Charis – a Dog Story

We named our first dog Charis after Merlin’s mother in an Arthurian fantasy novel.  Some time later we realized the word meant “grace” in Greek.  That was just one of many things she brought into our lives.

We walked into the breeder’s living room where five little puppies huddled together in their pen.  Charis raised her head and hopped over her litter-mates to dash up to us, her little tail wagging furiously.  We took it as an omen – only later did we understand it was fairly predictable alpha behavior.  One of her mottoes could have been, “Obedience is optional.”  Luckily, “Will work for food,” was a motto too, so with the help of dog treats, we came to an understanding.

She was a purebred bichon frise, and we only got her because her red nose and blue eyes didn’t match the breed standard, so the breeder couldn’t use her as a show dog.  Her blue eyes turned gold by the time she was a year old, just like a wolf.  I thought she was about the most beautiful puppy I’d ever seen.

Charis as a puppy

Once we took her to a pet friendly motel on the Oregon coast that had it’s own nine-hole golf course. She was a trickster and a runner.  She scampered out the door as we were carrying things in and ran a merry chase, stopping to pee on several greens until another golfer called and she pranced up to him, wagging her tail, and for all you could tell, pleased as could be with herself.  The following year when we called, the motel was no longer pet friendly.  I’m not saying that Charis changed that all by herself, but still…

In the trickster mode - can you see it?

The same recessive gene that gave her wolf eyes, probably took her eyesight when she was 13.   She adapted to that pretty well, but also,  she was large for her breed, so by 14, she was blind and needed medication for joint problems. The vet said it might not be much longer. That night I dreamed that the aging Charis was not the real one. In the dream, I saw the real Charis dashing through the back yard, jumping over rocks and hurdles as if gravity didn’t exist.

But the Charis who had to deal with gravity and the passing of time could still go for walks, find her way around the house by smell and touch, and generally enjoy our company and that of her younger “sister.” It wasn’t quite time.


I think of her in November because the time finally came when she was 15 1/2.  We took her in to the vet for our final act of kindness four years ago on Veteran’s Day.  Extraordinarily difficult things happen to every one, but I have never had to initiate anything harder in my life.

There are some permanent lessons I learned at the end of her life, things that have stayed with me, but that’s for another time.  This is just a moment to remember, and put up several of my favorite photographs of a beautiful little soul that wore the shape of a dog for a few precious years.

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