Dogs are heroes. My border collie, Charlie, was my hero. She saved me. My mom got her for my birthday one year—I think I was turning 12 years old. It was in the middle of my parents’ divorce, and I remember coming home from celebrating my birthday with my dad and feeling sadness in my whole body. The weight hit me that I was now celebrating my birthday with my dad, and then I was celebrating my birthday with my mom. It would never be just one celebration, all of us together, again.
That day, I plopped on the couch and started telling my mom what we did at my dad’s. Her face was so lit up as she listened, and I remember thinking that there was no way she was this excited about me recounting the Dove ice cream sandwiches we ate and the video games we played with dad.
Then she asked if I noticed anything. I looked around our family room—a place I’d grown so used to that I suppose I didn’t even notice its details any longer—and against the far wall I finally saw a small crate with a teeny black and white ball of fluff.
My life changed instantaneously.
In the middle of what felt like the end of my world—our family was being ripped in half in actual slow motion—I had this wild, sweet animal to call my own. I called her Charlie. Today, Charlie passed away. She was 13, a year older than my age when I got her, and she lived the happiest and the quirkiest life.
Those early days with her are difficult to remember, but the day she became mine, the feelings I had that went from despondent to ignited are clear as glass.
I wonder if dogs can somehow comprehend the impact they have on our lives as their owners. Did Charlie know that I despised running at soccer practice or with friends, but with her at my side, I felt motivated and at peace while running? Did she know she helped me train for sports and learn patience and build stamina and understand what it is to care for something totally outside of myself?
When I was in high school and my family was still in a mad disarray, did she know how still and calm she made me feel when I could lay alongside her on my bedroom floor and cry into her fur just to let out some of my troubles? I had no walls with her. She was the only creature in my life who I had no shame with, and she was the only creature who was never capable of hurting me.
She was also the only living soul who I told late one night my junior year of high school, in one of the deepest and darkest moments of my life, that I wished I would die right then. No one else knew this secret, and looking back, my feelings were almost definitely caused by teenage hormones and emotions enflamed by the tribulations occurring in my life. But the sole reason I didn’t consider acting on that idea was because I believed in my heart that Charlie needed me.
When I think about that moment, it’s astounding how much I now understand that I needed her. I needed her to make me laugh when she obsessively fetched rocks to play with outside. (Yes, rocks.) I needed her to add a moment of levity whenever I visited home after moving away, and my grandpa would not-so-secretly feed her bits of our meals under the dinner table. I needed her steadfastness by my side in the heat of a five-mile run in the Las Vegas summer. I needed her, and I need her still, but my memories with this goofy, yet keenly perceptive, animal provide more solace and consolation than I ever would have thought imaginable.
She was loyal and she was passionate and she was crazy and she was so full of life—and she was everything I could have ever dreamed of in a companion. Rest easily, my sweet girl.