When my sister and her friend moved into a house right after college she wanted a dog. We always had dogs and now that she had a yard she was ready for the companionship of a canine. My Mom knew of her quest so when a co-worker told her of a young Boxer he had rescued she passed on the info. to my sister, Kim. She immediately fell in love with this way too scrawny affectionate being. She took him in and poured on the love and food. Before long his frame filled out and his bee bee gun scarred hide was shiny and healthy looking. Problem was he thought he was the size of her roommates Russell Terrier and the trouble began. My parents ended up adopting Champ and he became fast friends with their older lab, Rueben. They were quite the pair and provided much entertainment. Champ still tried to climb up on your lap every chance he got. When that wouldn't work he'd place his paws on your shoulders while you were sitting and with hind feet on the ground lay on you. He was large for a Boxer, a solid mass of muscle, and not the easiest creature to move once he got "settled" even if it was on top of you!
Em was a baby when we came to visit and Champ immediately watched over her. If she cried, he came running. If she was sitting on the floor in her bouncy chair, he was sitting beside her. When Soph came along he was the same way, but as she grew they became inseparable. Even though he suffered from a sore hip he would allow her to climb all over him. They would sit for hours talking, Soph blabbering away and Champ sitting calmly beside her. Every once in awhile he would put his paw on her arm, she would pause mid-sentence giving him a kiss, and on they went. He was her dog, even if we did live ten hours away.
My parents had him six years when they noticed him lilting to one side as he walked. Then he began to collapse mid-stride. By this time Rueben had been gone for a few years and Champ was inside by my parent's side the whole time. We all feared the worst and I feared just how I would tell my three year old that her best friend was sick. My parents took him to a specialist recommended by the vet. The scans showed a tumor on the spine on his neck. It was in a place that could not be operated on, even if it was benign. They guessed he was about nine years old, his eardrum was completely gone on one side and we could only imagine the abuse he had suffered before he was rescued. We all remembered what he looked like when he first came into our lives, a mere shadow of what he had become.
Soph and I had a long talk about Champ. We prayed and we cried and we told stories of how brave and loyal he was. We wished he had come into our lives sooner, but we understood that somehow his suffering before he met us had made him an extraordinary creature. That he was so gentle and loving after being so mistreated was a lesson to us all.
So we weren't surprised when he rallied and held on for another year after his diagnosis. On his bad days we would call and Gram would hold the phone up to his ear and Soph would talk to him. Darn, if he wouldn't raise his head and listen intently. The day he couldn't get up, they knew they needed to end his suffering. It was time. Soph took the news well. She found comfort in knowing he was now with Rueben and they were running and playing together.
We sent balloons with notes up to heaven for Champ. We still talk about him today, a couple of years later, as if he were a human part of the family.
Not too long after Champ died we heard a story of a little girl who was only six or seven and had died. We soberly listened to the story and were saddened by it until Soph chimed in.
"Don't worry. I bet Champy found that little girl in heaven and they are playing together everyday so she won't be sad anymore."
What a very comforting thought, he was a true Champ!