Your name was chosen before you were. I was watching some TV show, and there was a character on there by the name of Chelsea. And I thought, “If I ever get a dog, that’s what I’ll name her.” Our family had had another dog before, and he passed away when I was eight. Mom and Dad swore off getting any future pets. After 3 and a half years of putting up with my whining, Dad consented. On February 16, 1987 (President’s Day), Mom and I went down to the Animal Cruelty Society in search of a puppy. Dad’s guidelines had been made clear. It must be a female. She must have short hair, so as to limit shedding (Dad is allergic to fur). She must be no older than four months old. And she must not have been a stray.
There were many dogs at the shelter. A few fit the criteria. I saw you standing in your cage. You were a gorgeous black lab with a white spot on your chest. You had just gotten fed, but you were too nervous to eat. They had you in a cage right above a doberman who was barking his head off. The noise bothered you. We read the card on your cage. You were a girl, so that was good. As a black labrador mix, we figured the hair would do. Your estimated age was 6 months. We figured Dad would bend a little on that rule. And, to my great dismay, you were a stray. After much prodding, Mom and I drove down the block to the nearest pay phone. Mom called Dad at work. Dad would not accept a stray. We got back in the car and went back to the shelter. I could not (actually would not) find another acceptable dog. I had seen you, and you were perfect. And I knew that you were my Chelsea. After more crying on my part, and another trip to the pay phone, Dad made a deal. We would try you out, but if there was a problem, it was back to the shelter. I knew in my heart that you would never go back, because anyone would love you. You were perfect.
So we took you out of the cage and I held you for the first time. You were about 40 pounds and full of energy. You gave me puppy kisses and wagged your tail. You became mine. We took you home. Your first act upon arriving home was to pee on the downstairs carpet. Being 11 (almost 12) years old, I took this as a sign of your brilliance. “Mom, she peed! She’s marking her territory! She knows she’s home!” You met Grandma and Megan and Uncle Jim. Megan was 5 (almost 6) years old and she was very disappointed about not having been able to help pick you out. She wanted to name you Leonard. For some reason, she could not grasp the idea that “Leonard” was not a good name for a girl dog. That, my dear friend, is why your middle name is Leonard. When Dad got home, you gave him the same greeting you had given all of us. And you became Daddy’s Little Girl.
I have so many memories of you flowing through me right now. We got you a red sweater for your first Christmas. I think it took three people to get you into it. I don’t know if dogs are able to be embarrassed, but I’m pretty sure that was the look on your face that day. You were mortified about having to wear that silly sweater. (To be honest, I don’t blame you). We used to put bunny ears on you at Easter, and reindeer antlers at Christmas, and bows in your hair on birthdays. You were much too dignified for such things, but we tried anyway. On my wedding day, Mom even had a corsage made and put onto a new collar for you. I appreciate the fact that you didn’t chew off the flowers.
Your favorite song was “Happy Birthday.” When you heard that being sung, you knew there was cake. And if there was cake, you were getting a piece. You got a plate of food on Thanksgiving and Christmas. You were afraid of loud noises. We had to give you “doggy downers” every Fourth of July so you wouldn’t be too freaked out. You hated thunderstorms because of the noise. You wouldn’t go out in the rain because you were afraid of water. You’ve only ever snapped at someone twice that I know of. One turned out to be a stalker, and one turned out to generally be a jerk. You always were a good judge of character. When you were in the backyard too long, and got tired of sitting by the door, you would ring the doorbell. Obviously, this was conditioning at work, but frankly, for a dog that was pretty damn smart.
I could go on with these memories, but it’s just making it harder for me right now. Today we had to take you for your final visit to the vet. You are about 15 years old (we estimated your birthday as August 16th). You could hardly see or hear anything anymore. Your kidneys were failing, and you were having trouble walking. As much as we didn’t ever want to have to do it, we brought you in to be put to sleep. Mom and I took the day off work. Mom and Megan and I wrapped you in your blanket and took you to the doctor. We all said our goodbyes and you went to sleep. You were very peaceful. You had stopped eating and drinking water, and we felt that you were telling us that you were ready. It was hard to let you go. We all love you so much. You were always a wonderful companion to us. You gave us all of your love and your loyalty. We wanted to give you a peaceful ending to the pain. We have always tried to be a good family to you. This was our final act of love.
I believe that all dogs do go to heaven. Grandma and Uncle Jim will be there with you. I know it won’t be home, but you can be young again there. I hope that there are birthday cakes and Thanksgiving dinners. I hope you’ll still get a milkbone treat every morning. And I hope that there are no thunderstorms.
What I did today was one of the hardest things I will ever have to do. I almost didn’t want to be there. But I was there 14 years ago to take you out of that cage, and I felt that it was only right for me to be there when you left us. I owe you that much. I will never know for sure if I picked you or if you picked me. Either way, I was always glad we had each other. And you will always have a part of my heart.