I lost my friend yesterday. He was named Charl. I didn’t name him and, fittingly, it’s uncertain why his name is Charl and not Charles or Charlie. He was a little shih tsu. I have been blessed by having in the past 20 years two of the best dogs I could ever imagine. First Sugar and then Charl. Shih tsus are dogs originally bred in China for the households of royalty, where women with bound feet needed the warmth of their fur in wintertime.
Shih tsus have very unique and engaging personalities. And this particular shih tsu had a truly unique personality even compared with others of his breed. He was 16 years old and lived quite the full and exciting life.
Never let anybody tell you a small dog is not a “real” dog. And never assume a small dog can’t go hiking and adventuring with you. I had some of these preconceptions before I met Charl, and he shattered them all. I inherited him from an ex when he was just one. He was my companion for more than 15 years.
I swear he was part cat, especially with respect to having 9 lives. There were many times when I thought he had been lost. He had a habit of wandering from the trail and driving me crazy with worry looking for him. One time he got lost while hiking high on Mt. Hood. My uncle searched in one direction and I went the other. When my uncle found him he was sleeping right at the edge of an enormous cliff. Another time was in the snow and it had gotten dark. I still don’t know how I managed to meet back up with him that time.
But until he got old he never shrank from a physical challenge. I may have had to lift him up and over big rocks on climbs, but he would routinely do 15+ mile hikes with major elevation gains exceeding 3000 feet! He was extremely healthy throughout his life, never sick and (almost) never a pain. He could hold his pee for incredibly long periods if necessary. And when he was too old to hike with me he’d wait patiently in my van for many hours. He was a very mellow and relaxed little thing who almost never barked.
He almost became prey on a number of occasions. On Hurricane Ridge in Washington it was only by very quick action on my part that he wasn’t taken by an eagle. He even came face to face with a wild wolf, a lone alpha male in Yellowstone Park. He was only 10 feet away, but again my presence saved him. I snatched him up before the wolf could get any ideas about snagging a take-out lunch.
When he was a youngster he would disappear with his sister Abbi, most times at the beach. Some time later I would get a call when someone found him. Invariably they would’ve scored treats or even full meals. He wore my phone number around his neck his whole life, and it was necessary in his case believe me.
All through these trials he maintained that extremely mellow disposition that everyone remarked upon. When he was a puppy he was of course rambunctious. But throughout his life he was a dog who could appreciate laziness in all its forms. He slept many hours on my lap as I drove. I thought of him as a lap dog who had adapted very well to an active life. In fact, shih tsus are the most adaptable of all the lap dogs.
He learned how to hike by following my previous dog, Sugar. There were some years of overlap when I had two dogs. Sugar also taught him how to love streams. He was afraid of them at first but after watching her cool down many times by plopping her belly down in cold creek water he got the idea and started following suit.
The only hassle was his fur. It was the kind that doesn’t shed. That made it strange. It would pick up half of the forest floor as if it were velcro. Powder snow would quickly ball up until he couldn’t walk for all the packed snowballs on his under-carriage. He needed frequent combing and bathing. Especially when his hair was long. I always thought he looked more like a natural dog when his hair was long.
His favorite place in all the world was the Oregon Coast. He loved to run up and down the beach chasing the surf as it receded, chasing shore birds, having a ball. He would run until he was a speck in the distance, and I would have to run after him. He used to be so fast, like a flying dust mop!
Even the last time we were there, with him an old codger, he started to run for a bit before tiring quickly. Because of his love for the beach I will be going with my uncle to the coast soon to scatter his ashes. My uncle, Charl and I hiked many times together.
I suppose I shouldn’t be sad that Charl is gone. He lived a full life after all. But I am sad, very sad. I know that I will never meet a dog like Charl. Rest in Peace buddy, you’ll be missed.