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Chet's Fall

Thursday, November 19, 2009

See those vines hanging down in the background? Mark that spot well.

We picked and slid our way down a red clay slope toward the cave, Liam and Jake well ahead of us and racing through the woods toward the main attraction. I stopped and stared at the sinkhole and cave below. Leaf-littered slopes gave way to mossy rock. The same water that had created the cave had undermined the cliff where we stood. The rock cliff to our right simply and abruptly dropped off into space. Liam and Jake were already down and exploring the cave when Phoebe, Dave, the dogs and I arrived. “Oh my God! If I’d known how dangerous this trail was, I’d never have let Liam go ahead!” I muttered. It was so steep and slick, and what tread was on my trail runners was so packed with clay, that I was skating, grabbing for a handhold anywhere I could find it. Thank God Liam and Jake had made it safely. The ease and the hubris of little boys.

Chet was off the trail to my right, as usual, nosing around in the leaves. I called him, and he turned to come back up; he was perilously close to the cliff’s lip. He looked at me, scrabbled, scrambled, twisted frantically, and was gone, simply dropped off into space. Silence, broken only by Phoebe’s helpless scream, the scream she gives when she stumbles on a copperhead, the scream she gave once when I pulled away from the curb while Liam was still climbing into the car. We all froze. A tremendous, sickening WHUMP sounded from the bottom of the sinkhole. I never, never want to hear that sound again. Dave was already in motion, his father's instinct sliding him down the trail as fast as he could go; Phoebe was still rooted, screaming, I was screaming Chet’s name over and over again.

And here he came, back up the trail, ears laid back, wide grin, everything working, everything intact. Smiling. A little embarrassed. To all appearances, fine. He stood at my feet, panting, as I ran my hands over his compact little body. We all had to touch him, this dog we had so nearly lost forever. If the kids look like they're seeing a ghost here, well, they are.

And then he was off to join his new best friends, staying away from the cliff edge this time.

We climbed down the rest of the way, knees weak, crying a little. When I saw how far he’d fallen, and onto what, I was numb with shock. 20 feet at least, through space, onto a pile of rotting logs and large branches. A few leaves to cushion the spot where he'd landed. He'd lost his foothold right by the cleft in the cliff, and landed just above where Dave's standing. On either side of where he’d landed, slabs of sandstone the size of tabletops. I could so easily have been picking up a limp ragdoll, but here he was, smiling at my feet.

Well, I knew he’d be hurting the next morning, and he is. He tries but has trouble jumping up onto the bed, and he lies curled up, forsaking his usual frogleg stretch. He's got no fever, no obvious bumps or tender spots, but I’m taking him to his wonderful veterinarian today, because I know that this dog has for all intents and purposes been hit by a car. We shall see.

Everything works, he stretches, he runs, he leapt for sticks and toys yesterday right afterward, and he ate a huge dinner, but this morning he threw up foam and is a bit listless. As, I suppose, he should be. Poor Chet. The Little Cat Dog has used another of his nine lives (the first went when he tried to round up cattle as a pup and got stepped on).

I called Dr. Lutz and she worked Chet in at 3 PM. Here, he waits, looks out the window, hopes again to see the bundle of black and white fur that looks like a cat or a skunk, but is really a Japanese Chin. He has to settle for an old yellow Lab.Dr. Lutz felt him all over, listened to his lungs, and shook her head. "You’re a lucky dog, Chet Baker." She said she thought that whatever he landed on must have cushioned his fall sufficiently to keep him from serious injury. From any injury at all. She also said his compact build was a big help; a bigger, rangier dog could easily have twisted in the fall, landed on a leg wrong and gotten all busted up. "He's pure muscle," she said, looking at him appreciatively.

He’s sleeping at my feet, heaving those deep, rattling sighs of dog contentment. He chased chipmunks, had a big dinner with meatloaf drippings on it, begged for a tiny bite of my low-carb ice cream bar just like he does every night, watched hamster TV, and leapt to greet Bill when he got home from work. He’s probably forgotten it happened; he may not remember it until he nears a cliff edge again. I look at him and marvel. How did he do it? How did he fall twenty feet off a sheer rock lip, land on logs and live to chase chipmunks and beg for ice cream today? I don’t know. I’m just thankful, thankful that I’m able to kiss and hug this precious little dog, thankful that I’m not looking for just the right spot to lay him to rest tonight. I guess he still has work to do.

As impossible as it is for me to imagine, this would have been my last photograph of Chet Baker. It makes my heart drop into my guts just to write that.

I know, deep in my heart, that I love this dog more than I should, more than any human being should love an animal, animals being the exquisite, heartbreakingly impermanent beings that they are. But there are times when he is everything to me, when he saves me, when I think I might wither up and blow away without his kisses and the warm popcorn scent of his feet. He wants to be with me all the time, and for that I am amazed and grateful.

He has a lot of work left to do.


Oh, I'm sick to my stomach.
Dangit, Chet! Don't do that to us or your poor Mether or your Dad or Liam and Phoebe...and the zillions of folks out here who love you!

*Sending Julie a case of wine*

Oh, my. I am so very grateful Chet is well. I understand what you mean about loving an animal beyond all reason... I dread the day I lose the cockatiel I've loved for ten years now. Breathe deep, all is well.

I'm crying because I know that kind of love. I lost my first love and never thought I could love again...and almost didn't. But, Lucy came into my life, then Maggie, and finally Kylee. I will die [again] when they do, but I'll do it all over again because there is no better kind of love.

Hi Julie, I am sitting at work with tears in my eyes as I can feel your horror at what might have been. There is something about the love for and of a dog, it fills a spot in your heart. I think I would have gone insane with loneliness this past year if it hadn't been for my GSP Otto.

Posted by Christine R November 19, 2009 at 12:29 PM

You may be familiar with one of my favorite Richard Bach lines (from "Illusions"):
"Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you're alive, it isn't."

But my favorite line from this dear post Julie is that Chet "watched hamster TV"... cracks me up!

So glad Chet is ok! SCARY!!!!

Very intense. I have a cat whom I love to ridiculous proportions, who I keep saying I'm going to marry someday. I know we're setting ourselves up for big hurt down the road, but we can't help ourselves, can we? So glad for you Chet's OK, and glad for Chet too--he's got a great companion in you.

Ack-so glad he's ok. I screamed too, reading your post. Enjoy a night at home curled up with that little slider!

Way too scary. Give a hug and a kiss for me.

Posted by Anonymous November 19, 2009 at 1:52 PM

You're all so lucky. Beautifully written story -- and what a gorgeous pup.

Posted by Jan Elliott November 19, 2009 at 2:03 PM

My heart sank when I read the first post..... I know the love you feel for Chet, and it's okay to love a dog THAT much! I also know the work it takes for you to publish the Blog, you are my BloGODDESS:) I have trouble finding the time to organize my photos much less writing about them. Thanks for enriching our lives with your tales!

Got me crying here. Sam is wondering what's going on. I am really glad it ended well.

That damn Napoleon Complex! Our Boston (Newton) chased a coyote a while back. Yes, HE (all 19.4 lbs.) chased a COYOTE!!! I ran after him screaming his name over and over as they disappeared into the woods... I was sure the coyote would turn around and say "mmmmm tasty snack", but alas, Newton returned out of breath but intact...

I had to get online the minute I got home tonight to read Chet's next installation. I knew you said he was fine but I still was anxious to hear what happened. And no, Chet's accident didn't keep me up all night - I couldn't sleep, dealing with oh, about a ton of stress and a really rough situation right now - so I thought I'd read something good that would take my mind off it (that would be your blog). Of course, perhaps yesterday wasn't the day to expect something lighthearted and entertaining and endlessly interesting! Figures.

Glad he's doing well. My dogs' feet smell like corn chips, btw.

I know how you love him. It's almost indescribable, isn't it?

After a scare like that, my dogs would get more than meat loaf drippings. Awww, shucks. I'd sit them at the kitchen table and let 'em split a meat loaf.

What would we do without Chet Baker fixes!! As tears rolled down my cheeks all I could do was smile in agreement at the undeniable love for ones animal companion!!

Julie you are one amazing writer. And I want to thank you for all the work and energy you put into your blogs. Anonymous people like me all over the web coming back everyday for a smile a laugh, and sometimes a cry. But mostly, the Bacon. Hehe, give him an extra hug from all of us anonymous people!

Sending you a virtual hug from one animal lover to another! - Dana

Posted by Anonymous November 19, 2009 at 2:55 PM

Oh my heart sank. I didn't want to scroll down and learn the 'rest of the story'. But figured you would not be posting a blog if the worst had happened. I saw Chet's girlfriend in Jack Creek, TN last Saturday. She had PINK toenails no less. Give him a nuzzle from the woodswoman. XXOO

Posted by Anonymous November 19, 2009 at 3:01 PM

Chet is a very lucky dog to have survived that fall. A little pampering now is a good thing.

Chet Baker is a very lucky puppy in so many ways! I'm so very glad you are not picking out a spot at the end of the Rainbow Bridge!

Oh. My. Gosh. Chet Baker. Oh. My. I can't stand it. I am so happy he's fine, though, phew. I can't even imagine being in this situation.

Oh Julie, this just tugs and tugs at heartstrings..that I think many, many pet owners have attached to their pets. I had a cat die in my arms about 5 years ago, and every time I read a sad -but redeeming -happy ending type story like yours, that lump in my throat just wells up. But, it's a good hurt in the long run...what if we'd never known them at all? so glad Chet is fine. Great writing.

I'm so happy to hear he made it out okay. Hugs and smooches from Alabama.

It's okay if your writing makes me cry, but not if it's because of scary stories of Chet Baker's near-death experience! Oh my goodness. =deep breaths= I am SOOOO glad Chet's okay. Biggest of hugs to each and every one of you in your household. I know you will hug the Bacon tighter than ever now. What a special puppeh he is to all of us. Take good care.

I'm so glad he's ok!

That wonderful, wonderful puppeh--if love could keep him, you will have him always.

Goodness! I was hoping that I would open this post and read about Chet Baker's autumn, rather than an actual fall. (I remember many years ago, reading a list of The Top 10 Myths About Hiking With Your Dog, and the one that stuck with me all these years is "My dog won't fall off that cliff.")

I hope Chet Baker is feeling better soon!

Oh, Chet!
Oh, Mether!
I'm so relieved.

Like most of your comments, it brings a tear to my eye also.
You are right, Julie, we love our dogs almost too much. But then . . .


Re-read your post again and have to say, I so totally know how you feel about Chet. I've had 4 years of Just Sad Stuff, both my husband and I have lost all 4 of our parents in this time, and a host of other things. 3 years ago, I adopted a little terrier-teddy bear mix of a dog from the SPCA. I have always loved all our dogs but she has just become *mine*, heart and soul. She never leaves my side, follows me from room to room, sleeps on my bed. From an abused, neglected little dog, she has become such an outgoing, loving little soul.

When I filled out the adoption papers, they asked the reason why I wanted a dog. Instead of the typical 'family wants a pet', I put the true reasons. 'I need a walking companion, foot and lap warmer, scooper up of crumbs, cuddler, best friend, keeper of secrets, someone to greet me ecstatically when I get home'. The people there loved it. Lucy has become all that and more.

Dammit woman! Tough old ex-cops aren't supposed to cry. I have no trouble considering my own mortality, but pets...

Posted by Anonymous November 20, 2009 at 3:55 AM

I didn't realize until I got the end of your post, that I was holding my breath. EXHALE. Whooo.... that was scary. Poor Chet. So glad all is well and that he is OK.

Sooooo glad Chet is ok. What a frightening experience for all of you.

We, too, love our nonhuman babies more than many people understand, but they give us so much love and joy.

Chet, we know you're a big dog in a little body, but please be careful--we can't take too many of these episodes!

Oh, even thought I read this post knowing this happened some time ago, and knowing that Chet came out ok, this was one of the scariest things I've read in a long time. SO GLAD he's ok, and I hope he never pulls anything like that again! Give him a BIG hug from me & my puppers.

Oh Julie, I'm glad Chet's OK. I, too, know what it's like to love an animal more than any human being should and how horrifying this incident must have been for you, Liam, Phoebe and your friends. I'm glad we're all breathing sighs of relief and shedding tears of joy that we will continue to see the adorable Chet Baker in future posts.

Thank goodness for Chet's compact, muscle-y body and the cushion of dried leaves. He is indeed one lucky pup!

You don't love him too much. Just as much as he deserves, which is an awful lot.

Oh Julie, children, and Chet Baker...too much scary adventure!

I admit I had to skip to the end of the story to find out the ending before I could circle back and read it in order. So grateful Chet Baker is fine - what a fall! Sturdy, hearty little guy for sure. Big hug!


Okay, when I read yesterday's post and your lamenting about Chet and his Napoleon complex with other dogs, I just assumed the title of this post meant "Chet's fall from grace". Boy was I wrong. I was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you. I'm SO glad he is okay. I think of Chet as an extended member of the family--sort of a blogging distant fur-nephew, sort of...

Yes, and I had tears in my eyes reading of your love for your Bacon. Laughed out loud at Marie's comment about loving her cat so much that she keeps saying she will marry him one day. Although I haven't gone that far, I often told my sweet Butterball, who passed away last year, that he was my main man. Still miss him and think of him almost every day...

I read this post heart in mouth, hands clapped to my face, despite knowing he'd be ok -- because if he weren't, the wail of grief and pain would've been loud and soul-wrenching enough to be easily heard where I sit, four hundred miles away. I'm so glad all is well -- and no wonder you needed time to provide a cushion before you could relate Chet's -- and your heart's -- drop.

I don't buy that 'loving an animal too much hooey.' Our hearts don't come with ' ideal love amount' settings: High for relatives, Medium for friends, Low for pets. We love who we love, and we don't really have any say about how much. I love my cat Bugsy beyond reason, and he makes clear that it's mutual. When someone, human or not, connects with you in that way, it's an all you can eat buffet for the soul, which thrives on nourishment. It's no time to count calories.

Our thoughts are with you. Chet Bakerdog has become a friend to us, and we only want the best for this happy pup. Glad he is ok!

Lenka & Andrew

I couldn't read the rest of the post until I skipped to the end & made sure he was okay! I'm so glad he landed right & was all compact muscle & got to go home & watch hamsters & snuggle with his people. Reading about him is a joy I always look forward to!

Posted by Anonymous November 21, 2009 at 1:51 PM

I am so glad he's okay.

I love my critters to distraction.

My mom lost her last cat about 15 years ago. I offered, many times, to get her a kitten. She always said no, I cannot stand the pain of losing them. And it's can't.

But I also can't stand not having that kind of love in my life.

Ufff, glad he's ok, I was nervous for a while :S

you don't "love him too much", he deserves that kind of love from you. and you're a wonderful person to give it to him....

Yup. That's a Boston for ya. They get into the craziest scrapes and instead of getting hurt they come trotting back with ears flat and that crazy grin like, 'oops, sorry I scared the crap outa ya...'

Roscoe does it All. The. Time. He's lying here now with his Boston face smooshed into the covers but believe you me there's been many of those OH MY GOD ROSCOE followed by flat ears and that crazy embarassed grin.

And his feet smell, of all things, like nuts. If he and Chet Baker ever got together we'd have people looking for the Cracker Jacks

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