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A Very Special Shih Tsu   34 comments

Charl the shih tsu (pronounced shee tsoo) at his favorite place, the Oregon Coast.

Charl the shih tsu (pronounced shee tsoo) at his favorite place, the Oregon Coast.

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.

A little known fact about the old west that has been lost to history: shih tsu scouts!

A little known fact about the old west that has been lost to history: shih tsu scouts!

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.

Charl in his later years was not as intrepid though he always played along.

Charl in his later years was not as intrepid though he always played along.

When on camping/photo safaris, as soon as I got up at dawn to photograph, Charl would move right into my sleeping bag.

When on camping/photo safaris, as soon as I got up at dawn to photograph, Charl would move right into my sleeping bag.

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.

This wolf is looking right at him but Charl had very little idea he was face to face with his wild origins.

This wolf is looking right at him but Charl had very little idea he was face to face with his wild origins.

On a trip to Yosemite National Park, Charl shows the local deer just how ineffectual he is as a hunter.

On a trip to Yosemite National Park, Charl shows the local deer just how ineffectual he is as a hunter.

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.

Charl was always happy to lounge on people and keep them warm, even little people.

Charl was always happy to lounge on people and keep them warm, even little people.

The great thing about lap dogs is you can take them anywhere.

The great thing about lap dogs is you can take them anywhere.

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.

 

Charl goes canyoning in southern Utah.

Charl goes canyoning in southern Utah.

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.

Charl is struggling in the snow because his fur picks up snowballs.  La Sal Mtns, Utah.

Charl is struggling in the snow because his fur picks up snowballs. La Sal Mtns, Utah.

So he got a free ride in my pack, the only time he skied!

So he got a free ride in my pack, the only time he skied!

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!

Charl rests after some fun on the Oregon Coast.

Charl rests after some fun on the Oregon Coast.

The sand was good for playing in, but the warm rock is much better for napping on.

The sand was good for playing, but the warm rock is much better for napping.

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.

Charl as an old dog.  Though he eventually went blind, he aged gracefully.

Charl as an old dog. Though he eventually went blind, he aged gracefully.

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.

 

Charl: 1998 - 2014, Rest in Peace.

Charl: 1998 – 2014, Rest in Peace.

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