Chico People

The four little lives we are responsible for. (photo credit to Ian Cole)


Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, writing helps the author more than the reader. Today is one of those times. I still haven’t gotten the hang of this blogging thing. Writing? I’ve got that. But formatting and publishing and all that business? I mean, I had to look up how to log into my account. So formatting be damned – here’s what I need to get out…

You know how some people are just DOG PEOPLE? Maybe you’re one of them. I know lots and lots of them. But I’m not one of them. I didn’t grow up with pets. I’ve never lit up when a pretty dog walked into the park. I don’t think I’ve posted a single pet meme in ten years of facebooking. But 16 years ago, when Mark and I walked in to the SPCA in Annapolis, MD, I became a Chico person.

You know how young couples are these days. “Let’s take our relationship to the next level by getting a dog together.” So we went to the SPCA to “just look”. Mark did grow up with dogs and his childhood buddy Charlie is the stuff of Slaughter family legend. Mark kind of knew what he was looking for when we walked in on that cold February day in 2001.

They showed us all the dogs they had. Mostly large and medium mutts, with various volumes of barking. We lived in a three story townhouse with no enclosed yard. None of those dogs seemed right. We asked if they had any smaller dogs. “Yes, but you don’t want him. We keep him in the back. He’s not good with people. We’ve tried, but he is going to be put down soon.”

Of course we insisted on seeing him. They brought this shaking little man out. He was around a year old, a mix of Jack Russell and Chihuahua, and he was snarling and baring his teeth at us as if to say “They told you so.” I’m pretty sure we loved him then, but we decided to be prudent and put him on a 24 hour hold. The moment the doors opened in the morning, we were there to get OUR DOG. We’d purchased the kennel and the bowls and the dog food and the collar and the leash. We’d done our internet homework. We were ready. From the moment we took him home, we knew we had won the doggy lottery.

Chico was his name when he came to us and we never considered changing it. He came from a house with too many animals and too many children, so he never learned to play well with others. But he loved us as much as any good dog has ever loved his humans. He has always hated car rides and it was an ordeal to move him from Maryland to Texas. The vet recommended Benadryl and by some small miracle, the three of us made it through that cross country trip. He saw us through three more moves and three children. With each new addition to the family, Chico adjusted beautifully. But other children never quite made the list with him – his kennel is still required when visitors are over.

There was this one time in 2004, when I was still working in Corporate America and Mark was a restaurant GM, that Chico ran away. We had a new babysitter at our new house and none of us realized the deficiencies in the fence. Mark and I were devastated. We looked everywhere. Alerted everyone. Posted flyers. But for three days, Chico was nowhere to be found. Each night, as we went to bed, we would look at each other and just start crying. All we could think about was how we had let him down. Then on the fourth day, I got pulled out of a meeting for an emergency call. A construction worker about two miles from our house had called in a tip. He had seen a dog fitting Chico’s description. The temps were dropping that afternoon and as it got darker it got colder and colder. An ice storm was expected and Mark and I had been combing the creek bed (me in heels) for a few hours by that point. I was already crying, knowing that our guy wouldn’t make it through this night, when I heard a little whimper from under a pile of leaves. And there he was! Scared to death. Freezing. Ribs visible. A little scratched up. But all things considered, pretty darn good. We’ve spend the last twelve years being so grateful for his return.

Our boys have never known life without this dog. He can’t get up and down the stairs anymore and he’s not interested in playing or fetching. But he is still the best cuddler that ever was. Over the last two years, his eyes have become almost completely clouded with cataracts. His hearing is about gone too. He pees in the house every damn day. And his hips have started to give out every few days now too. I suppose we have known that the end was coming. But we still aren’t ready for it. I recently reached out to my church mother’s group to ask for advice on this. But even then, I was thinking in terms of months – maybe even longer.

In the last few weeks, the daily peeing has become hourly. Last night, things became worse than ever and we were up with him most of the night.  I called the vet this morning and made an appointment to bring him in. I asked in advance about the office fee and end of life procedures. They told me to just bring him in for the normal exam and then we would go from there.

Of course he was shaking and terrified when we arrived. My anxiety level was pretty high too. After a quick visual exam and listening to his heart, the vet said we would need to get blood and urine samples in order to get a handle on what was going on (other than the obvious visible things already mentioned). They asked me to sign off on a treatment plan for hundreds of dollars worth of diagnostics. In hindsight, I suppose what I wanted to hear the doctor say, what I NEEDED to hear the doctor say, was:
“He’s had a long and very good life. He’s 16 years old and you’ve done well by him. You’ve loved him and he’s loved you. And it’s OK TO LET HIM GO NOW.”

Maybe it’s because Chico has never had a sick visit to the vet. Maybe it’s my inexperience. Or my naivety. But I wasn’t expecting several hundred in diagnostics followed by possibly thousands in medications and shots and treatments. I pushed back a little and they worked it down to less lab work, no urine sample, and a total that was still a few hundred – but fifty percent what they originally said. They’ll call tomorrow with the results and then we will go from there. When I got home I started researching end of life options for dogs. In home euthanasia; in office; private cremation; communal cremation – I had no idea what an industry this is. My husband and I keep texting each other about how sad we are. We are wondering how our kids will handle this. We are praying for wisdom and peace.

I know this blog entry is too long and self indulgent – clearly many many families have gone through this before us. I’ve probably broken quite a few other “blogging rules” too. But on this sad and weighty day, as we consider what is next for our companion of 16 years, I felt like paying tribute was the right thing to do.
We may not be dog people, but WE ARE CHICO PEOPLE. And we won the doggy lottery the day he found us.


  1. Lara says

    My heart was breaking as I read this…
    I can only imagine how all of yours are faring right now…

    (((Hugs))) to all of you…


  2. christine fay says

    Very beautifully written, I think Chico would agree. My heart is sad for your family. We have 4 dogs and I could not imagine a day without them. It sounds to me like Chico won the human lottery and won big with the Slaughter family. Sending prayers for Chico.

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