right around the corner.
We had our little place where I could take her leash off and she could run around. Some days I could barely walk I was so sad, but she always gave me hope.
The past four years Corey has had to work hundreds of night shifts. I have never slept well without Corey home. But, even with my unnecessary fears I always had comfort that Chili would let me know immediately if anyone was ever lurking around the house. She was my alarm system.
And, my life raft.
Which is why these past few days have been some of the hardest days I’ve experienced in quite some time.
Chili’s beginning few months of life were dark and scary and she barely made it. And, although she did make it her demons came along for the journey. She became more and more scared of new people, more and more aggressive toward other dogs and more and more unstable. It’s as if all the good she had in her was given to me. Maybe in many ways we swapped places …
We knew once a baby came along she most likely wouldn’t be able to handle it. Of course we hoped and prayed for the best, but our fears came true. She never welcomed Charley and instead was scared of her. After one walk when Charley was wrapped up in the Moby on me Chili broke away from me and began to attack another dog. I knew I could never take the both of them on a walk together again. And, since Charley can’t be left at home sweet Chili saw the outdoors less and less. And, I was never able to take her to our little place anymore.
I could see in her eyes that all she wanted was for it just to be us again, but things weren’t ever going to be the same. For us, of course, this was a beautiful thing; for her, her quality of life was only going downhill.
We prolonged the inevitable for as long as we could, but last Thursday when Charley caught Chili off guard and Chili lunged at her we knew what we had to do.
No rescue will take an aggressive dog. And, after speaking to a woman who fosters animals for a living she said it would not work for us to find Chili a new home. She said it would traumatize her and I believe her.
It was time we release her.
So, yesterday we took her one last time to our little place and due to all the rain there was no one else there. We took a nice, long walk together – just me, Corey and Chili-girl. At first she seemed scared, but she warmed up and ran around and sniffed everything in site. She would lag behind and then we’d call her name and she’d come running up to us as fast as possible. I would pet her head and she would wag her tail. We shared memories while our tears fell to the Earth.
I knew we were doing the right thing yet it didn’t make it any easier.
At the vet we were reminded why we were there. Even partially sedated she was aggressive to the vet. Somehow, miraculously, they were able to give her the shot to help her fully relax. We were called back in and I sat on the floor. Within 30-seconds she went from the door she knew leaded out over to where I was sitting. She laid down and laid her head on my lap. I pet her sweet face and the ears that have been like a safety blanket to me for years. Corey sat down with us and we just cried. It was our Chili-girl. And, like Corey said to the vet, “She’s been there for Jess when I couldn’t be.” That is the absolute truth.
She closed her eyes and she rested. The doctor admitted the medicine and within moments she was at peace. I knew she was experiencing peace like she never had here on Earth. I do believe wholeheartedly (and before yesterday) that animals, too, go to heaven. And, I imagined her running around free and whole.
Yet, I missed her so much. I buried my face in her neck and rubbed her ears and thanked her for being such a devoted companion. I told her I was sorry. And, I am. I’m sorry and I’m mad it has to be this way and I’m overwhelmingly sad. I haven’t stopped crying for days now. I can’t. There are too many memories wrapped up in her.
A piece of me came alive when she joined our family and a piece of me died along side of her. Yet still she has left me a better person. And, taught me that even when someone acts a certain way that isn’t okay it’s usually because of something that happened in their childhood. Truly, I am more compassionate because of her.
Chili-girl, I miss the jingle of your collar. I miss walking by our bedroom door and seeing you there. I miss your snoring at night and your whining for dinner at 2:30 p.m. (even though we fed you at 4:00 every. single. day.). I miss you leaning up against my leg at night and licking my hand even when I asked you to stop. I know if you were here you would be so tuned into my tears and you would remind me that it’s all going to be okay. And, you know what? I believe you. It’s going to be okay.
But, I will never stop missing you. Never ever.