Chica, the red, floppy-eared Doby in the soon-to-be-published novel (Rafael) that I’ve just finished writing has actually been my dog, and best friend, in real life. The descriptions of her; her actions, her behaviors, proclivities, and sensitivities, as described in Rafael are taken from actual accounts of our life together. Hombre, the red Australian Shepherd in the book has been Chica’s friend and running mate in real life as well. He is actually two years younger than Chica. The three of us have all lived together on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. Everything else in this novel is fictitious. My dogs are not.
Chica and Hombre came from different litters (obviously), Chica being a Doby, and Hombre an Australian Shepherd. They are both red with tan markings, the same markings, and the same patterns. Both dogs were the last one’s left in their litters when I found them, and the only ones red in color. Both were the runts of those litters. It was providential, and serendipitous, that they both ended up with me. But it was not coincidental.
I’m more than sad to say, and in fact I am devastated to even have to acknowledge, that two days ago (the very morning after I finished writing Rafael), Chica, my best friend and constant companion, died suddenly from what I now know was Dialated Cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that affects Doby’s, often without notice, and in disproportionate numbers to any other breed of dog. She was just seven years old.
As is true of many, I have experienced tremendous loss throughout my life; loss after loss along the way; more loss than I can sometimes even bear. But never have I experienced the kind, or degree, of grief that I have been suffering since losing Chica. She has given me joy when I have lived, what has too often seemed like, a life of perpetual sadness.
She was (is) that significant in my life.
At about eight in the morning I took the dogs down to the river for a swim, and to let them fetch some sticks in the water; their favorite activity ever. After about ten or fifteen minutes of play Chica got out of the water, and wandered off about thirty yards away. She walked around on the river rocks, through, and under bushes, kind of wandering around in circles. She told me somehow that she was looking for a place to die. I led her back down to the waters edge and she collapsed to the ground.
Chica lost consciousness, went totally limp, her eyes glazed over, and she stopped breathing. I began to pump her chest, and pour cold water on her from the river. I tried to breathe for her, but with her long snout it was impossible to seal my mouth around hers. After a few minutes of this frantic treatment she revived. I intuited that her heart was not pumping blood to her lungs, and determined that if I left her lying there she would die. Wanting to get her heart pumping again I raised her up on her legs, held her steady, and asked her to walk with me and Hombre back to the truck to ‘go home’ (knowing that she would feel compelled to try and get home with us). We walked together about a hundred yards to within about forty yards of the truck, and then she collapsed again. I ran to the truck to bring it to her. When Chica heard me start the truck she got up, took about eight more steps toward me and collapsed for a final time.
I lifted her into the truck cab and, knowing there was a veterinarian eight miles away from where we were, I took off at about sixty miles per hour on a curvy two-lane mountain road, flashing the emergency lights, honking the horn, and driving on the wrong side of the road to pass the cars ahead of me. I did everything I could to get us to the vet. I was too late. With Hombre by her side, Chica died in the truck about a minute away from the clinic.
I pleaded with the vet for a hot-shot, some medication, anything that could revive her. She listened to Chica’s heart, and simply said, “She’s gone. There’s nothing we can do.”
I took Chica home, laid her on her bed, and spent the better part of the day just being with her, petting her, comforting her in her absence, comforting myself in her absence, and giving her all the love that I held (hold) in my heart for her.
I spent the late afternoon/evening digging her burial site.
Chica always loved to have my scent near her. Sometimes I’d put my shirt on her bed at night, and she’d lay her nose on it for comfort. I took off the tee-shirt I was wearing when she passed and pulled her head and front legs through it so that she was wearing it, and could wear it for all eternity. I wrapped her in her favorite blanket, and then wrapped a white sheet around the blanket.
I laid Chica to rest where I thought she would like to be.
I have been in tears since the river. And I feel like I will be for the rest of my life. I have never felt such profound, or boundless, grief.
But I have never been as inspired by a creature as I have been by Chica. She has given me love immeasurable, devotion unqualified, and protection at her own risk. She has given me comfort in times of distress, calmed me in my anxiety, made me laugh when I needed a good release from stress, and has asked nothing in return except to simply be with me.
Chica has raised my consciousness, and enlarged and enlivened my heart. She has been ever-present, and ever vigilant as a guardian for me, for her pal, Hombre, and for anyone else she considered to be friend or family. I cannot even entertain the thought that she will never be here in my company again. I see her in every room in the house, in my studio, where she was my constant companion, on the deck, and all over my property. She’s in my truck with me, as she always has been, when I’m out driving.
Some people might say that my experience of, and with, Chica is anthropomorphic in nature, rather than an authentic understanding of her. And all I can say about that is, “Obviously they have never lived with Chica.”
I buried her outside my studio window, where I wrote so much about her in Rafael.
Hombre is very sad, has been laying on Chica’s gravesite, and has taken to peeing about ten feet away in an arc around the grave; a notice, I’m sure, for any intruders to stay the hell away from our beloved fallen friend.
Chica has been (is) for me, symbolic of, and a rare accumulation of, the best of all that is good in life. I will miss her like I’d miss the sunrise were it suddenly, and permanently, missing from the morning sky.