Learning to Love Charlie Bear

Her husband really wanted this dog. She really didn’t.

Posted in , Mar 8, 2013

B.J. Taylor, Roger and Charlie Bear

I knew we were in trouble when I caught my husband, Roger, gazing fondly at an image on the computer. It was of a 14-month-old dog, part Shih Tzu, part terrier, with salt-and-pepper fur and dark, piercing eyes.

“Charlie Bear,” Roger said, reading the name on the adopt-a-pet website. “Doesn’t he look perfect? Don’t you want to take him home right now?”

I read over Roger’s shoulder. “It says he’s got ‘issues,’ like guarding his food and chasing his tail,” I said. Charlie Bear was found on a school playground where kids teased him. He’d been in a foster home for four months and was now ready for adoption.

I’ve always had a soft spot for rescues—our 10-year-old golden lab, Rex, had been rescued. But I just didn’t feel up to it this time.

We’d lost our two cats in the last few months and I was still mourning them, not to mention my fear of someday losing mellow old Rex. A new dog with “issues” sounded like way too much.

“It says he doesn’t like to be touched,” I continued. “Didn’t you say you wanted a dog you could hold? Don’t you think we need a pet that is a little less... complicated?”

Roger hardly seemed to hear me. He kept staring at the photo of that adorable face rimmed with white and those dark eyes. “Let’s just meet him and see.”

Bad idea. It was love at first sight for Roger and Charlie Bear, that’s for sure. The dog jumped right into Roger’s lap and curled up there, gazing at his possible master-to-be, while Roger petted him. So much for “doesn’t like to be touched.”

And what about the other issues? Chasing his tail or throwing fits when he didn’t get his way or snapping and growling? We didn’t see any of that.

“He’s never sat in anyone’s lap like that before,” Charlie Bear’s foster mom said. Maybe she says that to everyone, I thought. By this time Charlie Bear could barely keep his eyes open as Roger stroked his ears. If he had been a cat, he would have been purring.

“There’s a two-week probationary period,” the woman explained quietly. “We can take him back if things don’t work out.” As if my husband would ever agree to that.

Charlie Bear hardly made a peep that first night. We introduced him to our veteran Rex—who sniffed him warily—then Charlie walked into his crate, lay down and went right to sleep, exhausted. “Piece of cake,” Roger said to me.

Until the next day. Charlie Bear frantically paced the perimeter of the backyard, uncertain, it seemed, of what to do with himself. Then he ran an Indy 500 around and around the flag pole at one end and a palm tree at the other.

He came into the house afterward, panting furiously, his pink tongue hanging out, eyes searching ours for approval. Roger held him and talked to him, trying to calm him down.

That afternoon, Charlie Bear heard a bird calling in the backyard. He dashed from Roger’s arms, leaped at the closed screen door, reached up with his paws. “Charlie Bear, wait. I’ll open the door for you,” I said.

I ran to pull it open. Too late. The screen was shredded. Old Rex looked up disdainfully from his bed as though I were to blame for this rude interruption of his golden years.

Things only got worse. That night we put Charlie Bear into his crate, but he simply would not settle down. He barked nonstop for 20 minutes. “I just took him for a potty break,” I said to Roger, both of us lying in bed, trying to sleep. “I don’t understand what’s wrong.”

We’d gone through this with Rex when Rex was a puppy, but then Rex had always settled down eventually. Not Charlie Bear.

“This has got to stop,” I said.

I sprang out of bed and ran downstairs, opened Charlie Bear’s crate and led him outside. Nothing. I led him back in and closed the crate door. “Now go to sleep, Charlie Bear,” I said sternly. He just stared back at me with those pleading brown eyes.

The next few days went from one trial to the next. Charlie Bear continued to bark at bedtime. With no provocation he chased his tail, spinning and snapping and growling. Once he accosted Rex, jumped up and almost bit his throat.

“No!” I screamed, and separated them. “Outside, Charlie Bear. Outside right now!” He messed up our bedspread. I was constantly up and down, opening and closing the door.

The two weeks were almost up. I was exhausted. No way could we handle this dog. I didn’t want to disappoint my husband, but Roger would have to understand.

Roger and I were sitting in the family room one night, Roger in his recliner with Charlie Bear on his lap and me on the sofa. Roger looked at me, then said, “Honey, I think we should give him back. He’s a lot more work than we realized. A lot more work for you, especially since you’re the one who’s home most of the day.”

He was a lot of work. Too much for me. I was glad I didn’t have to make an issue of it. Roger had seen the light. I started to say a quick prayer of gratitude when I glanced over at my husband.

Roger was holding Charlie Bear and speaking ever so softly to him. His voice was calm and reassuring. He ran his fingers through the little dog’s fur. Charlie Bear gave him a whiskery kiss.

I thought back to all of Charlie Bear’s shenanigans— the screen door incident, the sleepless nights, the barking, attacking Rex. I imagined a scale, with all of Charlie Bear’s misdeeds on one side and all my husband’s affection for him on the other. It was no contest.

Charlie Bear was a handful, but in truth, all our pets had had their moments, especially when they were new. Love, I suddenly remembered, always saved the day. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. Was it as true of dogs as it was of people?

I didn’t love Charlie Bear, not yet at least, but I loved Roger and Roger loved this dog. My heart softened. Maybe I was making a terrible mistake, but there was no way I was going to give back this dog. I couldn’t do that to Charlie Bear or Roger. “I think we should keep him,” I said.

Roger looked up from the bundle of fur in his lap. “You sure?”

“We’ll adjust. He’ll adjust. We’ll be fine.” Then I prayed silently, Lord, please make it true.

It took some training. I acquired a new set of skills, and Charlie Bear, well, he calmed down, more or less.

Sometimes he goes into one of his Indy 500s around the backyard, until he runs out of breath, comes over, nuzzles me and leaps, panting, into my arms. I pet him until I think my hand is going to fall off. “You’re something else,” I say.

Maybe it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for Charlie Bear and me. But it was love, and that’s what matters.


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