Last month was rather tough for the Ehlens, we lost our beloved furbaby, Chance. It’s honestly taken me this long to write about it, because it was soooo emotional. I have lost a doggy before, but this was Matt’s first and let me tell you, it hurts. It’s amazing how pets wriggle their way (butt-wiggle, in Chance’s case) into your heart and your life. It makes the loss like that of a human family member. Those of you who are not dog people, or not pet people in general, look at me like I’m nuts and say, “It’s just a dog!” I assure you, it is never “just” a dog. I have lost a lot of family in the past year, and with Chance I can honestly say losing him was just like losing the other, human, members in many ways. Turns out it doesn’t matter what triggers the grief; if you love someone or something it is a loss no matter how you spin it. And a loss must be grieved, even if it seems ridiculous to some. Let me tell you Chance’s story; maybe it will begin to make sense.
We adopted Chance in the summer of 2004, when he was 3. We had been married for 2 years, and just bought our house. He was a pound puppy, from what was then the St. Charles Humane Society – now Five Acres Animal Shelter. The story they told us about him was that he was the only survivor of his litter which had been dumped in an apartment dumpster and set on fire. Seriously. A young lady was moving out of that apartment complex that day and happened to be taking out her last load of trash before leaving, and rescued Chance, who was the only one still breathing. I am forever grateful to her, whoever she is. She drove him from Arkansas to St. Louis and left him at a shelter. They took care of him until he was strong enough, and then fostered him for nearly 3 years. His foster mom was probably just going to keep him, until the city told her she had too many dogs. She put the 2 she felt were most adoptable into a no-kill shelter where a friend of hers volunteered. Chance was a big dog, male, and very furry, all of which were big strikes. He stayed there for nearly a month, and made an appearance on a local news station’s pet rescue segment because he was so good natured. When we were looking he was nestled into a bottom cage and didn’t move, just thumped his tail at us. He was actually being considered strongly by another family, but as soon as we took him into that back room where you get to see how they really are we knew he was ours.
Chance was a lover. And a guarder. We used to say he was an excellent watch dog because he went to the door anytime he heard something, although he was rather welcoming to any visitors so it’s a good thing we didn’t get burgled. But he knew before I did every time I was pregnant and guarded me fiercely. When the kids were born he would guard the crib too. He would play outside with them and guard them while they played, from a comfortable position in the shade of course. He let them pull his fur and try to pull up on him, and generally protected the pack. Everyone, even people who aren’t dog lovers, really seemed to like him. One of the things that struck me after he died was that he let David give him big hugs and drape over his back. This would not be unusual for Chance, except that we found out he had a bleeding tumor on his spleen, so allowing David this emotional display was probably excruciating for those last few months. Another thing that struck me was that we honestly didn’t know he was dying until the last week. He acted very normally, even playing outside with the kids and eating until the last couple days. He did give us a heads up – he slept in the boys room one night, and then by my side of the bed one night. My for sure that something was wrong was when he peed on the floor. This was a dog trained to go 14 hours without an accident. I couldn’t go 14 hours without using the bathroom but he could. The next day I called the vet, knowing it might not be good news. It wasn’t. He was so anemic it was either give him a blood transfusion, which would only delay the inevitable, or put him out of his immense pain. That was honestly a hard decision to make, because we wanted to believe we could save him somehow. We couldn’t, he was nearly 11 and for a 70lb dog that’s a pretty long life. That didn’t make it better though,just like it didn’t make me feel better to say my grandma was 89 and that’s pretty old, so it was ok that she died. It still wasn’t; it still isn’t.
The kids don’t get that he’s really gone for good. They look outside occasionally and ask where Chance is. David knows he “died” but doesn’t really know what that means, since he keeps asking about it. We still talk about him and I hope someday we are able to explain just how much he meant to us, as our newlywed dog, and to them as their first dog. I hope they remember, even if it’s a weird kind of I don’t know how or why but that dog story stirs up emotion in me type of memory. Chance is the dog that is the example for why every child should have a pet to love and take care of, because you learn what it is to be human and to love. We will get another dog someday, although not soon because it will take us a while to move past Chance. But we love dogs too much, and our kids too much, to let them miss out on the real memories of a family dog. Chance though, will forever be the standard, and a very high one at that. He will always be our first furbaby, the embodiment of our newlywed life and love, the excitement of all those new things like a first house, our babies, our learning how to be grown-ups. RIP Chancer-pup, you are still very missed.