Last year, a friend gave me a bumper sticker that read, “Live Life Off Leash”. I thought what a perfect mantra. For me, it means putting fear and worry on the back burner, so I can get on with doing the things I love and leading the life I want to live. Sometimes that means making decisions that may be scary to take action on, but knowing in the end that action will get me closer to the life I want to have.
Our Charlie Dog took the “Live Life Off Leash” metaphor more literally. Many days we started our hikes together only for me to be walking home alone because he had found a scent that deserved further exploration. There have been a few times over the years when I have counted on the kindness of friends and strangers to help get Charlie back to me. Most of the time though it just required some patience on my part until he trotted out of the woods wearing a sheepish look on his face. Each time, I would tell him, “That’s it! No more off leash adventures for you!”…and then a week would go by and I would ask myself why was I projecting the fears I managed so well in my own life onto his. He deserved to live life off leash too.
A month ago today, Charlie went on one of his adventures just five minutes from home. This time he didn’t return to us. I have spent the month filled with worry, grief and guilt. In between the searching and praying for his safe return, my mind kept returning to the “what if’s” and “Why didn’t I’s” – Why didn’t I just keep Charlie on a leash.
We adopted Charlie from the Truro SPCA 11 years ago after the loss of our first two dogs just months prior. I had been searching on Petfinder for the next four-legged love of our life when I came across a nine-month old beagle/lab mix at the Truro SPCA. We brought Charlie home three days later on the heals of the most massive snow storm to ever hit Nova Scotia. We spent our first month getting to know each other playing snowball catch. He was a timid, but affectionate, little guy who would often welcome visitors by unintentionally taking a nervous induced piddle on their feet.
It wasn’t until years later when the two of us took up hiking did Charlie grow out of his timid tendencies. As he got better at sniffing out squirrels and manoeuvring at high speeds through brush and fallen trees, his confidence grew off the trail. His nervous accidents all but disappeared and he began greeting strangers with a wagging tail. His off leash adventures transformed him into a confident little man.
As much as it breaks my heart that Charlie is not with us today, it fills my heart that he enjoyed the same freedom and sense of adventure I value so much. All dogs are special and for me Charlie was my inspiration for creating a life off leash – one that provided a livelihood where I could spend my days with him by my side in the countryside and in the community I love. He may not be by my side today, but he is always with me.
The best way I can honour Charlie now is to embody the same qualities I loved in him – his sense of adventure, his strength, his gentle way, his trust in others and his kindness – the same qualities we saw in so many of you who donated your time, resources and talents to help us try and find Charlie. What was a tragedy for Sean and me has also become a gift. The massive outpouring of help we received has opened our hearts and our eyes. It has given us a deeper connection and appreciation for each other, our family and friends, and our community. I’m grateful for this and grateful for the 11 years, almost to the day, we had with such an inspiring life-changing little dog. We will never stop looking for you, Charlie Dog.