ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He was just the perfect dog, they said. The dog of their dreams – small enough to cuddle, smart enough to impress, fur like Berber carpet.
Jolene Slowen got the phone calls from her family members, each one telling her about the 6-week-old black male poodle-bichon frise-mix pup up for adoption at a pet store.
“I knew we’d be getting that dog,” she said.
And so, Charlie.
Some dogs are trained as guides for the blind, some for service for the disabled. Charlie wasn’t trained like that, but he became something of a guide to something bigger for Slowen and her family – and now, maybe, for you.
As dogs’ lives go, Charlie’s was pretty comfortable. He was loved by Slowen and wife, Sharon Boggs; their daughter, Jessika; foster son, Sam; and the other dogs that lived in their Rio Rancho home. When Boggs’ mother, Wanda, came to live with them, she loved Charlie, too.
Charlie was 4 and feisty in 2010 when freedom beckoned, and he slipped out through an open garage door before Wanda could shut it. Neighbors reported seeing a dog resembling Charlie hop into the open door of a white SUV.
“He loved to go for car rides,” Slowen said. “It didn’t matter with who.”
The family, especially Wanda, was devastated. They had worried about their dogs falling prey to coyotes that prowled around the neighborhood, but they had not expected someone to abscond with Charlie or Charlie to abscond on his own.
Time passed. Wanda passed away, too, never forgiving herself for opening that door that day. The family found comfort in Kody, another poodle-Bichon Frise mix they adopted. He was perfect. But he wasn’t Charlie.
Five years later, miraculous news came: Charlie, thin and scraggly, was alive. A woman had taken the dog to a Rio Rancho veterinary clinic to check for a microchip. The chip, though, didn’t list cellphone numbers.
But in one of the first magical twists in the adventures of Charlie, the clinic was the same one Slowen and Boggs took their pets to, so the staff knew how to contact them.
The call came in to Boggs’ cellphone as she and the family were just outside Tularosa on their way to White Sands for an Easter weekend trip. After the call, Boggs pulled over and took a couple of photos.
And here is another one of those magical twists.
As Boggs tells it, Tularosa held childhood significance as one of the small towns her family drove through on the way to Texas for vacation. Each time, her dad chided the kids about how he was going to buy a gas station in Tularosa and move there.
So when Boggs pulled over in Tularosa after hearing about Charlie, the photos she took were of an old gas station – and it was for sale. Inexplicably, the photos came out in black-and-white, not in color like the others.
They wondered: Could this be a sign from Boggs’ mother, Wanda, who had been in on her husband’s quirky joke? At least it was magical to think so.
Charlie had changed in the five years he was missing. The fur around his ears and mouth had turned silver. He was black-and-white now, like the photos. But he was still perfect, and still very much loved.
Slowen, a state government employee not typically given to such cosmic thoughts, contacted me this month to share the story of her beloved, invincible dog and how she hoped to write a children’s book in which she imagined all the magical adventures Charlie had during his five years away.
It would be a story of perseverance and motivation, she said. A positive message of how love survives.
But hours after our interview Feb. 7, Charlie and one of the family’s other dogs were attacked by coyotes in the backyard. Charlie suffered 50 punctures. The vet was optimistic. Charlie had no internal injuries, no broken bones. He was stable.
That next night, Slowen sent an email: “Please stop the article. Charlie died.”
The magical adventures of Charlie were over.
But maybe not. Slowen said she and her family had been struck by all those magical twists, all those curious signs and connections Charlie seemed to have guided them to.
And she had another magical twist to share. Sometime after Charlie’s return, a former neighbor named Sue Dwyer had come for a visit. Before moving to Missouri, Dwyer had been friends with Wanda. Weary from her trip, Slowen invited her to relax in the family’s new massage recliner. Pretty quickly, Dwyer drifted off.
“What happened next was not like anything I’ve ever experienced, like a dream but not like a dream,” Dwyer said in a phone call from Missouri. “It was like Wanda was there and she was telling me that she was OK and she wanted Sharon and Jolene to know she was OK. And she told me to start paying attention, to pay attention to the signs.”
Dwyer, skeptical even in slumber, said she asked for one of those signs.
“That’s when I felt something on my foot,” she said. “Something that wanted my attention.”
That something was Charlie.
Slowen and her family say they get that now.
“We think the story was never supposed to just be about Charlie but about something bigger,” she said. “We all just get so consumed with life that we forget about the magic around us. But it’s there. We just have to pay attention to the signs.”
If one of those signs is a perfect dog, well, there’s magic enough in that.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.