Chessie, The Chow Chow
Her American Kennel Club (AKC) Registered name was Dutchess of Dandridge but to me she was simply - Chessie. She was a red Chow Chow and I picked her from a litter of seven when she was three weeks old. Actually, she picked me and I was okay with that because I needed her and she seemed to know it.
Our finding each other was no accident. I'm sure of it. I had done my research on the breed and I was ready. I just needed to find a breeder. My search was interrupted by a medical diagnosis of glomerular nephropathy, a kidney disease that statistically would have me on dialysis within three to five years. My world had turned upside down during a routine visit to my gynecologist. The routine urine test showed excessive protein in my urine and I was sent straight to a nephrologist that same afternoon. The prognosis was poor. I was only 32 years old and the news shook me to my core.
Two days later, the call came. A neighbor knew someone who had a new litter of Chow Chow puppies and he had asked them to let me have the pick of the litter. They agreed and I scheduled a visit a few days later to meet the pups. They were almost three weeks old and already quite inquisitive; all but one. She seemed to have been waiting for my arrival because when I sat down in the pen, she came right over and curled up in my lap. She had found me and that's all either of us needed to know.
Four weeks later, and, on the same day that I began the intense steroid therapy for the kidney problem, I brought Chessie home to stay.
- AKC Chow Chow Breed Standard
A powerful, sturdy dog of Arctic type, medium in size and muscular with heavy bone, the Chow Chow is an ancient breed of northern Chinese origin. While the breed was originally a working dog, he primarily serves as a companion today and is seen in sh
Chessie and the gift of lifeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Our Life Together
To keep the story short, let me just say that Chessie and I had the relationship of a lifetime. She knew me before she knew me and she could read me from across the room. She was my most beloved pet, my friend, my confidant, and my anchor in the storm. I survived and beat the odds of membranous nephropathy and Chessie survived my fears and anger. She never held it against me when the steroids made me crazy. Instead of demanding the attention she deserved, she would just come and lay beside me as if to say, "I'm here and we are going to get through this together". And we did.
Chessie was a thinker and she had a lot of heart. She also had a mind of her own when it came to doing the most right thing. Time after time she proved it when I tried to breed her. I found the most beautiful breed standard male Chow Chows to service her and she would turn her back on them and walk away. Even the toughest of them seemed to know not to pursue. When an unexpected call came one morning from a man offering his AKC registered male as stud, I almost said "no thanks" out of frustration. But instead, I asked him to bring his dog over. Chessie seemed to have been waiting on him too because her exuberance was hilarious.
Sixty nine days later, Chessie gave me a litter of six beautiful, red, Chow Chow puppies.
She proved to be the perfect mother. Her labor was normal with only a few minutes between pups. Each pup's umbilical cord was severed and the pup cleaned and settled before the next set of contractions began. It was almost too perfect. But, that was Chessie. She made everything easier. When the last puppy was nestled in with the rest, Chessie came to me and stared into my eyes as only she could. I understood. She was telling me that our time together would change for a while. When she sensed that I was okay, she went back to the puppies and that's where she remained until they were each placed in their forever home eight weeks later. She was as good as a mother as she was at being my friend.
The rest of the story
Once the puppies were in their new homes, Chessie and I got back to our own business of living. We enjoyed taking walks and no dog ever loved a ball as much as she did. But her favorite activity was playing in the snow. Days before a snowfall I could see the change in her. She would go from window to window, watching for the first flakes to fall. Keeping her inside was tough, even on the coldest of days With such a long, thick coat, I didn't worry about her getting too cold but that coat was not easy to dry and a wet dog is a stinky dog. I could not deny her and so, we just dealt with it.
The Chow Chow Curse
Chessie and I had ten wonderful years together before the curse of being a Chow Chow struck us in the heart. With all the research I had done, I had never read that Chow Chows were prone to develop melanoma of the throat due to the black pigmented tongue that is part of the breed standard. It began with a little dry cough and progressed to a constant cough and choking. A biopsy told the story. Chessie, my four-legged soul mate, had melanoma of the larynx. Surgery was an option but would result in a permanent tracheostomy and would only prolong the inevitable. My Chessie could not survive for more than a few weeks or months. My heart broke.
I brought her home from the University Hospital, understanding that our time together would be short and, that she may experience trouble breathing from the trauma of the biopsy. I was not prepared for what happened.
My beautiful Chessie was so happy to be home and would not leave my sight but, she begged to go outside. My yard was fenced and Chessie had her routine She checked every inch of the fence line whenever she went out. This trip would be no different. We went outside and I sat on the patio watching as Chessie made her rounds. On the second trip around the fence, I saw it - the weakness in her back legs. When she did not finish the trip and returned to the patio to lay down, I saw it in her eyes. It was pure fear. My protector had realized that she could not do her job. She was too weak and too short of breath.
I wanted time with her; time to just be in that space that the two of us had shared for ten short years. It was a space that needed no words. It was a place where souls meet and touch in a dimension that knows no time or space. As I arose from the patio to take Chessie inside, she struggled to get her back legs under her weight. That's when I knew. I could not ask her to stay another hour in a body that would fail her and cause her pain. I loved her too much. I loved her too much to let her go and I loved her too much to ask her to stay.
It was two weeks before Christmas. I never finished decorating my tree that year. I couldn't. Chessie and I understood that our time together had been a gift and now it was time to say goodbye. The staff at the Emergency Veterinary Clinic was incredible and seemed to understand why we had to do this "our way". They prepared the injections while Chessie and I spent a few more minutes talking without speaking. When they came to say they were ready, Chessie put her front paws on my lap and licked my chin as the tears rolled down my face. In that moment, we had said it all.
Chessie's last gift to me was her display of perfect trust. As I sat with her on the cold hard floor, she laid her head on my lap and closed her eyes as the injection of Valium was given. She had given me the best she had and in a moment of pure and sweet surrender, she was gone.
This is by far, the most difficult story I've ever told to an audience of strangers. There is a reason for its telling. I learned many, many things from this beautiful animal. She taught me lessons about dogs and, about man. I would be remiss if I did not share those lessons here at the conclusion of Chessie's story. Some are practical and some are not but everything Chessie taught me was important. Here is what I learned.
- Research thoroughly before you choose a pet. Pet ownership requires commitment, both in time, finances, and in love. Make sure you have it all to give.
- Dogs are not puppy factories. One well planned litter is enough unless you are a professional breeder and ONLY if you know you can provide good, forever homes for the puppies.
- Chow Chows are more than beautiful balls of fur. Chessie became tentative with visitors as she aged. Even though she had been well socialized as a puppy, she became territorial and unpredictable. An unpredictable dog is a liability. If you aren't willing to control your dog, you should not own one. As Chessie became more unpredictable, she was held on a lead when guests were in my home.
- Owning a Chow Chow requires a commitment to grooming. They have a short, thick undercoat that can become matted if not combed frequently. Matting can become a problem for sanitation, a harbor for pests, and if not managed, can cause skin problems. If you're not willing to groom often, choose a short hair breed.
The Most Important Lessons:
- We will most likely outlive our pets. Understand when you bring one home that you will one day say goodbye and make the best of every day you have with them.
- We are kinder to animals than we are to humans. When an animal is sick and cannot recover, we have a painless process of euthanasia for ending their life. When humans are terminally ill, we force them to linger in hospitals, nursing homes, or hospice care while managing their pain but robbing them of their dignity.
- There is little in life more profound that the total trust given to us from our pets and our children who ask nothing more of us than our love, food, and, that we keep them safe.
- To give love unconditionally is a risk we take, knowing that it will end one day and that we will someday say goodbye. But, to choose not to love out of fear of those things is the most sad and lonely place of all. Give all you have and it will be returned to you twofold!
© 2012 Linda Crist