Chester turned 13 in March. A few days later I took him to the doctor for a check up on his heart issues. He’d been coughing so I figured the heart failure was progressing. Turns out his heart was fine, but there was a mass in his right lung. The prognosis was 4-6 months. This past Friday, May 25, his breathing changed dramatically. Saturday I took him in. After updated blood tests and x-rays it was determined that the mass had spread to incorporate both lungs nearly completely and a new mass had appeared in the liver. It was time.
They brought him to me in a blanket. I held him and rocked and talked to him. I told him I loved him. I told him there would be no more pain. And then I held him until he went to sleep.
He wasn’t easy. But for the last 12 years he was my baby. My routine and our home are slow and weirdly quiet. My heart hurts. Nothing feels real. But he is free and that’s what matters.
Anyway. I wrote the following about 6 years ago on Chester’s 7th birthday. It’s our story.
In November, 2005 a few days before my 34th birthday, I received a call from my dad saying he needed me to run an errand with him the next morning. He needed my help making a decision. Now, it was a month before Christmas and his and my mom’s wedding anniversary, a few days before my birthday, and slightly more than a month before my brother’s wedding – so this decision could have been about anything. The next morning, shortly after 8 a.m. my dad picked me up and we set off. I had no idea where we were going. Before I knew it we pulled up at the local animal shelter. We walked inside and dad announced “I’m here to see Chester”.
I figured Chester was someone who worked there. We walked to the back thru the kennels and cages and out of one of the large dog runs crawls this little scrawny brown dog, looking skinny and pitiful. He walked tentatively to my dad, who scooped him up and cradled him in his arms. My father looked at me and said, “now, the decision I need you to help me make is this: is this the dog you’re taking home today or do we need to pick out another one?”. By this point, Chester was already licking me all over my face. The decision was made.
Chester spent the first day at the vets office just until I got off work, and then he came to his forever home.
And then I learned the rest of the story. My parents had been in kahoots with our vet and my apartment’s office manager for a while it seems. The pet deposit was being paid. Our vet was on the look out for a small, apartment sized dog. Sneaky bunch.
Chester was found in the Dauphin Street area by an employee of the animal shelter. It was just weeks after Hurricane Katrina. It is believed that Chester was either left behind, dropped off, or somehow became separated from his family. He is a dachsund-chihuahua mix, and was about 8 months old when found. He had probably been on his own since the storm. He was tiny, hungry, dirty, and as most strays are, probably not treated very nicely by people or bigger dogs.
And now he was home. Safe and warm and loved. He and my parent’s dog, Bela, became fast friends. When Bela died about a year later one of the most heartbreaking moments was the first time Chester went to my parent’s house, and spent the entire night looking for his big, black friend. When Max became a part of the family, it didn’t take long for them to start their own adventures.
About two years later, while at the beach, he had a seizure. It was terrifying. To see that little body twisted and stiff, with eyes begging to know what was happening. I learned quickly that epilepsy, if it is going to be an issue, shows itself by the time they are 3 years old. The doctors can find no reason for the seizures, and I’ve learned how to treat him while they are happening and while he’s recovering from them. But they are never, ever fun to watch, and always scary. Luckily, they are still sporadic enough that he doesn’t need medication. I hope it stays that way.
Chester suffers from a bit of PTSD, a few allergies, and a severe case of ‘little dog syndrome”. He thinks he Cujo. He’s decided on about 5 people that he likes, and will settle for new people only after a lot of coaxing and even then it’s on his terms or not at all. He’s very protective of me. If there’s a strange noise or anything unsettling, he’ll come sit in front of me staring in the direction of the noise with this “don’t worry, Mom. I got this” attitude. He always looks concerned. He is stubborn and willful. He loves to burrough under the covers or a blanket to sleep, and spends whatever time he can sitting in the sun gazing out the window making sure everything is ok. And like all dogs, he’s glad to see me whether I’m gone 5 minutes or 5 days.
I wanted a lab. Or a springer spaniel. Or a basset hound. He’s not a social, go anywhere dog like Max or Saint or Lucy. My nephews know him only thru pictures and by name, but they haven’t met him yet because of Chester’s anxiety issues – and maybe because of mine.
But I think God knew we needed each other. Sometimes we all feel like we’ve been left behind after the storm passes. We all feel like a bit of a misfit. I certainly have. And I’m sure that on the streets after a hurricane this little life felt fear, hunger, cold, loneliness, and possibly abuse. All our dogs want in life is to please us and be loved and protected. Isn’t that really what we all want?
Chester turned 7 today. Now, we don’t know exactly when his birthday is but the shelter and the vets believed he would be a year old in March after I got him. One day I started asking Chester what day he wanted to be his birthday. I just started saying numbers and he just started at me. When I said “the 22nd?” he literally started licking my face. I said a few more numbers and then the 22nd again and the same thing happened. After the third time I said, “well – March 22nd it is”. He chose his birthday.
As I write this he’s curled up in a ball on the bed next to me, sound asleep. I can’t imagine coming home without that face waiting on me. When I have to kennel him for trips, and occasionally spend a night at home without him, this place feels quiet and lonely.
No – he isn’t what I thought I wanted. But he’s exactly what I needed. Forever home.
Happy Birthday, my sweet Chester. I love you.
And I always will.
“The loss is immeasurable, but so is the love left behind”