On the early morning of October 19, my friend Chris Staley passed away of cancer. He was 45. A few weeks prior to his death, Chris asked me to be his dog’s guardian. Petey is a remarkable, year-old Boston terrier. One minute he will be running around squeaking a toy and using my legs as a jump-off point, and the next minute he will be curled up in my lap looking at me wide-eyed, saying things like, “My dad had more pain inside of him than he voiced. Why do bodies die? It is strange having him kiss, hug me, and sit with me without his body.”
Within hours of sending an email to a select group of people that Petey was looking for a home, I received close to 30 calls. Every person who responded either presently lives with a Boston terrier, or has a cancer survivor in the family, or both.
Petey went for a trial period with a family who has two Bostons in the family. They play a canine sport called flyball, allow the dogs on the bed, feed good food, go to extreme measures when there is a medical issue, have a cancer survivor in the family, and use humane training techniques. They even have a Boston terrier flag at the entrance of their house. They love Petey! I couldn’t have found a better home.
But when I went to go check on Petey, he begged me to take him away. He said one of the dogs didn’t like him, he didn’t sleep on the bed, and he wondered why grandma (Chris’s mom) couldn’t keep him. Yet Trance, one of the dogs in the family, licked me and begged, “Since Petey came here I feel normal. He is my best friend. Please make him stay.”
Despite the great home and Trance’s pleading, I took Petey away because that is what hewanted. In the car, Petey said he wanted a “gay hairdresser like dad.” When I told him I wasn’t sure if I could find exactly that, he replied, “My dad thought you had great hair.”
When we got back home, I didn’t feel right. Stormy, my Aussie, tried to help. “Petey, flyball is really cool! You should learn that game.” Petey replied, “I want a gay hairdresser.” “Alright” I thought, “I can find him that.” But the more I thought about it, the more I thought Petey just wanted Chris back. Not even the best gay hairdresser would be good enough.
So we talked and talked and we jointly decided to take Petey back to the family that loves him. Petey would start a new life, different than the one he had with Chris. On the car ride there, Petey asked, “Do I have to forget about my old life now?” I told him never to forget, but to concentrate on playing and being happy. He said, “What is my job if no one is suffering?” I told him to be a good friend to his new people and that Trance needs him. When we got to his new home, Petey ran around playing as if he had lived there all along.
Now, a day and two nights later, I ask him how he is doing. Petey says, “I like it here. It is so different. I have to get used to being able to play whenever I want and not having to check on Chris to see if he needs me. Instead I go in and ask Trance if he is feeling okay, because his body hurts, but it is a different pain than Dad’s. Sometimes I ask Penny (the other dog) if she can teach me something or tell me about flyball. She still doesn’t love me, but I think she will. I slept on the bed but it didn’t smell like Dad so I got off. I miss Dad more than anything, but I am learning to feel comfortable here. I am still very sad. They are giving me extra love, and I am learning that they care about me too. I think the love I had for Dad will grow for them with time. Thank you, Laura, for looking out for me. Please don’t forget me. I want to see you because Dad told me you would always be a part of my life. I don’t ever want to forget that life. I hate not being able to smell him anymore. Whenever I get sad, I remember what you said, and I remember my dad’s smile, and I play and pretend it is him throwing the toy for me. I see him in spirit. He is happy that I am safe. He approves of this home. I am going to be okay.”
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Chris Staley worked as a hair stylist at the Kevin Charles Salon at the Biltmore in Montecito. We are sending loving prayers to his friends and family. May Chris soar and watch over us from the dimensions above.