Funny thing is, I didn’t start out writing a book about Charlie. Even though he was my love-of-my-life dog. And even though I’ve had dogs most of my life and love them tremendously. What really happened is that Charlie’s story came from a gardening journal.
You see, in the late 1990's I began thinking that I wanted to write a book, but I had no idea what I wanted the subject to be. I tried writing about the work I do as a psychotherapist, but I found it really hard to put into words what makes my work so rewarding and how special and life-altering the psychotherapeutic process can be. My words just didn’t capture the feelings I’d experienced. One day, a psychotherapist I was seeing suggested that I could instead write about my gardening, because that also has always been a love of mine. At the time I was busy landscaping our property in Malibu.
So I started keeping a daily journal – of what I’d done in the garden and what needed to be done next. Of the watering, weeding, raking. Of the constant designing and redesigning, and then of getting new plants and trees, and then of the planting, cultivating, and transplanting. Sometimes I would write about something else, but mostly my journal was about gardening, and that psychotherapist was right: I loved writing about it. I’d started keeping this journal in 2000, and I’d written every day.
Then in 2001, when Charlie was eleven years old, he started having some health problems. Very quickly, my journal entries became more and more about him and less and less about gardening. Writing about Charlie helped me better understand and cope with my feelings about what was happening to him. Yes it was cathartic, but it was more than that. Besides the fact that I just adored him, I was amazed at how Charlie dealt with his health problems. He seemed to have a very deep understanding of what was going on, and just about nothing got him down. He was inspiring – joyful, so determined, and so wise.
Also, even though I wanted to write about him mostly in the present, I couldn’t help thinking about him as a puppy, particularly because the signs of Charlie’s stellar character were there early on. So I found myself writing about him when he was younger, too. That also felt good. I just wanted to be with him, think about him, and write about him. Charlie and I were always extremely close, and I knew that our time was limited.
In 2003, my husband David and I decided to take Charlie and Barney (our other Golden Retriever at the time) to San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito for five days to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. We all had a great time. While we were sitting on the deck of our cottage after I’d just finished my journal entry for the day, I read David some of my entries having to do with Charlie. David said it sounded as if I had the makings of a book! The more I thought about that, the more I agreed. So I pulled out all the entries that had to do with Charlie to look at them more closely. Needless to say, since I’d been writing every day for two years, I had lots of those entries.
At first I was hesitant to turn my journal into a book. Being such a private person, I didn’t know if I’d be comfortable letting others see writing that was so personal and intimate. But my overriding thought then was that it would be Charlie’s story, a tribute to this magnificent dog, and because of the way he handled life, an inspiration to others. I knew that Charlie was not only my once-in-a-lifetime dog but also a once-in-a-lifetime being. And ours was a once-in-a-lifetime relationship. I needed to write about him, and his story needed to be told.