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.
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.
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
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.
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.