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Walking beside me

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In the ten years that he was in our lives our beautiful lurcher, Chuck enriched them so much.  Looking back, I see not only was he my friend, soul mate and teacher, he was the ‘backbone’ of my life. 

Since he transitioned in September this year, I’ve felt gentle intuitive nudges to share some of our story. Writing this has been a slow process. Much like Chuck and I on some of our walks in his latter months, I’ve had no sense to rush 😉! I know that writing this helps me and perhaps sharing it may help others too.

Chuck first came into our lives in Spring 2011.  Matt was waiting to start a new job and wanted to do something useful, so he had decided to go and volunteer at a local dog rescue centre. Chuck was the first dog he walked there.  I remember him coming home and telling me ‘I’ve walked the Arnold Schwarzenegger of dogs today’ and showing me a picture of Chuck, a big and well-muscled lurcher.

Matt walked lots of other dogs over the following weeks but clearly Chuck had touched him. He suggested that I might like to meet him too. So, one Saturday we went over to the rescue centre together and I met this special boy.  As soon as Matt handed me his lead I was overcome with emotion. I found his energy incredible, he had such a strong and reassuring presence. I recall saying to Matt that walking next to Chuck was like having a big brother alongside me.

The next time I met Chuck I went to greet him myself as he was led out from the kennels. As he looked up into my eyes he shared ‘I know you’.  I knew this wasn’t just him recognising me at a physical level, it was deeper than that. In that moment I knew that he and I had a special connection, a deep soul connection.  Chuck became an integral part of our lives. Every weekend and whenever else we could, we would go and walk him, we both loved being with him.

At the time we were living in rented accommodation, whilst building work on our house was being completed, so couldn’t offer Chuck a home. Before we had met him the rescue had previously homed him, but he had been brought back to them because he kept trying to get out of the house. The rescue said he was very happy in the kennels, so much so that they used him to help other dogs that weren’t settling there. Because of this they felt he needed a kennel and run in his new home, so that he could live outside.

One day, over 18 months after we had first met Chuck, when the building work on our house was nearing completion, I was stood with Chuck, chatting with the owner of the dog rescue. She was saying she didn’t understand why he was still there as he was the nicest dog in the rescue. We discussed perhaps it was because he was a very large dog and that was putting people off, or perhaps it was his need to live outside which wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea and not everyone was in a position to offer. In that moment Chuck shared with me ‘I can live outside at Hilly’. ‘Hilly’ was the nickname for our home. Over the following weeks I gently wore Matt down. Eventually he agreed and I started looking into suitable kennel options.  

In December 2013 Chuck came to join our family.  He didn’t settle initially, hardly surprising given he’d been living in the kennels for over 2 years. We spent the first 3 months of his life with us moving him between our home and the rescue centre on a daily basis. Over this period we gradually extended the length of time he spent at ‘Hilly’ each day until he was happily here all day and for ‘sleep overs’. 

Over this time I got to know the road between us and the rescue centre very well.  I still associate that road so strongly with Chuck. I find it amusing that now on that road there’s a van selling refreshments called ‘The Chuck stop’! The rescue centre were amazingly helpful and supportive until he was with us full time. It was not until much later on, through my communications with him, that I came to understand some of the reason behind his difficulty settling and his wish not to live in a house.

Chuck became the catalyst for us exploring more of the Norfolk countryside.  Matt used to love finding new routes for us to walk.  Chuck was so happy in the car we could travel for miles and miles with him quite contentedly.  Thanks to Chuck we would be out in the countryside or exploring most weekends. Sometimes our seaside walks would end with fish and chips, always shared 3 ways!

Matt wished for Chuck to be in the house with us, but I knew it wasn’t what he wanted.  I knew how sensitive he was to his surrounding and that there would be too much stimulus in the home for him to be settled. Later I came to understand that his desire to be outside was not only because of his sensitivity but also linked to an earlier traumatic experience.

He loved to walk and so walk and walk he and I did. People who saw us out used to comment on how we seemed to cover miles. We did! Chuck and I would have two long walks a day and that was our routine. Matt lived away from home for work during the week and Chuck offered me great company. We would walk and ‘chat’. I loved our time together. Chuck was happy to walk whatever the weather. I can count on one hand the number of times he refused a walk because of the weather.

He became very well known and loved in our local neighbourhood with people usually more interested in greeting him than me! He was a people magnet and had a big fan club who loved to stroke him, from toddlers through to pensioners. People would cross the road to come and see him.

Despite being a big dog small children were drawn to him and he would stand patiently whilst they patted his head and stroked him.  There was something about Chuck that instilled a calmness and confidence in people. Chuck helped my niece overcome her fear of dogs.  When she first met him she didn’t want to be close to him, but after a couple of days of being around him she was cuddling and kissing him and insisting on helping to hold his lead.  Within the year my sister’s family had a dog of their own. I can think of other families with children who’s experience of meeting Chuck helped to build their confidence with dogs and now have their own dogs too.

Chuck didn’t just work his magic with Children though. I recall one time when a lady came up to Matt and I and said she was scared of dogs but asked if she could stroke Chuck. He stood so still whilst she did. It was a touching moment.

For a sighthound he had an amazing nose on him and the ability to sniff out something tasty at 40 paces. I lost count of how many times I would find myself trying to remove something he had found to snack on after his head had disappeared into a hedge.  The most memorable was probably a whole jam donut, that was a messy experience!

Chuck had the most amazing eyes that just oozed love and that remained a constant.  I recall our vet commenting, just months prior to his transition, about how clear his eyes were for his age. His eyes would follow you around and when you looked at him, he really looked back at you, like he was looking deep into your soul. He wasn’t in your face with affection, instead he emitted a consistent flow of love that everyone who met him or interacted with him felt.

Over the years he changed not only in physical appearance but as an individual too and so did Matt and I. I believe we all learnt from each other, but I think mostly we learnt from him.

One of the most noticeable changes I felt in him was an opening up to become more and more receptive to cuddles and affection. It was wonderful to feel this change in him. I noticed how when I was out walking him more and more people would mistake him for a female dog. I knew that was because of the softening I had felt in him, this increased receptivity.

In 2018 he gave us a bit of a shock when he ended up at a referral vet after an acute mobility issue. All his scans were clear, but he was diagnosed with underactive thyroid. Thankfully he made a good recovery and we started to enjoy our long walks again.

Over the year and a half prior to his transition he started to show signs of aged related mobility issues. Alongside excellent vet care we sought support for him with hydrotherapy, chiropractic treatment, physiotherapy and acupuncture.  We changed where we were walking, finding soft surfaces with interest, rather than street walking and our walks became shorter. One of our favourite places to walk became some local woods.  Our walks became less about covering distance and more about ambling and taking everything in. I noticed how our walks were going from ‘doing’ to much more ‘being’. 

As Chuck was needing more support it was necessary to bring him into the home in order to be able to care for him properly. We did this gradually over a period of months starting with just meal times, until eventually he was comfortable to be in our main living area with us.  It was so precious to have him in the home with us after all this time. The cats adapted so well and were so loving and caring with him it was a joy to see.  The fact he was able to do this was a reflection of the fact that he was overcoming his early life trauma and allowing healing.

As the changes in him continued we felt into the situation on a daily basis. Chuck was such a determined dog and ‘Team Chuck’ worked hard to support him however we best could. 

People were passing comment about it being ‘his time’ and although their comments were well intentioned, I could feel a strong resistance in him to that path. So, I trusted that the time wasn’t yet and we continued to do all we could for him.  I felt a very strong sense to go inward during this time and screen out external ‘noise’.  To some I may have looked like I was avoiding the situation, but I was wanting to ensure I was following Chuck’s wishes and my inner guidance not other’s views.

A few weeks before he transitioned, I had the sense that we needed to see where he settled without too much intervention. We stopped the weekly acupuncture. I felt that one of the medications we had him on was making him less stable on his legs, so we gradually reduced that and then stopped it.  I’d noticed a heaviness in him that I couldn’t access and then one day he told me ‘There is energy in my field that needs clearing’. I asked him if it would help him if it was cleared and his reply was ‘It will help us all’.  I had an energy clearing carried out for him that week.  The difference in him after the clearing was palpable. I felt the resistance to transitioning and entering his next phase had softened and whilst I didn’t know when it would be, it felt imminent.

In his last week he and I would just sit together for hours in a serene state.  I came to understand this was about holding space for things to unfold and that I had to just allow and not try to control things.  We were both holding space for one another. It was a partnership.

There was something that had been hindering him physically and all of us (Matt, Chuck and I) felt this needed to be explored and that that would determine the flow. So, we asked for help from some animal health professionals.  I believe in miracles and at one level part of me was wishing for one.  I had to recognise that desire in me and trust the answers that were given. So, with the information we’d been given about his body we sat as a family and talked about what it meant.  At this time I started to feel how his energy had transcended the physical issue in his body, so I knew that his decision was made, it was purely about timing. Chuck had told me on numerous occasions that when the time came he would need help.

Matt and I had been taking it in turns to sleep by him at night time as he would wake in the night, often more than once. That night was the first night in a very long time that he had slept through all night, I had been with him and it had been such a peaceful and serene night.

The next morning after such a peaceful night Matt, Chuck and I sat together. Chuck wasn’t forcing us to make a decision. He trusted us. Matt and I knew we could extend this out if we sought to, but for who?  Us not Chuck. So, we as a family came to our decision.  There was a lot of emotion, in waves for both Matt and I, but it felt right. 

I was sitting quietly with Chuck later and he sensed a question in me and responded ‘sometimes it is just time’. With that for me, the serenity came. It was time to flow, allow and trust.  I arranged for the vet that had cared for Chuck for so many years to come to our home that evening to assist Chuck with his transition.

A few hours before there was the most incredible thunderstorm, it felt like a massive release of energy, and then during it as the sun shone a rainbow appeared over Chuck’s kennel. I knew it was confirmation that all was well.

His transition was very peaceful and Matt and I were with him. We placed with his beautiful body a symbol of hope for all of us from the prior few weeks. A bloom from the beautiful Dahlia that I grew for the first time this year. Over the prior month I’d watched the flowers bloom and fade, some taking time to unfold, some fading slowly, some fading quickly. Each one bringing me joy. I felt that in some way they were linked to the process with Chuck.

After all my years communicating with animals in spirit, I knew that we would always be connected. I also knew that as the emotion settled, I would feel Chuck’s presence more easily. However, knowing this ‘academically’ didn’t give me the peace I was seeking after his transition.

In fact I found as the days went on the emotions were coming more often. It was as if there were two distinct aspects of me playing out. The ‘deeper’ wiser part of me that knew that this was Chuck’s time and that all was as it was meant to be and felt at peace with the situation. However, my ‘emotional self’ was struggling to comprehend it and felt overwhelmed. It was as if there was a tug of war going on between these two aspects and as the days went on it felt like the emotional aspect was ‘winning’.

One day after a massive release of emotion I had clarity.  I realised I’d been trying to ‘dam up’ my feelings and as a result they were building and building.  I needed to acknowledge them and express them, and allow the emotion to flow but at the same time not get swept away by it.

I also recognised that I needed space from people whilst I processed. People were being kind and caring and understanding but it was as if my ‘emotional self’ became activated by their sympathy and their perspective on grief and loss. My natural sensitivity to other people’s feelings was amplifying things for me, so I needed space on my own without too much interaction with people, whilst I came into a place of greater balance.

I know nature is a place that helps me to find balance for myself and so I knew I had to get myself back out in nature again. The thought of walking in the woods where Chuck and I had spent so much time felt overwhelming, as did the thought of telling people who knew Chuck that walked there.  Yet I knew I just had to do it. So the next morning I got myself out. I met a fellow dog walker who knew Chuck and I.  We talked and hugged and the experience helped me with the initial hurdle of being there without Chuck.

The next few times I walked there the tears just flowed. Over the weeks as I have continued my woods walks, I’ve started to feel calmer. I feel that there is a less of a tug of war at play inside me. Some days I feel serene, like I did when Chuck and I used to walk there together, some days I feel joyful and some days I still feel sad. This morning I saw someone that I hadn’t told yet and respecting my need for space my reaction was to head straight into the woods, rather than stop to talk.

I’ve noticed on days when I am less emotional how I can feel Chuck’s presence with me more strongly. Sometimes it’s as if he’s an excited young dog bounding to and from me as I walk. Other days I can feel his energy as a calm presence walking alongside me. It was on one of these days that my memory went back to some months before when we had been in the woods. I recalled saying to him how I would miss him when he wasn’t walking with me anymore in these woods. As clear as the day that he told me he could live outside at Hilly he told me ‘I will always walk beside you’.

I tell myself those words quite often at the moment. I find it helpful and reassuring to do so. Especially on the days that I’m not as easily able to feel his presence. At the moment being in a nature is the place that I am most easily able to connect with him. So, a wonderful motivation to keep walking in the woods is that it enables me to feel his beautiful energy more easily.

I have such gratitude for this most amazing being. Our journey together has been full of richness and treasure and I believe that as he has ‘walked with us’ so we have ‘walked with him’, assisting one another on our respective paths. 

Very early on in knowing Chuck I asked him what the meaning of life was for him, he response was ‘peace’. I believe in these past ten years we have all journeyed a little bit further along that path of peace together.

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