Last month, I found a new home for my best friend.
On a Wednesday evening, I took Chauncey across the street to our neighbors’ house. I brought along his crate, a few toys, and some food. We sat at the table discussing Chauncey’s personality and care while he frantically located all the tennis balls under the couch.
It was meant to be a trial weekend to see if he got along with their pack: two dogs, three cats, two humans.
Things I probably said: He eats 1.5 cups of food a day. You’ll know he’s happy when he’s play-bowing and talking and wagging his tail of course. He sleeps most of the day. He’s very vocal. He loves tennis balls: he plays this game with himself where he balances the ball between his snout and front paws, and chases the ball when it gets away from him. He likes to cuddle.
Things I don’t remember saying: I love you. You are an amazing dog. You taught me so much. I’m going to miss you. Goodbye, old friend.
The trial was a complete success - he was quickly and lovingly welcomed into the fold.
Since then, I’ve developed a habit of peering at my neighbor’s house every chance I can get. I can just make out their backyard from the baby’s room. I can see their front door from my office window. I can’t help it.
How are you, old friend? Are you happy again?
Chauncey was my very first dog and only dog.
When he was just 8 weeks old, I whisked Chauncey away from a ramshackle, urine-stained house in Kankakee, Illinois to my tiny grad school apartment in the hills West of Boston. Three years later, he moved with me to a two-bedroom apartment near downtown Evanston. After that, we ended up on the shores of Lake Michigan. Then, to a rural llama farm in Colorado. And now, 8 years after moving Chauncey from Kankakee, we now live in suburban Fort Collins.
I took him everywhere I could.
He’d sit in the passenger seat, with his head out the window, and sometimes he’d get spooked by some passersby and try to crawl in my lap even though he was too big. Everyday, we walked almost 3 miles. I’d release him in the sands of Lake Michigan, and he spent hours digging holes and playing with his ball.
On winter walks, his little paws would get cold and he’d hop around on three legs, waving the injured appendage at me. I’d scoop him up, all 33 lbs of him, and walk a few blocks, massaging the hurt paw with my mitten.
Last year, he overheated on a longer hike through Prairie Ridge, and I carried him 2 miles home. I was 32 weeks pregnant with my son, Miles.
Miles was born in May of 2018. Chauncey observed from the sidelines as the baby began to change into a tiny mobile human.
Miles and Chauncey seemed to live in relative harmony at first. Miles took very little notice of Chauncey; Chauncey basically ignored Miles.
Gradually, Chauncey begin to show signs of jealousy and distress.
He anxiously dealt with the reduced attention he received from me, and he began retreating into corners, under beds, and in heaps of freshly washed laundry. He also began to wedge himself between Miles and me at every chance he got. When Miles began crawling, Chauncey’d tip-toe around him with his fur arched, his tail erect. He seemed at attention, ready to snap. I found myself greatly fearing Chauncey’s future hypothetical actions. I’d seen him bare his teeth and respond viciously to dogs (and people) who he perceived as a threat to his existence.
I spent my days policing Chauncey and Miles, trying to keep both of them safe from harm. In love, I tried to reduce the anxiety that plagued Chauncey caused by the unpredictable nature of a baby. I tried to keep Miles away from him at all times. The effort took a toll on me. I knew I wouldn’t always be there to separate the two of them. It made me incredibly nervous and stressed. My autoimmune disease began flaring up. I began to experience the familiar lower and upper back stiffness and slight sciatica associated with my ankylosing spondylitis, which had been in remission since moving to Fort Collins in 2017.
I began to think the worst of my sweet dog.
I used to think the best of him.
Of course, I looked into hiring a trainer. I mulled over putting Chauncey in doggy-boot camp or taking him to a behaviorist. I posted on Facebook forums and solicited advice from reputable sources. I tried anti-anxiety remedies and treats laced with CBD. Friends gave me their educated recommendations. I just wanted him to “get better” and to love the baby! I saw photos of my friends’ dogs giving their babies kisses, and cuddling with the babies, and letting the babies ride them.
Chauncey could “get better,” right?
However, as much training as we might try, I had to face the true reality: I had very little time for Chauncey. I couldn’t give him all the attention he was used to: I was simply satisfying his very basic needs and could do nothing really more than that. Food, water, shelter, walks. Not a lot of playtime. Very few snuggles. It wasn’t fair to him. And he was reacting to the changes, showing me that something needed to be done. Chauncey needed more than I could give.
I know I can no longer give Chauncey what I used to, but I needed to pay tribute to our history, and honor what he’s given me.
I’d tearfully remember our happy memories together when I’d see him curled up on the nursing chair, his favorite sleeping spot. He chose this chair because it was mine. He knew I’d return to it eventually. And this made me so sad. He’d sometimes bring a toy to the far end of the room, position his body towards mine, place the toy between his paws, and whine at me. But I couldn’t always play, and it broke my heart.
Caring for Chauncey made me who I am today.
Chauncey came into my life at a time when I needed to learn how to unconditionally love another living being. He also taught me the true meaning of responsibility, commitment, patience, and loyalty. Walking him daily kept me outside and active, and helped me become more comfortable with making new friends: there’s something about having dogs that makes it easier to talk to people. He kept me in check - I had to plan my outings responsibly, and couldn’t stay out late at night since there was a little pupper waiting for me at home. Chauncey always came first, and I thrived as his dog-momma.
Now, things are different. I know I can no longer give Chauncey what I used to, but I needed to pay tribute to our history, and honor what he’s given me. I have to come to terms with the changes in our family. It’s wrong of me to hang on to Chauncey just because of our past. Such a beautiful past, but that was then. And now Chauncey deserves better than what I can give him. He needs a friend, someone who can learn and grow with him for years to come. Someone who can give him more than the minimum.
I have to come to terms with the changes in our family.
After deliberating for months about what to do, trying my hardest to give Chauncey love and attention, and working with him on getting used to Miles, my neighbors came out of nowhere with open arms and hearts. Even though they already had 5 animals, they wanted my old friend to join the pack.
It takes love to let go when you want to hold on.
I know deeply that Jennifer and Shelly will provide a happy, safe, and warm home for Chauncey. I can rest assured that I’ll be able to see him as often as I’d like, knowing he’s just across the street. One of these days, I’ll knock on the door, and be greeted by my happy, bouncy fur-baby, and all will be forgiven.
I love you. You are an amazing dog. You taught me so much, and you have so much left to give. I’m going to miss you. Goodbye, old friend.