Why do we do this to ourselves

March was a hard month. After a bit of a stretch of feeling like I had life under control, I was hitting some strides, finding an unusual amount of joy, March showed up with a bucket of Nickelodeon green slime and dumped it on my head.

In addition to some fairly mundane frustrations, self-inflicted dust-ups, busted plans, and unforeseen complications, we got the news that our time with our baby dog, Chilo, is drawing to a close. Kidney failure.

The day we met our little guy.

I thought surely the vet was being pessimistic when she said he had weeks–he still had some spunk to him last week–but now he is on what is undeniably a precipitous decline. He’s gradually and obliviously crossing off the checklist of end-stage symptoms, as we watch, knowing both painfully less and achingly more than he does. And it is one of the more heartbreaking things I have been through in my pretty charmed life. I am not sure what is loving at this point. He doesn’t seem to be in pain, and he still gives the best cuddles you’ll ever get.

Why do we do this to ourselves. We know how the story ends. It’s so easily avoidable.

We got Chilo a few weeks after our youngest child, Lawson, turned 4. His older sister, Charlotte, had been begging us for years to get a dog, but I didn’t think I could manage any more mammals in this house. We procrastinated with a beta fish, who lived an astonishingly long time with a massive tumor growing on its head. By the end, the tumor was bigger than its head in fact. We told Charlotte we’d get a dog when Lawson was 4. She cashed that check in immediately.

Kevin and I had a long list of requirements for this deal to be acceptable. No shedding. Not a big dog, but not a tiny dog. Kevin wanted something that still looked “manly,” whatever that meant. We didn’t want a puppy. They peed and chewed and didn’t sleep. We had just survived 7 years of babies and toddlers and didn’t need anything resembling another one. So, an adult dog, which meant a rescue, but not too old. We wanted a good run with our new pet.

I scoured the rescue sites daily looking for our perfect pup. I’d immediately email about any dog that fit our requirements but quickly found out that it can be easier to get a kid into Harvard than get a dog out of some of these rescue agencies. There were extensive questionnaires, background checks, documentation. Honestly, I would not have been surprised to be asked for a DNA sample that they could cross reference with some kind of sub-standard pet owner database. They wanted to know about every pet I’d ever had in my life, yes, including Heidi the cat when I was 6. They wanted the name and phone number of the vet that had euthanized my cat in 1999.

In the early days, he could run a few miles.

Most of my inquiries were ignored, sunk into a black hole. I got one email back from an agency that informed me that we were “not suitable for any of our animals.” As if they had unearthed a Facebook photo of me in a Dalmatian coat.

This went on for some weeks. Then one day, I emailed an agency about a dog that had just posted, a dog that met all our requirements. Well, he wasn’t terribly “manly” looking, but I had largely set that wish-list item aside and bet on Kevin looking into the eyes of Yorkshire terrier and forgetting all about his manhood.

Kevin looking very manly with Chilo.

To my surprise, the agency emailed me back immediately, providing a pretty basic application form and asking when did we want to come and meet him?

Um, excuse me? What? No blood samples or college transcripts? No written chemistry exam on pet nutrition? You want us to just come and see the dog? Just like that? This seemed like some kind of Nigerian scam or Dateline NBC plot line. We were probably more likely to end up dead than with a dog.

But, having been rejected by pretty much everyone else, I thought we had to take a chance. And so, we went to meet Chilo, breed unknown at the time, and as it turned out, going by the wrong name. All of that information was on paperwork from his previous owners that the rescue agency sent us later on. He was a shorkie, that’s half Shih tzu, half Yorkie, but at 20 lbs quite a bit bigger than either of those breeds, so may be the linebacker branch of the family. And his name was actually “Chulo,” which means “cutie” in Spanish (or “pimp” but I’m guessing that’s not what they were going for. I don’t think he’s enterprising or street smart enough to be a pimp). Kevin loves to explain Chilo’s weird name by calling it a classic immigrant/Ellis Island story. An American Tale.

He bounded out to see us when we came to the rescue agency, and we played with him a bit. Then the lady asked us if we wanted to take him home for a few hours before making our decision. As if he were ours if we wanted him.

Um, excuse me? Without a home inspection? Without going before an interview panel? Without talking to our children’s teachers to see how well we were raising them? Without a letter from my psychiatrist?

Chilo is in fact a Jedi knight.

Long story short, I assured Kevin he looked very manly when walking Chilo, and we adopted him. I asked the kids if they wanted to rename him (at this point, we didn’t know we had his name wrong anyway), and they looked at me as if I had just suggested renaming them. “His name is Chilo,” Charlotte reprimanded me. “That’s his name. Why would we rename him?”

Chilo (who remained Chilo, not Chulo, or anything else) settled into our family. We learned he is terrified of the clothes iron. He loves to cuddle. He isn’t terribly fond of small children, though he tolerated ours. He doesn’t like excessive noise or chaos and tends towards anxiety. He loves to sleep. He’s got bad skin, full of weird growths and bumps and lumps.

In other words, he’s basically me. And I have always been the one he prefers. We got him for the kids, but he never got that memo. He likes the others just fine, but he is devoted to me. He follows me around the house like the most adorable stalker you have ever seen.

And now I’m the one here with him, as he finishes his work here. The others went skiing, but I’m here, Chilo, I’ll be here to the end. Don’t be afraid, Baby Dog.

We have many great memories of him. There was that time we took him out on Granddad’s boat in Arkansas, and he launched himself, Superman-style, into the water (which he hates) in pursuit of some ducks. He will verbally–and, if permitted, physically–attack any bird or squirrel or vermin or other dog he may encounter, because as is common knowledge, they will kill all the humans if not kept in check. There was that time it snowed a couple of feet, and he had some trouble figuring out where to pee. There was his violent reaction to Lawson’s remote control car. There was that time we took him to the beach, and he ran over and peed on some people’s corn hole set.

But mostly it’s not distinct memories but just the constant presence of him in all of our memories, like the planes that fly overhead, the hum of the air conditioning, the program running in the background, the warmth of the sun. The warmth on your leg and the rhythm of breathing as you fall asleep. The way he greets you at the door then takes off running down the hallway, his gait slightly sideways, as if to show you around your own house. His slow, satisfied air-licks as you scratch his tummy. His soft fur in which you can bury your face and your sorrows at the end of a long day.

Why do we do this to ourselves.

It’s the same reason we foolishly pledge our lives to another person in marriage despite the obviously high rate of failure. Why we have children whose pain is torture and whose loss would be like a nuclear bomb. Why we invest in friendships in an ever-changing, ever-moving, ever-dying world.

Everything is a gift. But nothing is ours to keep. We are renters here. You can put your time and energy into fixing things up just so, but you’ll be moving out soon enough. Moving on.

But how beautiful you can make a rental with a little elbow grease. It will be lovely for as long as you’re there. You can fill it with something good.

There are deeper loves and deeper losses than a pet. But there is no doubt that we were made to love them. Because we do. We can’t help it, despite all that we know.

We were made to love. We were made to love right in the face of loss, thumbing our noses at an approaching fist. We were made to open our hearts wide for a thrashing. We were made to live in defiance of a certain death. We were made to stare it right in the eyes and dare it to stop us. We were built to survive, with a full set of self-centered instincts, but we were made to love. If we can find the courage.

Why do we do this to ourselves. A dog lives for 10, 15, maybe 20 years at most. We know that. We’re not stupid or foolish or obtuse. But we go out and find a friend, and we give our hearts away just to watch them bleed. And they give us courage. They teach us to love.

It’s always worth it.

Thank you for everything, Chilo.

His political instincts were always astute.

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