When Charlie stopped eating completely, a magpie started showing up and I swear to god, it was Eli. Magpies are common in Wyoming but I’ve never, in fifteen years, seen magpies here around the house. This magpie flew in every day and hung out on Charlie’s fence. It flicked its tail around the exact same way that Eli flicked his tail. When it first appeared, the magpie made me furious and scared because of that old rhyme – “one for sorrow, two for mirth, three’s a wedding, four a birth” – that rhyme is about magpies. When I realized the magpie was Eli, I knew I had to prepare myself, and in my sorrow, I was glad Eli had come back to guide Charlie. That’s what big brothers do.

Our last full day together was one of the best days of the year. Charlie and I spent the entire day outside, and the day was warm and mild. The magpie was on the fence flicking its tail and chattering to us. Charlie rested and I sat beside him with my knitting. He was so relaxed, smiling in his sleep, so totally at peace, the soft dome of his head a halo of sunlight. We lounged and talked and gazed at each other and nothing else existed for the whole day. In the evening, Charlie decided we should go on a little walk. He set the pace and direction, and I walked beside him until he was ready to go inside, where he stretched out on his down-covered bed. I stayed up late, just watching him.

The next morning, Charlie slept in. He went outside at 8:08 am. I know this because I checked the clock to give him ten minutes to come back inside before I went out to be with him. When I joined him, he was curled up on the sunny eastern-facing hillside, nestled under a big rabbit brush. I sat down near him, watched him and talked to him. And then, just before 9, he was gone, as light and quick as a dandelion seed lifting off on the breeze.

Charlie died of kidney failure. I can’t know this for sure, of course, but based on the speed of this whole thing, his eventual refusal to eat, and the anemia that was apparent from his tongue (it got progressively pale and was nearly white by the end), my vet said all signs pointed to kidney failure, too advanced by the time he showed symptoms to have done anything about. Charlie seemed to be improving for a couple of weeks which is why I thought it was arthritis and which, frankly, was the only reason I was capable of sharing that first update – and I’m so glad I did. Having you all looped in has helped me more than I ever could have imagined. We buried Charlie under his favorite tree.

There are so many ways this could have played out worse – for Charlie and for me (a long illness with low quality of life, a level of pain that required euthanasia, losing him suddenly to a poacher, Mike and me dying first). The only way it could have been easier is for both of us to die simultaneously in a gas leak explosion. Dying together in a gas leak explosion is literally the best case scenario when it comes to loving someone…. and we know this…. and still we choose love. This is something to be proud of.

I always knew my time with Charlie was fleeting. I always knew it was a once in a lifetime experience, and I didn’t take one moment for granted. Every single time he howled, I stopped what I was doing and reveled in the song – even if I was on the phone, even if Mike and I were in the middle of a conversation, even if I was in the middle of writing a sentence. Every day was a special day because it was a day with Charlie. Every night, I didn’t fall asleep until Charlie came in and curled up next to me. Every time I saw him, I smiled. Every photograph was a gift. This is not hyperbole – this is why I started taking pictures with him on our very first day together, and this never changed, not as days became weeks and weeks became months and months became years and the years went well beyond a decade. I never took one day, one smile, one song for granted. Every single one was a treasure. And I got to be with Charlie for nearly fourteen years, longer than I ever dreamed.

I’m doing OK considering the circumstances, and mention this because I know some of you are worried about me. If you’ve read The Daily Coyote: Ten Years in Photographs or Meditations with Cows, you’ve read variations of my essay on grief. Writing that piece was so hard, just unbelievably painful. I was sobbing with every word, every edit. But I’m so glad I wrote it, because doing so helped me immensely in processing my past, present, and future grief. It is the reason I am not off a cliff right now.

Chloe has been pretty neglected for the last month and she is thrilled to be my therapy dog. She’s glued to me and just so gentle and sweet. Friends have come through with an array of controlled substances so that I may self-medicate as needed. Mike and I reminisce about Charlie’s life and antics and laugh and cry. I continue to read your heartfelt emails.

The void is excruciating and I look for him a hundred times a day – we all do. But when I call out to his spirit, I find myself unable to utter any of my sadness. Because when I connect with him (which I do so vividly it can only be described as a psychedelic experience) the sadness disappears. I tell him I love him, and I say thank you, thank you for all the time we had. My gratitude for what we had together is like the brightest sunlight burning away the shadows. Feelings of thanks and feelings of love are the feelings I’m left with.

One of the threads that runs through Meditations with Cows is a scrutiny of entitlement and greed. I thought a lot about entitlement and greed while writing that book, on many levels – personal, interpersonal, societal; the ways we are conditioned to accept and even glorify greed; and the ways this conditioning (and my efforts to unlearn it) have affected me as an individual. All that work has helped me cope in the most unexpected way. Instead of drowning in thoughts of ‘I want more, why can’t I have more?’, I’ve been cocooned in gratitude for all that I got. All the time I got with Charlie, all the laughs, all the lessons, all the love. I got to have so much. And I’ll never not have it. I am so thankful.

The day after Charlie died, it struck me for the first time just how huge Charlie was in the world. I never thought much about that – intellectually, I understood it but it never fully registered; I never really felt it. And it just hit me for the first time – Charlie, this individual little coyote, was in People Magazine and Vanity Fair and newspapers around the globe! I was so baked (for the first time in years) and laughing hysterically and sobbing hysterically at the same time (which is really hard to do) at the magic of Charlie, and the reach of his magic. His story, his life, has been translated into multiple languages around THE WORLD. Charlie! Charlie was in all those homes and phones and offices and schools through the internet. Charlie was a superstar! God, what fun for him. He got to just live and run and dance and play and eat like a king and sleep in a bed – he got to be himself, oblivious to all that… but I know he felt it, the way I finally felt it for the first time. He felt that all the time, I know.

one year ago: Goldilooks
two years ago: Rabbit Brush Bouquet
three years ago: Floral Arrangement
four years ago: Over Yonder
five years ago: Hey Hey Hey
six years ago: An Easy Smile
seven years ago: Sunny Outlook
eight years ago: August Warmth
nine years ago: Alpine Aristocrat
ten years ago: Backlit Beauty
eleven years ago: Do you know you quite often make the typo “elf leg” instead of “elk leg”?
twelve years ago: Riding High

Having spent a full third of my life working online, it’s not often that I’m surprised by The Internet anymore. But to say last week surprised me is a massive understatement. I have been in complete awe of the response to my post about Charlie. I’ve received close to three thousand emails, and ten times that in telepathic messages. They’re still coming in, each one so full of love and connection and kindness and care. Some are just a few words, some are several paragraphs with stories and photos of your beloved animal companions. Some make me laugh and some let me cry. I’m still reading through all your messages but know that I am reading each and every one of them. So much good advice, so many kind and loving words. Thank you for showing me how profoundly Charlie has touched your lives.

Along with info on medication and supplements, there have been numerous suggestions for a heated dog bed. Charlie lost his privileges to be around cords a long time ago but I loved the idea of a warmer bed for him. Charlie has always had his own twin mattress on the floor beside my bed (this is because it’s the only bed he can’t drag outside and cover in mud) which is soft and supportive to begin with, but after reading your notes, I made it even cozier. I folded a queen-size feather duvet in half, which happened to be the exact dimensions of the twin mattress, and put that on Charlie’s mattress with a flannel sheet over the top to secure everything. The feathers hold his body heat around him and he looks so cute and cozy and comfortable on his new deluxe bed!

When my mind goes into a pretzel spiral of reconsidering my stance on diagnostics via blood draw or wondering if I should give him an injection of antibiotics or other medication “just in case,” a voice in my head states a simple yet resounding “NO.” I believe this is coming straight from Charlie, and so I have heeded this directive. Charlie’s lack of appetite is worrisome but his spirit is bright and he is singing and modeling with an air of calm confidence that is so palpable, I feel wrapped up in his calm.

A few housekeeping notes because I have not had time to blog: Signed copies of my new book Meditations with Cows will be available from Storyteller Books indefinitely. There was so much demand, the bookstore owner decided to order an extra batch of books which I signed the last time I was there so that she can continue to fulfill orders as they come in. These are not personalized but they are signed and you can get them HERE.

If you’ve already read and enjoyed Meditations with Cows, will you please leave a review on the amazon page? Amazon reviews help the book SO much and you can leave one even if you bought the book somewhere else. It doesn’t have to be a book report – your notes to me (like “Couldn’t put it down” or “A masterpiece!”) make phenomenal reviews. Thank you so much.

And yes, the 2021 Charlie Calendar is in the works – I know it’s usually ready by now but I didn’t want to release it before sharing the news of Charlie’s health in case sensitive souls would find it painful to own if Charlie takes a turn for the worse. Regardless of what the next days/weeks/months hold, I’ve decided to create the calendar in celebration of Charlie’s immortal magnificence, even if only five people want it (I count myself among them).

Thank you again for the love you share, and I will update you again on our beloved boy next week.

one year ago: Walking Between Seasons
two years ago: Tail Is Back!
three years ago: Nature Child
four years ago: Perfect Days
five years ago: That Smile
six years ago: Don’t Look Back Too Long
seven years ago: Rise And Shine
eight years ago: Stone Cold Coyote
nine years ago: Dog Days
ten years ago: Pop Up
eleven years ago: The Things She Gets Away With….
twelve years ago: 2009 Calendars

The last few weeks have been pretty devastating because Charlie has not been well. Before I go into details, I want to be clear that he is doing OK, but he is officially a geriatric coyote.

A few weeks ago, his eating habits and demeanor changed drastically, and almost overnight. He got really picky about food and has been eating far less than usual. This time of year, he tends to eat a ton – anything and everything – in preparation for winter. His appetite dropped off and his preferences vary daily. Some days, he only eats raw liver. Some days, only raw eggs, Some days, only raw hamburger. Some days he’ll eat cooked hamburger and I can sneak in a healthy dose of my home-rendered tallow and super-concentrated bone broth. There were a few bad days where he wasn’t eating at all.

When this began, he stopped wanting to be pet and cuddled, and his posture and movements changed. He moved more slowly and stiffly. I interpreted all these signs as signs of pain—I just didn’t know what was causing the pain. I’ve been consulting with two vets and they suggested the three likely causes were cancer, organ failure, or joint issues/arthritis.

I chose not to run blood tests because of how stressful that would be on Charlie. I don’t know how to draw blood, so the vet (a stranger) would have to do it, and Charlie would have to be sedated for the blood draw. And if tests showed cancer or organ failure, there’s not much to be done in response. It just didn’t seem worth it. While organ failure can present with gradual symptoms in domestic dogs, my vet said that cats typically compensate until they go off the proverbial cliff and suspected the same might be true of wild canines, since this scenario matched Charlie’s signs—there was nothing gradual about the onset.

It was so sudden I wondered about poison or if it was a result of him eating a gigantic female carpenter bee. In early September, there was one in the house (these bees are huge – bigger than my thumb) and I was trying to catch it in a glass to move it outside. It kept flying away when I got close and then Charlie got in on the action, caught her in midair, and ate her. The females sting, but he showed no adverse reactions to eating the bee, and this took place almost two weeks before his decline, and he eats scorpions with no ill effect, so…?

And so we decided to treat for arthritis, since that could be done with pills hidden in food and with a low risk of side effects even if his malaise was not arthritis. But he had a horrible reaction to the first dose of prednisone. This is very unusual. He fell asleep immediately and was completely out of it for almost 24 hours (corresponding with the time it takes for the medication to metabolize out of his system). It seemed to make him really dizzy—the few times he did get up, he was very wobbly and off balance. Thankfully, that has resolved itself and I won’t be giving him more prednisone.

After observing and recording his signs and symptoms for the past few weeks, I do think it’s most likely a skeletal/joint issue in his hips or spine. Probably something that was developing over years unbeknownst to me and gradually enough for Charlie to completely compensate and hide it, and which finally “went out” one day.

He doesn’t act sick—his eyes are bright, he sings multiple times a day (other than the prednisone day), and he’s still very social and alert. He’s letting me pet him again. He’s lost weight but he’s eating enough. We’ve made changes to his environment to accommodate his decreased mobility, and I’ll be exploring gentle pain relief options.

I’ve decided to forego diagnostics for arthritis and invasive treatment—having x-rays and surgery would be far more stressful and painful for Charlie than whatever he is dealing with right now. X-rays would require total sedation; recuperating from surgery and wearing a cone would make him unfathomably miserable.

Every decision I make is with Charlie’s quality of life in mind. Quality of life and length of life do not always go hand in hand. This has been so incredibly hard….sometimes I feel really hopeful and sometimes I am a wreck. Your love and prayers are so appreciated—we both feel them, this I know is true! If you’ve cared for an arthritic dog and would like to share your experience/thoughts/tips, I’d love to hear. Shall I do a weekly Charlie update going forward?

one year ago: Gilded
two years ago: Kissable
three years ago: Little Coyote On The Prairie
four years ago: To The Moon And Back
five years ago: Crazy Love
six years ago: In Those Intervals
seven years ago: Defined
eight years ago: Soft Smile
nine years ago: Shock And Maw
ten years ago: Legs & Angles
eleven years ago: Uh Oh, Incoming….
twelve years ago: New Bling

itsjustfluff1W
Hi Everyone! I’d like to take a moment to clear up any concerns about Charlie’s weight. Every fall and winter, I receive emails regarding Charlie’s “weight gain.” Some go so far as to call him obese and me reckless for allowing him to become obese. Then, each summer, around July, I receive emails about how skinny Charlie has become, and is he OK or is he ill? The simple answer to all of the above is fur!

I care very much about Charlie’s well-being and general health and, while he does often eat better than I do, he is not an obese coyote, nor is he overweight. He probably weighs more than any wild coyote, but I would also guess that Chloe weighs more than the average stray dog, as well.

If anything, Charlie has such incredible, lush, dense, healthy fur each winter because he is well-fed with a steady, balanced diet. As you can see from these pictures, his fur has come in and has become very thick! I’m using these side views as examples because coyote necks don’t carry any fat. They just don’t. That is all fur – lots and lots of fur.

You can also see the depth of the velvet on his forehead and around his ears. Even though there’s no snow on the ground at the moment, Charlie is ready for it, and his coat will keep him cozy when temperatures drop to 40 below zero. When he sheds all this fur in the spring, it’s enough to overflow a big black garbage bag. His diameter shrinks by half. And he’s the same little trickster underneath it all, regardless of the season. Ain’t nature grand?

itsjustfluff2W
photos taken October 2014

one year ago: Monday?!?
two years ago: Cackle
three years ago: Tummy Tackle
four years ago: Stately And Sweet
five years ago: Chloe Gets Too Deep For Charlie
six years ago: Seeing Something We Don’t
seven years ago: Many Of You Have Wondered…

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“For a long while I have believed – this is perhaps my version of Sir Darius Xerxes Cama’s belief in a fourth function of outsideness – that in every generation there are a few souls, call them lucky or cursed, who are simply born not belonging, who come into the world semi-detached, if you like, without strong affiliation to family or location or nation or race; that there may even be millions, billions of such souls, as many non-belongers as belongers, perhaps; that, in sum, the phenomenon may be as “natural” a manifestation of human nature as its opposite, but one that has been mostly frustrated, throughout human history, by lack of opportunity.  And not only by that: for those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainly, change, have erected a powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness, that disruptive, anti-social force, so that we mostly conform, we pretend to be motivated by loyalties and solidarities we do not really feel, we hide our secret identities beneath the false skins of those identities which bear the belongers’ seal of approval.  But the truth leaks out in our dreams; alone in our beds (because we are all alone at night, even if we do not sleep by ourselves), we soar, we fly, we flee.  And in the waking dreams our societies permit, in our myths, our arts, our songs, we celebrate the non-belongers, the different ones, the outlaws, the freaks.  What we forbid ourselves we pay good money to watch, in a playhouse or a movie theatre, or to read about between the secret covers of a book.  Our libraries, our palaces of entertainment tell the truth.  The tramp, the assassin, the rebel, the thief, the mutant, the outcast, the delinquent, the devil, the sinner, the traveller, the gangster, the runner, the mask: if we did not recognize in them our least-fulfilled needs, we would not invent them over and over again, in every place, in every language, in every time.”  ~ Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet