When I was a kid growing up in Cincinnati, there were nine members of my family living under one roof. This included my parents, five siblings, me … and Frankie, our dog. Originally saddled with the moniker,“Frankie VI,” this “apricot” (really? he always looked brown to me) poodle was the offspring of “Brown Elf of the Studio” and “Bon Bon of Crevelings.” Frankie’s snobbish breeders picked the wrong home if they thought “Frankie VI” would be primped and coddled in the same manner his parents were. Frankie was our pal. We never subjected him to the hair stylings customarily imposed on poodles. And we certainly did not train him for any shows. He was our friend, our buddy, our pooch. Frankie was born in September of 1958, so I was only two-ish when he arrived to 1221 Avon Drive in Cincy. For a long while, he was not my dog. Frankie and I were both puppies in that house. But over time, as my five brothers and sisters headed for new landscapes, abandoning 1221 for their own green pastures, Frankie gradually bonded with me, and I with him so that, by my teen years, we were inseparable. And because of that, I figured I’d be a dog owner my entire life.
Not so. Frankie died, having lived a pretty good, long life, when I was sixteen. My mom and I were alone in the house by then, and bringing home a new pup wasn’t in the cards. She was busy. And I was too self-involved to take on such responsibility. So high school finished up, and I took off for college where I met Ellen. She had a great dog named Sam. A beautiful, blonde, shaggy mutt, who befriended me probably thinking I was an easy mark for extra snacks. He was right. After college, Ellen moved to New York and neither of us could take care of Sam. We were extremely fortunate that Sam’s vet had also fallen in love with him and offered to adopt him. That was 1978, and the last time I’d be sharing digs with a canine until this year.
The kids and I had actually been talking about getting a dog for a very long time. Jonah and Katie had lobbied for one pretty much from forever. But Ellen had her hands full with three kids and “Dad, Mom’s other child,” so she said we could get a dog if she never had to do anything to take care of it. Well, I was still not quick to volunteer for more responsibility, and Katie and Jonah, sweet as they were about asking for a dog, simply couldn’t be relied upon to manage one, so we put it off until some future opportunity.
Jonah wouldn’t get that opportunity. But Katie, having returned home for two years of graduate school said, “Dad, it’s now or never.” So Aiden, Katie and I visited a couple of local animal shelters. At the one in Elmsford, NY, we were introduced to a little fella named Drake who had flown up from North Carolina in an airplane that had been retrofitted for animal rescue, dodging the death sentence mandatory for dogs that go unadopted down there. Unlike most of the other dogs in the Elmsford Animal Shelter, this one wasn’t in a crate; the staff liked keeping him behind the counter to hang out with them. An excellent sign. We took the little guy for a walk, liked him right away, and asked them not to do anything with him until we had a chance to convince Ellen it was time. Two days later, Ellen returned with us to the shelter and, an hour later, we had a dog in the backseat of our car.
We were encouraged to find him a new name, just in case the old one carried any unfortunate memories. I left that task to Aiden and Katie who immediately named him after the little British kid in the viral YouTube video who bites his brother’s finger, a video all three of my children loved watching over and over. And that’s how, on June 24, 2010, “Charlie” became the newest Dreskin.
The ironic comparison between Charlie and Jonah is not lost on me. In a tragic instant, a single, heartrending moment, our boy of nineteen years is gone. Fifteen months later, in a series of similarly brief moments, Charlie enters a kill-shelter, evades death as he is rescued from that kill-shelter, finds his way to us some 600-700 miles away in New York, and now sleeps with his little body nuzzled up against the warm radiator in our home and the warm love in our hearts.
I don’t believe in fate, but I do think we give critical meaning to the random events that make up our lives. Jonah was not supposed to die, and yet my mind still struggles to figure out why he did. Charlie was not supposed to come to us, but I love considering him as a gift Jonah sent our way. Because, I have to tell you, there’s more to this pup than his cute face. Charlie’s essential puppiness reminds me so very clearly of Jonah’s “puppiness.” He was such a playful guy. He loved nothing more than to engage in goofiness that would bring a smile (if not also a gasp or two) to someone’s face. And the smile that would appear on his own at these moments, you just knew he was getting a bigger kick out of it than you were.
And something else. From time to time, I like to go into Jonah’s room and curl up on his couch to read a book or just look at the posters and other decor from his high school years. More often than not, Charlie follows me in there and loves nothing more than to curl up on the alpaca rug on Jonah’s floor. I remember the trip to South Carolina where Jonah first discovered that alpaca rug. I remember his curling up on it in almost the same way Charlie does, with the same look of heaven illuminating his face.
I know I’m making more out of this than there really is, but I choose to see a connection between that pooch and my son. Yes, one walked upright and the other on all fours, but these two puppies could have come from the same litter. I love that.
Six months ago, a little beagle/basset hound mix came into our family. We fell in love with him pretty quickly. It’s clear to me now that we got far more than we’d bargained for. Did you see the film, Pretty Woman? Richard Gere’s character asks, “So what happened after he climbed up the tower and rescued her?” And Julia Robert’s character answers, “She rescues him right back.” Our family has carried on in the months (now, nearly “years”) since Jonah’s death. But unbridled joyfulness was difficult to come by. A little dog we rescued named Charlie has helped us turn that around. And by doing so, he’s made himself a precious part of our family.
Jonah would have adored him.