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Posted on Sep 4, 2019 in Blog, Uncategorized

When to Say Goodbye

When to Say Goodbye

Readers may have noticed a few days’ extra gap between my blog posts. A lot has been going on, some of which I can’t say much about at this point, and some of which is very difficult to talk about. There’s a moment in one of my books when a character experiences, within a short space of time, her greatest sorrow and her greatest joy, and often the two go hand in hand as if the universe wishes to console us at an especially sad moment, or humble us in the aftermath of a coveted achievement.

Charlie making a call from Diana Pinguicha’s phone, fall 2018.

Over the years, I’ve treated readers to stories and pictures of my playful little bichon frise, Charlie. He came to our home in the fall of 2004, when we lived in the suburbs of Albany and has moved multiple houses with us. In the Buckingham Pond neighborhood of Albany, where we lived from 2005 to 2015, he chased the ducks and geese from the walking path into the water and carried on a love-hate relationship with my friend’s miniature poodle, Tula, his walking companion. When we lived part-time in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan between 2013 and 2015, he charmed tourists and locals at the Pier 84 dog park and once tried to leave the enclosure with a German tourist who he’d befriended. Who said dogs were loyal?

Charlie, ready to go off with a German tourist at the Pier 84 dog run, summer 2014.

In fact, some breeds are known for their loyalty to one person, but what usually distinguishes the bichon frise is its indiscriminate sociability. Charlie adores anyone who pays attention to him. While we were in Portugal this year and our daughter’s teaching position was located too far away for her to come home and walk him during her lunch break, he went to live with one of my husband’s former graduate students and her boyfriend. They fell in love with Charlie, and he with them. This is typical for a breed that once sailed the high seas, performed stunts for the crew, and were often traded for food and equipment.

Charlie checking out what I brought back from Portugal, summer 2015.

Several weeks ago, Charlie turned 15, which is pretty much the upper limit of the bichon frise lifespan. And while he’s enjoyed good health for most of his life — walking a mile a day well past his fourteenth birthday, and running in circles with his tail stretched — his infirmities are catching up to him. Nowadays, he walks very slowly and only around the block. He was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, an endocrine disorder common in his breed, mast cell tumors, a heart murmur, arthritis, and the beginning of canine cognitive dysfunction, also known as “Dogzheimer’s.”

This morning I took Charlie to the vet for a large lump on the skin over his ribs and to discuss his end of life care. He was due for a (non-mandatory) vaccination, and we decided that his immune system was not capable of handling it because of the Cushing’s. The vet gave me a two-week course of antibiotics to shrink the mass. If it’s an infection, it should get better, but if it’s a tumor, it will not. We talked about the procedure for euthanasia, and at what moment we decide that Charlie’s quality of life is not high enough to justify his waking up in the morning. The truth is, a lot of times pet parents put their animals through elaborate and painful procedures for the sake of the human and not for the animal. In bringing Charlie into my home, my goal has been to give him a good and happy life.

Charlie from behind, spring 2018.

Charlie has already lived twice as long as his typical wolf ancestors. He sleeps deeply these days, and were he in the wild, a predator would have come upon him asleep and eaten him years ago. On one level, I imagine a hyena showing up and having him for a snack (he is, after all, a small dog and a lean one due to all that exercise), as it would spare me the burden of making the decision to put him down. People say he’ll “tell” us when he’s ready, and perhaps his recent friendliness toward all other dogs rather than barking and lunging at the big dogs is his acknowledgement that he will be in Doggie Heaven soon and he’d better learn to get along. Or maybe, as the vet said this morning, he knows he’s not Top Dog on the street and has come to terms with his changed status.

Charlie’s napping in the sunlight now, having rearranged our rug, his bed, and his toys. I can think for this moment that he’s the Immortal Bichon and live in this moment as all dogs do. But there will come a time, sooner rather than later, when he is no longer with us, and all that will remain are photos, stories, and memories.


Update 10/4: Charlie passed to the other side of the Rainbow Bridge last night, and now joins his canine friends, among them his best friend, Fredo the miniature poodle, after a separation of eleven years.


  1. Hi, Lyn. Thank you for this beautiful gift of a piece of your heart.

    You probably know that knowing when to say goodbye–and then doing what has to be done–is a painful but necessary act of love. What you’ve written here is permission for others to accept this fact of life for those of us who bring companion animals into our households.

    In the years that my young son and I did rescue work for small “classroom pets”–animals “discarded” when school let out for summer–we always planned for their futures, however short. With our dogs and cats, it was more difficult.

    I’ll stop my rambling now. More hugs than you can count.

    • Thank you for your understanding and support. That’s why I haven’t been as available as usual lately.

  2. Sorry, Lynn. It’s always hard.

    • Thank you, Patrice. He’s still hanging in there, and I hope the antibiotics work on his skin. I’m willing to treat him as long as it improves rather than reduces his quality of life.

  3. Dearest Lyn and Richard, I’ve wanted to ask you about Charlie for the last few years, but didn’t want to hear that he’s no longer on Earth. I too fell in love with Charlie when I took care of him in July/August 2007 just before I moved to Boston. It’s true, on our walks he thought he was bigger and more powerful than dogs ten times bigger than him on our path. I love how they just looked at him wondering what’s going on with this fellow and move on down the path. You and Richard are compassionate and listening for right time for Charlie to go to doggie heaven. You’re both beautiful people and will do exactly the right thing at the right time. I send my love to your beautiful Charlie and also love and support to you and Richard in this difficult time. Love, Kathryn

    • Thank you for checking in, for being Charlie’s friend, and for sharing these memories. Sometimes his barking at other dogs was a little embarrassing, but know that we were able to train him, at the age of 11, to be a better canine citizen on the sidewalk. Sending love to you as well.

  4. Oh, it is so hard to make the decision. But you said exactly what helped me when I was faced with the question of “when.” I brought my dog into our home to give him the happiest life. Keeping that in mind is important. I didn’t want Buddy to be stressed at the end of his life. I am keeping you both in my thoughts and prayers. What a beautiful tribute to his life and your love for him.


    • Thank you, Mary-Walker. I wanted to honor him while he’s still here, because I know I’ll be too sad after he’s gone.

  5. Awe, Charlie. I just love him so much. I’m so glad I got to see him last week. ❤️ Enjoy your time with him. ????

    • Thank you, Sandra. I’m also glad you had the chance to see him — and we got to see each other!

  6. Lynn, this is beautiful. Sending luck and love. I’m sorry it’s so hard.


    • Thank you, Mo. It’s always hard with the pups — they definitely leave pawprints on our hearts.

  7. Oh Lyn. What a beautiful post about Charlie. Such a sweet dog. What a difficult decision. ????

    • Thank you, Linda. I wanted to do justice to him, in words and in deeds.

  8. Lyn, this was such a lovely post. I admire how you mix in sentimental moments with funny ones. I’m sorry for what you’re going through. I’ve just had this exact experience this summer, and we had to put our sweet dog Ginger down just a few days ago. She was only 10 but had a very aggressive cancer. It’s so hard to know when is the right time, even when you know they’re in pain and their days are numbered. It was truly one of the worst days of my life. And I miss her! I wish I could write something as well rounded and touching as you have here. Thank you. ????

    • Thank you, Sabrina. I’m sorry about Ginger, and my thoughts are with you and your family. I’m sure you’ll write something when you’re ready. I wanted to write this while Charlie’s still alive, because I don’t think I’ll be able to once he’s gone.

  9. Dear Lyn,

    I’ve become very fond of dogs in my old age. It’s always sad to see them at this point in their lives, but I know you gave each other every ounce of companionship and affection you both had to give. Hold onto that joy, support each other through the separation. A good friend is a gift forever.


    Mae Pelster

    • Thank you, Mae. It is tough to see them when they’re old and frail because you remember them when they’re young and frisky. It wasn’t so long ago! And you’re right: A good friend is a gift forever. Sending love to you and your family.

  10. I am sorry to hear that you are at this point with your furry friend. Our furry friend is 14 and we are also not looking forward to saying goodbye. It’s been hard to see him losing sight, hearing, and some of his agility. It’s never easy to think about the parting and I know it’s tough to know for sure when it’s time to let go. I wish you the best as you move along this path.

    • Thank you, Crystal. For the moment, he seems to be doing better, thanks to antibiotics that have cleared up an infection. I’m enjoying this bonus time with him, and he seems to be enjoying it as well.

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