Goodbye Good Boy: Ashes on Ash Wednesday

For the last five days and night, I’ve had a dead dog on the deck outside my living room.

Now, that wasn’t exactly a plan, but that’s how it came to pass when my beloved little Champy passed away on Valentine’s Day.

Champ became our dog–and my 10-year-old son’s “brother”–14 years ago. We went to the mall to buy a frame and ended up with a two-pound, white ball of fluff, a crate and food and water dishes. How much did we know about raising a dog? NOT MUCH.

“What are the top 5 things I should know about having a dog?” I smartly asked the kid who worked at the shop.

“Oh, you’ll be fine. Not much to know. It’s easy,” he stupidly replied. Sheesh.

So we went home and I immediately called an old friend who had the same kind of dog–a Maltese–to come right over. She brought the dog and her husband, who gave our dog his first bath in our kitchen sink. I was afraid to hold that tiny little wriggling thing! But I had to get the whole “skanky mall pet store” smell off him; I’m allergic to dogs!

Small as he was, he was mighty, and he showed that right off the bat. “You can just keep him right there in the mud room” (off the kitchen) said another friend who’d come to see the new dog the next day. “There’s such a big step there, he’ll never be able to–” oops, well, never mind,” she trailed off as Champ jumped that step with ease.


Over the years, we had a lot of fun with Champ, who was not what you’d call a good sport, but who was too little to resist too much; he’d try, but in the end, the whole “I’m way bigger than you and I want this shot” part of me usually won out.


When we first got Champ, we also got him a stuffed little doggie thing that looked just like him, all white hair and a little black nose. Swear to God, we came home one day and he and the toy were both sitting in his bed looking at us, not moving, and we couldn’t tell which was which. I don’t have that photo, but I do have this one:


When I took off for Ireland–as regular readers of this blog may remember–I left the dog behind. Seeing as how he’d been pooping all over the house (I guess he knew something was up), I wasn’t too sad to be going. After all, I was trying to save my soul from utter destruction. But I think that’s when things started to go south, as the nice folks who had agreed to watch him (Mike was in college) crated him at night. Now, most dogs don’t mind the crate, but Champ HATED being locked in anywhere, so he started biting at the crate so that, in the end, he didn’t have much in the way of teeth. Without teeth, we learned, dogs’ tongues just hang right out, and that’s the Champ we’ve had since.

champ (2)

I had to return from what was supposed to be a year abroad (hence the title of this blog) WAY early because of the dog, and I wrote about it a few times.

Resentful? Maybe a little, but I had gotten homesick anyway. It was okay to come home.

That was three years ago. Since then, Champ went from a sometimes wild, shaggy dog to a nearly bald little creature. We will never know what went wrong or if he just got really old after yet another move to a new home, but near the end, I felt like I was caring for a helpless, fragile little infant.

m (That’s Mike and what looks like a stuffed teddy bear!)

We figured out ways for Champ to eat with help and support, we diapered and lovingly changed him (seriously, with love), held him all the time and settled him down to sleep on a comfy bed with soft, comfortable blankets. We kept him as warm as we could, until he died, and we put the remains outside in like 20 degree weather to freeze solid.

Which brings me back to Valentine’s Day. I had been thinking that maybe Champ wasn’t just old and dying (he’d been to the Vet who said nothing was wrong)…maybe he did, indeed, have some disease that could be treated! Maybe it wasn’t time to say goodbye. So, I picked him up and put him in the sink, as I’d done a million times, to get him nice and clean for the Vet. I held him and poured warm water over his old bones. But it was his time, and he went quietly, in my arms, a few minutes after the bath.

His life as a happy, active, crazy dog was over already; we had been keeping him alive because we couldn’t bear to say goodbye.

We held him for a good long time, not knowing what to do next. As day turned into night, I swaddled him in a soft blanket, put him into the suggested plastic bag (a nice one), did not put him into the suggested freezer (ewww), but laid him in his bed and put the bed out on the deck, under a footstool, watched over by our Christmas angel that was still there in February.champ on porch

My friend called it an Irish Wake 😉 I should’ve been drunker.

As Saturday became Sunday and everything was closed, the little dog we’d kept so warm froze solid in the bitter cold, and my heart hurt. The pet place called on Monday and said they could do the private cremation (just Champ, not with other dogs, so we could be sure the ashes were his) if I could come right away. Oh, and they only took cash.

I hopped in the car and drove to the bank, my brakes beyond squealing and now scraping against those stupid rotors or whatever. I had to get them fixed, the mechanic telling me that “every scrape meant ten more dollars”–but when? I got all the way to the drive-up window before I realized, duh, that it was Presidents’ Day and they were closed. I called a friend. But who has that kinda cash laying around?

I went home, got another appointment for 9:30 am the next day, got another appointment to get the brakes fixed at 8:00 am, and put the dog back on the deck.

Then it snowed and I didn’t go anywhere all day.

Now it’s Wednesday and the brakes are fixed and I finally make my way over and I’m sitting in the waiting room perusing Facebook when I’m reminded, as my beloved pet is being “thawed out” for sure, that it’s Ash Wednesday and I almost laugh out loud except it isn’t really funny, except it sorta, kinda is, and I know, just then, that we’ll be alright.

Now, a pretty, little wooden box with Champ engraved in brass, sits next to the marble cube holding some of my Dad’s ashes, beside the purple candle from my friend’s funeral, amid the various remembrance cards, a New York Giants figurine of Plaxico Burress in mid-catch, a snow globe of New York, photos, a stuffed teddy wearing “Thanks, Dad” overalls, and an angel holding a banner that reads: We believe in Angels. I’m not sure that angels exist, but at times like this, I sure hope they do.

Rest in Peace, my little puppy. These last 14 years have been better because you were here and we can’t imagine what life would have been without you. You are truly missed.


April 1, 2000 ~ February 14, 2015





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