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She waddled and snuffled right into my life, the biggest puppy I had ever seen, when I had just turned nine. At ten weeks old, this thirty pound package of sassy fluff moved into our home and straight into my heart. From the moment we brought her home, Charlotte took on the role of protector, confidant, wild child, and steadfast pal, and she held me firmly within her generous and noble heart.
She was there when I learned to play Christmas carols on the guitar and was there when I brought home my first fiddle. She stayed at my side during the earliest squeakings of “Old Joe Clark” and on through the shuffles I learned at music camp. I’d sit out in the north pasture and snuggle in the crook of a walnut tree to play my mandolin, and she’d be there as my audience of one (unless you counted the thousands of dragonflies, two horses, sixty or so goats, a few meandering cats, and our small flock of chickens).
As a Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog, Charlotte was serious about her work and as a family member she was playful about her play. She was obstinate and wise, noble and goofy. Whether she was t-boning a mountain lion out of her territory or standing withers-deep in the stock tank like a big doof, we were her pack and we were hers to protect.
We traveled a lot with Charlotte and that girl loved loved loved festivals. Kids would excitedly call her a polar bear, and everyone would marvel at her size (125#), her softness, and her calm, benevolent demeanor. Kids would mob her, sometimes five or six at a go, and she always enjoyed their attentions. Even the person having the crabbiest day would absolutely transform when communing with her.
For some years now I’ve noticed that people would remember Charlotte’s name but not mine, and that’s all right by me. Just last summer at the CBA Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival, I was straightening a banner when a teen dude came up and asked, “Hey, are you Charlotte’s dad?” He didn’t know my name but he sure remembered Charlotte – from years ago at Susanville Bluegrass Festival.
We usually keep a doggy pool (aka “Lake Little Social Club”) at our festival campsites during the warm weather. Last week a tween girl reminded me that she and her friends still laugh at the photos from when they were pre-schoolers and joined Charlotte in that pool – six years ago at King’s River Bluegrass Festival. The same thing happened when I ran into a guy who remembered her from a many years past Plymouth Bluegrass Festival. She made friends at renaissance and celtic fairs, reggae roots, country and county fairs and we are all better for it.
Charlotte reached the grand old age of fourteen this year, and on New Year’s Eve she departed this earthly plane. Amidst the sorrow there are the stories and the lessons and most of all, the love. Here are but a few things my dog taught me about everything:
She taught me to reach out to others because her open-hearted loving nature drew people to us who we might normally pass by. And connection is a very good thing. She taught me to always protect those you love with everything you’ve got. She showed me that sometimes you just have to let go and let fur happen. And she knew that it’s always worth coming around for seconds if the meal was good.
Charlotte showed me how a snout to the crotch creates the perfect fulcrum to enhance a proper petting. She taught me that everything in life is a discovery. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a well-worn trail or not because you’re the one that gets to choose the viewpoint. She ate the vomit and was not one bit sorry about it. She showed me what the choice of real loyalty looks like, even when she refused to come when called. She reminded me that yes, horse manure truly is the food of the gods, and that window slobber is just dog art in disguise.
She taught me that every car trip is an adventure. And that flapping your gums in the wind can be the best thing ever. She taught me to live like someone left the gate open. Charlotte never wished she was taller or stronger or fluffier. She knew she was perfect from the get-go and that’s something for us all to remember. She taught me about trusting my gut because there were too many times to count when she knew things, heard things, and intuited things we did not. She showed me what unconditional love and kindness looks like. And naps. Charlotte was big on naps. She taught me that every scritch on the ears is the very best scritch on the ears. And she showed me that pretty much every sorrow can be helped with a nice biscuit and a belly rub.
She taught me the lesson of being more in the present because you never know when the last time will be. With anyone. And best of all, she knew that the secret to life, the universe and everything is…SQUIRREL!!!
Our beloved Charlotte (2003 – 2017): Forever would not have been long enough, and whatever our souls are made of, hers and ours are the same.