By Liz White
One week ago today, my beloved Charlie died from complications of diabetes and liver disease. He was 16 years old.
I first met Charlie outside of a Jack Layton campaign office. Jack and I were friends and I agreed to help run his 1997 campaign to win the riding of Toronto Danforth from Liberal Dennis Mills. We did not have our political party at the time.
Charlie was sitting in a basket just outside the door of the campaign office. It was 10 pm and a lovely woman from the neighbourhood approached me and begged me to take Charlie. She said that the entire litter of kittens, except Charlie, had been killed on the road.
Of course, I couldn’t refuse. I think I fell in love with him that day. I took him to our Animal Alliance offices where he lived for three months. Jack lost the campaign and I won Charlie.
While he was at our offices, he met Nicki, my dog and they grew to tolerate each other. So Charlie moved home with me.
For some unexplained reason, we loved each other from the first time we met. I say unexplained because Charlie tested my loyalty and love in every possible way. He was dominant, opinionated, demanding and difficult. He expected to be fully loved regardless of his transgressions.
When he was 8, he developed a condition called mega-colon. After six months of treatment and alternative therapies, he had surgery to remove the affected portion of his bowel. This surgery was supposed to cure his condition but of course in typical Charlie style, he required intense management to make sure the condition did not return.
In an odd way, the care he required brought us closer together. I have to say that despite his opinionated personality, Charlie was eternally patient with me when receiving his twice daily treatment.
In 2009, my partner Ronnie and I moved from downtown to mid town Toronto. Ronnie’s mom was very ill and we needed to be closer as we were both care givers. Charlie found the move very difficult. For two months after we were settled, he experienced a high level of stress but finally settled in, basking in our large sunny windows.
Charlie never gave up hope that he would be able to go outside. I tried him with a leash which he hated. I tried him in a large pen which he hated. I tried sitting outside with him but he always wanted to go further than would have been safe for him. So, he was able to enjoy the fresh air through our open windows but the longing was always there.
He showed the first signs of illness in late January of this year. I thought he had a stroke but when I took him to our veterinarian, his blood work was fine. It was not until late March that he was diagnosed with diabetes and several weeks after, we also discovered that he has liver disease. Our vet told us that he would only have a few days, possibly a week to live.
With immeasurable sadness, we brought Charlie home to die. After being on a rigid diet for his mega colon, Charlie ate whatever he wanted. And he and I spent hours outside on our front porch, Charlie lying in the sun and enjoying the fresh air. And even in his compromised state, Charlie continued to try to extend his outside boundaries. He lived six weeks beyond the time the vet gave him and I am convinced that it was because he lived for the time we spent outside together.
Throughout the last six weeks of his life, he required extensive care to make him comfortable. He remained eternally patient while I checked his blood sugar and administered his insulin and coaxed him to eat.
Last Thursday he stopped eating and drinking and I knew that we were near the end. On Friday afternoon before he died, he and I spent several hours outside on the porch. He fell asleep in the sun and for the first time in several days, he seemed to be at peace, free from all the affects of his maladies. He died in my arms Friday night.
His absence from my life has left a huge hole in my heart, but he was well loved and will always be remembered. He lived a rich life, defining the lives of others around him. We were so lucky to be able to share our lives with Charlie and Charlie was lucky to be loved, unlike so many animals who never experience tenderness and compassion.
Rest in peace, my love.