Sweet Chelsea

Fourteen and a half years ago, Chelsea was my sister Suzanne's sixteenth birthday present. Chelsea came from a puppy mill in Michigan and ended up in the pet store at an Atlanta mall. (Back then we weren't aware of the issues surrounding such places.) I remember vividly the day we brought her home. She made this sound, like purring, but sort of a breathy whine. She made that sound the whole way home. She was small and cute and never stopped moving. At home she played with my uncle Scotty's dog Thor, a white German shepherd - arctic timber wolf mix. Thor seemed sort of confused by this weird, yappy creature, but Chelsea was confident that she matched him in size. That was her m.o. for the rest of her life. She never had confidence problems. Twice she took on big dogs (a chow and another German Shepherd) and required trips to the emergency vet. Samson came to her defense both times.

Fourteen years ago this month Chelsea came to live with me. I had just got Samson as a gift for Jonathan. Since Jonathan was in an apartment, we decided Samson would live with me. One weekend my sister brought Chelsea to stay with me, and the rest is history. Chelsea lived in seven different houses with Jonathan and me. For ten years (before Julian came along), she and Samson and Jonathan and I were the creatures that made those houses into homes. Together, Samson and Chelsea made me a mama before I was a mama. They have taught me patience and how to discipline and they taught me an astounding kind of love. When I began considering doctoral programs, leaving Samson and Chelsea was a major factor. Bonnie and Kevin generously offered to open their home. They and Scotty even built a ramp on the back of the house for Samson. Don't tell our family this, but when we came home from Scotland I didn't cry when I saw our family, but I cried like a baby when I saw my dogs.

When Julian was on the way, I bought new beds for Samson and Chelsea. Mostly, I wanted to start training Chelsea to *not* sleep in the bed with us. As an old dog, she did learn that new trick and took to her bed just fine-- most of the time. I was nervous about Chelsea and a newborn. She's always been a lap dog and she lived with the assumption that your resting hand would much rather be scratching her. But from the moment I walked in the door with Julian, all of her good instincts took over and she made me so proud. She was at my feet every time I nursed (which was most of the time in those early weeks). She was curious but careful with Julian and never, ever snappy. Julian has grown to love those dogs as a normal part of his family. I love that he would kiss chelsea and samson good night even when he wouldn't kiss us. I love that he called her "Chels" and told her she was a good girl, a good dog, on a regular basis. I love that it's not
unusual for Julian to ask Samson or Chelsea if they want to play a game with him or read a book. A few weeks ago Julian took the bag of dog treats into his book tent and fed Chelsea the whole bag. I watched from the doorway, loving every minute. She bites when she takes treats from me
and Jonathan, but she was so gentle with my boy. In recent days we would find her sleeping on the little Thomas sofa in Julian's book tent, or curled up in his mini-recliner in the sun. Maybe she was just happy to have another wee creature around.

Earlier this summer Chelsea had surgery for breast cancer that had ulcerated (open, oozing, nasty). The prognosis wasn't great-- five, six months at best. So we knew what to look for. And Saturday morning the time came and it was time to go. Mom came to get Julian, and she, Suzanne, and Suzanne's kids all had a chance to say goodbye to the sweet girl.

Chelsea lived a fantastic life and we honored her by releasing her yesterday. In this whole process, the greatest moment of peace was when she gave her last exhale, and it was easy. Only at that moment did Jonathan and I realize just how hard she had been working to breathe in recent weeks. Scotty made a grave and Vera had flowers. I placed her in the grave on her bed, and Jonathan and I covered her with the red Georgia clay. We were surrounded with the sound of the wind in the trees, the most sacred sound in the world.

I am completely at peace with our decision and the timing of our decision, but that does not change the fact that I am heartbroken. I miss her terribly. I almost feel like people who meet me from now on won't even really know me, because they won't know her. She was obnoxious and naughty and misbehaved and very, very stinky and I loved her. To really "get" me, you would have to see how I loved that dog, with all her faults.

It wasn't until today that I realized just how aware I am of her presence in the house. Out of half a lifetime of ingrained habit, I glance at all her usual spots to see if she is there. I cooked today and I told Jonathan that I don't really know how to cook without tripping over Chelsea and yelling at her to get out of the kitchen. Just this morning we had a startling realization of just how messy Julian is with his oatmeal. That chels kept him and the floor around him really clean.

Samson is restless, and with every whine or pace up and down the hall, my heart breaks for him. He has never known anything other than being with chelsea. she was definitely the alpha dog and I think he's a little bit lost. we had a "quality of life" consult at the vet with him just a few weeks ago. I hope this transition isn't too hard on him. He's got enough going on in his old body.

Goodbye, sweet puppy. Our lives won't be the same without you.


  1. Beth this is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heartbreak. Peace be with you.
    - Teresa

  2. I have to go open another box of tissues.

    My heart breaks for you, but I am happy to hear that her passing was peaceful for her and for all of you. Julian was lucky to have known her, and is lucky to still have Samson. Your family is fortunate to be so rich in love.

  3. I'm sorry to hear about Chelsea. Dogs really become part of the family. When I visit my parents I still find myself wanting to call out for our dog of 16 years even though she passed away three years ago.

    I'll be thinking of you and your family in the readjustment. love.