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Our dog Carlos has slowed down considerably within the last few months. He’s always been outspoken and opinionated–a typical firstborn trait–and to hear him snoring most of the day and tolerating things he normally wouldn’t tolerate (i.e. being carried from place to place by my son, forklift-style) put me on notice that he’s in the fourth quarter.

Carlos looks and acts like an Ewok from the Star Wars franchise. According to Wikipedia, Ewoks are clever, inquisitive, and inventive. Carlos checks all three boxes. As a puppy, we tried crate training, but it never took. It wasn’t for lack of trying. He would bark incessantly until my nerves were frayed and his voice grew hoarse. One day, I returned from work, and he had moved his crate from the left side of the room to the right side, a distance of about 30 feet. The thought of his 6-pound body moving a metal crate with nothing but sheer will to escape was too much for me to bear. He started sleeping in our bed that night.

He loved humans, the little ones in particular, and would pepper them with kisses and enthusiasm. The neighborhood kids were enamored by him and knew his name well before mine. One spring afternoon, a school bus appeared around the corner and kids were gleefully yelling, “Caaaar-los! Hey, Caaarlos!” He loved the attention–the two of us ran down the street, trying to keep pace with the bus, Carlos tugging on the leash with all his might.

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Carlos was born on a farm in Alabama but didn’t identify as an Alabamian. He’s a city dog at heart and despises mud, water, snow (really, any sort of moisture). He chooses sidewalk over grass, and when the sidewalk ends, his hind legs would ever so slightly lift off the ground in surprise and protest, as if to ask, “Where are our tax dollars going?”

His body is failing him. He has a cardiologist and dermatologist but no health insurance. Benign growths or “raspberries” as we like to call them, have sprouted on his legs and back, so much so that he wears a onesie to prevent him from picking at them. His bark, once deep and guttural, now only presents itself when we return home. But the message is different, more pleading. It transitioned to “I’m here,” rather than “Where have you been? How dare you leave me for two hours, now you better be ready to play!”

My partner Mark likes to joke that it took five dates to finally reveal where I lived, and five years for Carlos to accept him. Early on, he learned to buy organic chicken for Carlos’ daily meal of rice, Mexican shredded cheese, kibble, and chicken. No one will eat the non-organic stuff.

Our house is an old one, with steps scattered throughout and narrow stair treads. A serious tumble a few years ago prompted me to install a runner on the stairs. In the midst of a difficult separation, the carpet runner stood out like a beacon of hope as something we could agree on, quickly and efficiently.

Carlos quivers and whimpers easily. I’ve learned that timing matters because we’re all on our own journeys and timelines. Today, my boys are in different seasons. With every passing year, one grows more engaged and the other becomes more passive. My son is neurodivergent and has followed his own timeline. He has and still prefers to travel on less crowded roads and unmarked paths.

I’m carrying Carlos from room to room like I used to carry my son and feel as if there wasn’t a breathable gap in between. I remember when Carlos would desperately try to play with my son, who had little interest in him. My son preferred things that offered predictability, such as letters and toy trains, not a dog with endless energy, appetite, and attention-seeking behavior. Today, their roles have reversed, with my son vying for his attention, and Carlos looking to me to run interference.

He spends a lot of time upstairs, content to be alone. I accept it, but it’s hard. It’s particularly difficult because his decline happened so quickly. I’ve heard people say, “It just happened so fast. One day [insert name] was fine, and then s/he spiraled downhill.”

RELATED: When a Pet Dies, it’s Like Losing Part of the Family

Carlos has taught my son important life lessons, some of which are difficult for a neurodivergent child to grasp. We’re not all living life at the same speed. Body language is another form of communication. Even if you’re quiet, your voice still deserves to be heard. My son’s impulsivity has been tested and challenged, not to mention learning how to regulate his emotions.

Like my son, Carlos has two homes. He used to go back and forth with ease. For many years, it was an all-or-nothing deal. The duo traveled together, and it was either chaos and excitement or utter quiet for Mom or Dad. These days, the car rides make him too anxious, so he stays in one place longer. Similar to the adults in the house, he drinks some water and takes melatonin before bed.

I’ll miss Carlos for numerous reasons. I’m experiencing anticipatory grief. He is my baby, my comrade, my walking partner, and often my emotional support. I never fathomed a dog could fill so many different roles, at different times. He’s been in every Christmas card since my son was born, and the thought of him not occupying a portion of cardstock is enough to make me dread the start of the holiday season. Aside from the companionship, he has revealed my true character and displayed my shortcomings over and over again. But he has loved me regardless because he knows I’m trying my best. For 2024, I’m adopting that mindset. More love, less judgment, striving to be and do better.

R.I.P., Clos.
March 11, 2009 – February 5, 2024
For your kind candor, thank you JM, DVM

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Jane Kim

Jane Kim is a morning reader who is admittedly envious of her son's hair. Her work has been featured in GreatSchools.org, Motherly, and The Mighty. She writes a weekly newsletter about her experiences parenting a neurodivergent child and other stuff. She lives with her partner, son and clingy papastzu in the Philadelphia suburbs. To check out her newsletter and sign up: https://conta.cc/46YaeXu

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