So before we go any further, this is Charlie:
Don’t worry, he’s not mad. That’s just his face. Well okay, he might have been slightly peeved about the fact that I was sticking a camera in his face, but for the most part looking snotty and annoyed with me was par for the course.
And he was a good boy.
My wife and I got him about a month after we got married close to ten years ago and quite obviously fell in love with him. And the guy travelled with us everywhere as we moved five times over ten years going from the midwest to the west coast and now to Canada clocking over 5,000 miles on the road together. He saw us through grad school, our first real jobs, our first house together, and our first child with his usual nonchalant but still caring aloofness. And most nights, when he wasn’t so energetic as to want to climb up the stairs to steal my spot on the bed, he was my constant companion as I would sit down and watch movies way too late into the night.
As you might have guessed, Chuck isn’t here anymore. Almost six months ago and less than one day before my second child was born I noticed that he was lethargic (more lethargic than usual) and exhibiting what I thought was the sure sign of coming down with some virus. With my second child’s arrival imminent, I decided there was no way I was going to leave a potentially sick dog with my mother-in-law who would be babysitting my first kid so I rushed him to the vet, hoping to get some antibiotics or something. After describing the symptoms however, the vet quickly wanted to get some x-rays and some blood work done. And about two hours later the vet came back with the diagnosis that no pet owner ever wants to hear: advanced cancer and a growth that was causing internal bleeding that was dangerously close to making him septic. The way forward was also depressingly clear: I was going to have to put my best friend down, less than 24 hours before I said hello to my new son.
The utter emotional whiplash of the pits of despair and reverent joy that those two events brought me turned out to be a little bit of a blessing in disguise. The mere fact that the diagnosis was so bad made the decision we had to make glaringly obvious, and there was no time for me to agonize over the decision. I never had to see Charlie slowly deteriorate and see his quality of life slowly diminish. The vet said that he dogs are notoriously good at hiding when they were in pain, and Charlie had hid his pain until he could hide it anymore. There was nothing more to do than send him on his way. But nothing helps to numb the pain of saying goodbye to your dog better than welcoming your child to the world. And there is nothing like a newborn, and all the needs that accompany that newborn, to keep your mind busy and focused on something other than the sudden empty spot in your home.
This isn’t to say I haven’t mourned Charlie, because I have. I still miss that guy. Whether it was the simple companionship of him sleeping on the couch next to me (turns out watching horror movies is a lot scarier without a pooch by your side) or the sudden multitude of space I have discovered in my bed at night the fact is that there is still a Charlie-sized void in my life.
So as we approach the six-month anniversary of his passing it just seemed fitting to me to memorialize him some way on this blog. And I couldn’t think of a better way than to highlight the best dogs ever to appear onscreen, even if all of them couldn’t hold a candle to my buddy Charlie (or as I liked to call him, Sir Charles the Valiant).
Miss you buddy.
Brinkley from YOU’VE GOT MAIL (1998) dir. Nora Ephron
I have absolutely no doubt that Brinkley’s presence makes Joe Fox’s (Tom Hanks) personality about 250% more tolerable and without him there is no way that Joe and his sparring partner Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) end up together. So basically he’s the MVP of this tale, and the mere fact that he has to sit through the worst closing lines in the history of film (“Don’t cry shopgirl”) and does it without any visible protest is the true sign of his all-time great acting prowess.
The Puppy from JOHN WICK (2014) dir. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch
Honestly we never have any real time to get to know this puppy that John Wick’s wife leaves him to get over her death other than the fact that (a) the puppy is gloriously cute and (b) some monstrous would-be car thieves kill the puppy to spite Wick. But the fact is that this puppy’s brief and tragic appearance is enough to kick John Wick back into his career as a very efficient killer and fuel two movies’ worth of revenge killing. That is a very special dog.
All the Pooches on ISLE OF DOGS (2018) dir. Wes Anderson
I have no doubt that one or more of these dogs are going to make the Top 10. But seeing as the movie is only in limited release today (closest theatre to me – 62km) I’m not going to see it in time to make the list. But the trailer alone is good enough to land this mutt-ley crew on the honourable list.
10. Einstein from BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) dir. Robert Zemeckis
Even though he has barely a cameo in this movie Einstein makes it onto this list for the sole reason that he freaking went through time on a Delorean. And just look at him in the shot to the left: The guy is as cool as a cucumber. Breaking the space-time continuum doesn’t even phase him. Doc and Marty McFly spend almost the entire movie scampering around at a frantic pace trying to right their wrongs in history. Einstein just rolls with the punches. Be more like Einstein.
9. Hubert from BEST IN SHOW (2000) dir. Christopher Guest
Honestly Hubert represents the entire canine gang that appears in this fantastic mockumentary about a dog show (he gets picked because as you can clearly figure out, I do have a weak spot for a hound). It is clear from the onset that all the humans involved are slightly-off-their rocker, but only in such a way that is instantly familiar to anyone who has ever welcomed a pooch as part of their family. I confess that I sang many a song about my Charlie, dressed him in fancy sweaters against his will, and was probably all around a huge embarrassment to him. But as the dogs in Best in Show so aptly show, dogs really don’t care because all a dog ever really wants is to do fun stuff with their people. And that is what makes dogs awesome.
8. Max from HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (1966) dir. Chuck Jones
Max exemplefies the eternal internal conflict dogs must feel when their owner behaves badly. On the one hand, the Grinch is obviously out of line in wanting to steal Christmas cheer from the residents of Who-ville and Max clearly shows his general distaste of the plan. Yet, the Grinch is also Max’s person, and he knows that the chief quality of a dog is loyalty so he dutifully goes along with the plan. And I’d like to think that though the singing of the residents of Who-ville is obviously what inspires a change in the Grinch, it was Max as the Grinch’s nagging conscience throughout that helped thaw his heart a little.
7. Toto from THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) dir. Victor Fleming & George Cukor
Toto is arguably the most famous dog in movie history, immortalized by Dorothy’s famous line “Toto, I’ve a feeling that we’re not in Kansas anymore.” When Dorothy and Toto find themselves thrown in a tornado all the way to the land of Oz, one might thing that the two are ill-prepared for the long journey home. But Toto proves more than a match for this world. He saves Dorothy from the wicked witch when she is captured by calling her allies the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Lion. More importantly Toto singlehandedly unmasks the false myth of the wizard and his power, proving to be smarter than anybody else in Oz.
6. Baxter from ANCHORMAN (2004) dir. Adam McKay
As is the case for most dogs on this list, Baxter is obviously the smartest creature in this movie. His seeming death at the hands of the nefarious Jack Black in the middle of the movie almost justifies the spiral that man-child Ron Burgundy goes through as obviously the loss of a creature as magnificent as Baxter. This border terrier is, to quote his human, a miniature Buddha covered in hair. He is as adept in dispensing advice to his clueless human as he is in saving said human from a FREAKING BEAR. Pound for pound, there is probably not a greater dog on this list.
5. Charles B. Barkin from ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN (1989) dir. Don Bluth
Last week I confessed that Transformers: The Movie was how I learned about death. But All Dogs Go To Heaven is the move that taught me about sadness. It is easily one of the darkest children’s movies ever made with themes like death, crime, gambling, murder, exploitation, along with heaven and hell all presented through song and dance (what more could a child want?). But the brightest spot in this dark movie is the scoundrel mutt Charles B. Barkin who comes back from the dead just long enough to save the life of a little orphan girl. That’s not what he set out to do of course when he escaped heaven, but the fact that this is where he ends up proves that he does indeed have a heart of gold.
4. Fly from BABE (1995) dir. Chris Noonan
Let’s just acknowledge that there is no real reason why a sheepdog should ever take a pig under her wing to be not just trained in the same field but to be considered a proxy son. But this is Fly, whose compassion extends to species not her own. While the hero of the story is Babe, there is no doubt that his quest to becoming a great sheep-herding pig would have failed umpteen times over had Fly not been there by his side. She is wise enough to know that Babe’s plight is close to impossible yet kind and loving enough to let him try his best anyway. She saves him from certain death not once but twice, stepping in the way of humans who would kill him. When Babe finally stands triumphant, she does it because Fly was there every step of the way.
3. Lady from LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955) dir. Clyde Geronimi et. al.
Such was the impact this particular dog had in my life that when I got a female cocker spaniel as a child, there was only one name I could possibly give her: Lady. There are some who criticize Lady and the Tramp as being a boring movie in which nothing happens. Those people obviously aren’t seeing exactly how much Lady does to protect and keep her family together. She comes as a pup and is effectively Jim Dear’s and Darling’s first child and in that role she performs dutifully well, bringing joy. But when she gets usurped by the arrival of a real child, Lady barely flinches and adopts to her new role as protector of the little babe, fending of cats and rats while dealing with a dog-hating aunt. And with all of these added responsibilities she still also has time to make an honest dog out of the Tramp. One can’t help but think it’s only because she’s a girl dog that she doesn’t get half-the-credit she deserves for what a powerhouse cocker spaniel she is.
2. Shadow from HOMEWARD BOUND (1993) dir. Duwayne Dunham
Everything that you could ever say about a dog, you can say about Shadow. He travels through the wilderness because he refuses to believe that his owner Peter would abandon him. With fellow pets Chance the bulldog and Sassy the cat tagging along, he is driven not so much by his needs but out of an unflinching devotion to Peter and the sincere belief that Peter needs him. He is loyal to a fault, willing his tired old body across insanely difficult terrain to come home. And I don’t care what you say, seeing him come limping over the hill back into Peter’s arms has to count as one of the greatest cinematic moments ever depicted (and still brings a tear to my eye every time I think about it).
1. Pongo & Perdita from 101 DALMATIANS (1961) dir. Clyde Geronimi et. al.
Pongo and Perdita are without a doubt the biggest badass canines that have ever been depicted onscreen. After their fifteen puppies get stolen, they rush across the English countryside to rescue them Taken-style from not one, but three dangerous humans with Cruella De Vil being amongst them (her quest to make a puppy skin coat easily makes her the most diabolical Disney villain ever). But not content to merely rescue their own brood they without hesitation take it upon themselves to rescue the 84 other puppies even at great risk to their own survival as they barrel through an unrelenting snowstorm in their quest to get home. And they manage to succeed so well that they get home on Christmas day, ensuring that their people will not have to spend the holidays in sorrow. What more could you ask for from a couple of dogs?
Of course, the truly best dog on this list is and always will be Charlie, my dear friend who journeyed with me through ten eventful years of my life and left me too soon. Miss you buddy. You have and always will be a good boy.