Lessons in love – a tribute to Charlie

Charlie on bed

Charlie

I didn’t want a dog, not at this point in my life anyway. Having a dog felt like something for the ‘one day’ pile, something for when I grew up and settled down, but I didn’t get much say with this one.

Charlie was born on the 19th July, one of a litter of seven, underneath my friend’s bungalow and from as soon as she and her siblings started exploring their surroundings and ventured out from underneath the house, I developed a huge soft spot for her. The day she truly stole my heart was the day my friend and I decided to de-tick all of the puppies and give them a good wash. Sleeping in the sand, they were covered in fleas and ticks and with no one else to take care of them, my friend and I set about cleaning them up.

We soon established a system, I held each struggling pup in my lap while my friend set upon them with tweezers. Whilst all the other puppies struggled and whined, Charlie simply looked up at me with her big brown eyes and licked my chin as my friend carefully removed her ticks.

I was smitten and spent the next few weeks agonizing over what to do – the puppies didn’t have an owner and left as they were, they were at risk of disease and death but could I really take on a dog? Wouldn’t that be an end to the freedom I enjoyed? We started to try to find homes for the puppies and it was the exact moment that a Thai woman, who had come to see them, picked up Charlie that I knew that I couldn’t give her up.

From that day on I made a commitment that I would ensure she had a good life for as long as she lived. I have to admit I became seriously attached, Charlie was never far from my side, when she wasn’t running around chewing everything in sight, she was snuggled up on my lap while I worked, in the hammock with me while I read and even slept in my bed at night. She had the best toys, the best puppy food money could buy and more affection than she sometimes wanted. She was my little princess.

Puppies post-de-ticking

Puppies post-de-ticking

I watched her triple in size over the next few weeks and transform into a confident young dog. She had bundles of energy and loved playing with the local dogs. In Thailand, dogs both stray and owned live freely, most with out leash and free to roam outdoors, like cats do in the West and as a result I spent a great deal of time worrying about her safety. With time, after a bout of tick fever and an all night disappearance only for her to trot casually back into the house the next morning, I learnt to worry less.

Last week my beautiful little pup died. She was 14 weeks and three days old and she’d been in my care for just over half of her short life. She was hit by a car on the road near where we lived. The day she died, I’d thrown her out of the house for chewing the laces off my trainers and the straps off my best bra. I never saw her alive again. I know that she died quickly. There wasn’t a mark on her and I doubt she even saw the car coming.

After a week of tears, pointless regrets and wishing she were still with me, I’ve become more philosophical about her death. I know that we all die and I truly believe that each of us has a purpose to fulfill while we are here. It comforts me to believe that Charlie’s was to teach me about love.

Worrying is futile

Charlie’s life and death has taught me that it’s pointless to waste time worrying about losing a loved one at the expense of enjoying the time that you have with them. I spent too much of her short life worrying that something bad was going to happen to her. I realise now that worrying about something will not prevent it from happening.

The three muskateers

The three musketeers

Love comes in many guises

The day that Charlie died and the following week was a funny one. I was heart-broken about her death and in need of support, but my two closest friends on the island had just left and weren’t contactable, I managed to Skype my dad only for the call to be abruptly ended by a power cut and my weekly call with my coach was cancelled. I felt very alone but then amazed as my friend’s dog, a huge albino Great Dane and the two remaining siblings of Charlie rallied around me and showed me such love and support of a kind I have never before experienced with animals. They say that dogs can sense things and these three knew without a doubt that I was in pain and did everything they could to help me through it.

Protecting your heart only keeps you from love

For the two days following Charlie’s death I avoided interacting with the other puppies because they reminded me too much of Charlie. I felt reluctant to form a bond with them because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing another canine companion. When I could no longer ignore them, I realised that while I thought that I had been protecting my heart, I had in fact been simply cutting myself off from love.

“Happiness is a warm puppy” ~ Charles M. Schulz

Vulnerability is beautiful

Scruffs and Suzi

Scruffs and Suzi

The other two puppies (Charlie’s sisters) who still don’t have an owner but continue to live under my friend’s house where I moved to after he left the island, behaved totally differently to Charlie. Where she was well-fed, clean, relatively tick-free, confident and happy, these two presented a different story. When Charlie and I first moved into the house, only a few weeks ago, I avoided getting close to them because rescuing one puppy was more than I ever planned to do and besides they were so nervous around people, that any sudden movement would see them scarper. After Charlie’s death, however, I couldn’t bear to see her things go to waste so I gave them her towel to sleep on, her toys to play with and started to feed them from the big bag of (expensive) puppy food that I had. Within a few days they learnt to trust me and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced was one day when I was hanging out washing they came besides me and both lay on the grass with their bellies exposed so that I could rub them.

I struggle to allow myself to be vulnerable sometimes because I think of it as weakness and therefore something to be hidden. These two gorgeous pups showed me just how beautiful vulnerability can be.

Being committed to something doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice freedom

When I was debating whether or not to take Charlie on, my main concern was that it would limit my freedom, I left the UK to live a life without limits and I’m fortunate enough to be able to live and work anywhere in the world (where there is an internet connection!) so you can imagine, taking on a dog was in many ways the last thing I wanted to do. I talked to a few friends and family about it before I made my decision and many thought I was crazy to consider it for this very reason, but one friend said something that I couldn’t get out of my head. He said: “Don’t think about the impact she will have on your life, think about the impact you will have on hers.”

Having made the decision to commit to Charlie for as long as she lived, I never once felt restricted by her presence in my life. It’s true that I decided to stay on the island rather than head back to Chiang Mai (which I did this week) for winter because I felt that island life was better for her but not for one second did I feel bad or deprived about that. I loved having her in my life and I enjoyed having something else besides myself to consider and care for. Since Charlie, commitment has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Just by virtue of our existence we posses the capacity to change people’s lives

I only had Charlie in my life for just less than two months but the impact she had on me is huge. She’s taught me a lot about giving and receiving love and she’ll be in my heart forever.

Charlie

Charlie

There are lots of stray dogs in Thailand and many on Koh Phangan, if you feel so inclined, please make a donation to a charity on the island that works hard to look after the island’s most vulnerable animals. Phangan Animal Care Thailand (PAC) is primarily a nursing veterinary clinic, providing nursing and veterinary care for the island’s stray and unwanted animals and they rely on donations to carry out their important work.

Comments

    • Caroline Leon says

      Thanks Tom! It’s actually instagram – an app I use on my iPhone which allows you to take pictures and then add filters afterwards. I use it a lot!

  1. says

    Oh Caroline… such a brave post.. Thank you for sharing this and for showing so eloquently how worthwhile it is to open and love, especially our animal friends, even when we know we’ll lose them and it will hurt – a lot. Living with an open heart is way scarier but also infinitely rewarding..but it takes courage. You’re a wonderful reminder. Thank you.xx
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  2. El D says

    Hi Caroline. I’m not a dog person at all but your account moved me. Thank you. We can all learn all the time from anyone and anything – if we are open to learning.

    • Caroline Leon says

      Thanks El, I was worried that the non-dog people would think me mad for feeling so sad, so it reassures me that you got something from the post!

  3. says

    Beautiful post and reflections. She is adorable and I’m sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your insights and reminders of being vulnerable, being open to not only giving love but also receiving. Much love to you dear friend xo

  4. says

    Hi Caroline. Thank you for this post. Reading your experience with Charlie remains me how important is to feel love in my live. Sometimes I prefer don’t open my heart to the world because I don’t won’t to feel paint, but this is a huge mistake. Open my heart to the life I can feel all the sensations around me and I can feel the real life, with the good and bad moments but real. And I have only one life to feel, then… I chose feel it. Thanks a lot Caroline!

    • Caroline Leon says

      Thanks Joan! I can totally relate to your tendency to avoid opening your heart to avoid pain and I’m very happy that my post has helped you see that it’s better to take all of life rather than try to numb our experience by keeping our heart closed! We can’t choose happiness if we don’t also choose to take risks with our hearts! :)

  5. says

    So much wisdom, learning and insights here, Caroline. Sorry to hear of your loss of Charlie but I’m inspired by all the invaluable life lessons Charlie and the other puppies helped teach. Vulnerability is indeed beautiful. We don’t do it because we don’t want to be hurt but vulnerability allows us to break through our external self and get live our essence.

    This was a touching and heart-felt post (and took a lot of vulnerability to write) thank you :)

  6. says

    Dear darling Caroline, what a beautiful, moving, heart-felt article to share. Thank you for sharing your journey, your lessons, your pain, your heart, your life with us. You are a beautiful wonderful soul and a true inspiration. All my love to you, always xxx

  7. says

    I’m just getting the chance to read this. Oh, heartbreakers, aren’t they? I appreciate the reminder that all our attempts to shield ourselves from pain only block us from the love we could be experiencing. Thank you, Charlie and Caroline.

  8. says

    Caroline,

    I stumbled across your site looking for something else but the minute I saw this post it stopped me and immediately drew me in.

    Your words are so profound and echo so many of my feelings and lessons I have learned from loving dogs. I had dogs most of my life growing up but second half of my life I travel so much that it seemed nearly impossible to have one. A few years ago we got a puppy and I got the chance to really bond with her as she grew up and we had such an amazing connection. So much of what you describe is spot on with what I experienced now raising a puppy of my own. It broke my heart when I had to find her a new home to due changing circumstances, but my heart really sank reading about the loss of your little one so soon. I am comforted in the fact that I am able to still visit Sofee from time to time and she always remembers me. I dreaded the day that she would die because the attachment was so strong. Thanks so much for sharing so openly about your feelings and how you processed them regarding protecting your heart or thinking you were, I think that is an amazing observation and a great reminder for us to think about what we are really doing or intending to do.

    Enough said for now, I just wanted to acknowledge your writings and your great website! I look forward to continuing to follow, as I too believe Life is truly Limitless when we can push through the boundaries of perceived limitations the we or others place in front of us!

    I love what you are doing! Have a wonderful day!
    Thanks! Kevin

    • Caroline Leon says

      Thank you Kevin for such a lovely comment. Before I posted this, I worried that people might not understand my feelings on the subject but now I realise that the connection I felt with Charlie is one that many people can empathise with. Your comment only serves to prove that. I love that you only stumbled across my site yet share so closely my beliefs about limitless living, I’m delighted to connect! Have a wonderful day yourself :)

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