“Everybody is born so that they can learn how to live a good life - like loving everybody and being nice, right?
Well, animals already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”
I remember the day I first got Champ—Christmas Day. I was in the 7th grade and, for some reason, I had chosen to sleep on the floor in my brother’s room to keep him company. I heard my dad shouting “JACK! JACK!!” and wondered if the son of my mother’s friend had come to visit. I rushed downstairs and asked him why Jack was here. Dad smiled and opened the door to the backyard and there, bounding around near the pool, was a golden retriever I had never seen before. He said “Merry Christmas!” and presented me with the best holiday gift I have ever and will ever receive. Mom is still pissed to this day that he never had the camera handy.
I came to find out that he was not shouting “Jack” but “Chad”, as was his given name by his foster family. We rescued him for Golden Retriever Rescue of North Dallas that year and he was almost a year old. My brother and I had tossed aside all of our Christmas wishes in hopes that we would get another dog and my mom was originally against it, but when she went to visit Chad in his foster home with her friend, he gave them the puppy eyes and her friend said that there was no way they could leave him there.
My family hated the name “Chad”, so all of us were challenged to come up with something better that sounded similar. I had an epiphany one day when we went out to a restaurant called Champps and I suggested it to my parents. The name stuck, and so from then on “Chad” would be known as “Champ”. My family adopted several nicknames for him, most commonly “Champie” or “Champis”.
It quickly became clear that Champ was not the brightest crayon in the box. He was large for a golden retriever and when he would run after tennis balls, he’d slide across the hardwood floors and hit the wall sometimes. Whenever we would watch TV, if a dog came on in a commercial and he happened to notice, Champ would bark at it, hair all stood on end, until it disappeared. Sometimes, even on cold days, he would go to sit outside on the top step of the pool in the water and my parents would always groan and point at each other to see who would be drying him off. One of my favorite games to play with him involved taking a ball and jumping up on my parent’s bed, then burying myself in the covers with the ball so Champ could dig me out to get his toy.
He was a lazy dog, but he liked it and he bore his title of the “lovable oaf” with pride. In the summers when the Texas sun was bright, he’d go outside and lay on the pool deck and take a sun nap. He was also scared of thunderstorms, but whenever he would feel anxious, he would go into my parents’s closet in the dark or curl around their toilet and sleep. Of course, like any dog, he loved to cuddle. He’d roll over and hold up his leg for you to scratch his belly and I had this thing where I’d roll him over and “sit” on top of him and drive him around like a car. And, every time I would come home from school, he would jump up on me and tackle me to the ground and lick my face, which was a big deal because I was the only person in the family he ever licked.
He liked to eat. A LOT. When it was feeding time, Gunner (my other dog) would hold his nose up at the food and take at least five minutes before digging in, but the instant you set the bowl down on the ground in front of Champ, he’d finish the whole thing in thirty seconds. My brother and I timed it. The first time he saw snow, which is a rarity in Texas, he tried to catch the flakes and eat them.
Now, his affinity for food led him to eat things that were supposed to be inedible. Sometimes he’d throw up a sock or a piece of towel. Later in his life, he was prone to seizures after he ate these things and, having seen it happen before, it is the most horrible thing in the world to watch. It always worried us that one day, it might get caught in his guts or something. Whether or not this contributed to his death, we will never know.
About a week ago, he stopped eating and everything he ate he would only throw back up. My parents took him to the vet and they found a lump on his abdomen that they deemed an obstruction. It was either a foreign object or a cancerous lump but there was no way to tell other than to have surgery to have it removed, and it was too costly and too painful of a recovery for Champ to deal with, my parents said. This past weekend, they fed him medicine in hopes that whatever the object was would come out of him. It didn’t look like the medicine was working.
I Skyped my family last night and saw Champ for what would be the last time. He was lethargic, he didn’t recognize my face on the screen or my voice, and he looked very very sad. For a dog that always wore a smile on his face, it was clear that he was not himself. I wasn’t sure if this would be it, if this would be my goodbye. I told him through tears that I loved him and that he was the best Christmas present ever and that I wanted and hoped and prayed he would get better because I wanted to see him again. The final picture of this photoset is the last picture I took of him as a screenshot from the call.
I got a text message in Japanese class this morning that my parents had decided it was best to put him down. It would have been selfish for me to ask them to wait until I came home this weekend…and chances are, Champ wouldn’t have lasted that long.
Yesterday was a gorgeous, sunny day. I believe it’s because whatever higher power that I’d like to think is up there wanted him to have the most beautiful last day on this earth ever. He had a long walk and enjoyed playing with his friend down the street.
I am very, very saddened that I did not get to pet him, to hold him in my arms, a final time. I have lost two dogs before him but the loss of Champ puts a hole in my heart that will take a long time to mend. I am significantly older now than I was with my first pair of dogs, and now I truly understand more than just the fact that I will never get to see him again.
Perhaps that’s not true—it does give me a bit of comfort to know that, someday, we will be together again. How long that is is not up for me to decide (that’s Fate’s job and that’s why he ain’t a desk clerk).
Mom said that when we adopted Champ, we changed his life from one where his world was four plastic walls in a kennel to that of a gorgeous upscale home with a family who loved him so, so much. While his life was not as long as we had wanted, he had the best life a dog could possibly ask for.
I love you Champie. Say hello to Roxie and Randall up there for me. <3 <3 <3
Champ - 2004 ~ 2012