May 02, 2013 0 Share

Chevy Chases


Author's brother, Willie, with yellow labrador retriever.
Photo by Donna Fischer

I wake from a nightmare in which Willie was completely out of control, filled with rage, destroying everything in his path. It was one of those dreams that seem all too real; the brother I know and love seemed utterly lost. Time had dimmed the fearful memories of Willie’s worst behaviors; the nightmare made them vivid once more. Rubbing my eyes, I get out of bed and try to shake it off. To do so, I remember that which is real: Willie is enjoying a longed-for dream come true. This past week, our parents adopted Chevy, a Labrador Retriever mix. 

It’s been five years since our beloved mutt, Curley, passed away. In the intervening time, Willie has been eager for a new dog. In fact, he began inquiring about a new pet before Curley passed away. Willie would say, “When Curley dies, then can we get a Labrador Retriever?” He didn’t understand why this wasn’t an appropriate question. Even so, I couldn’t help but smile when he asked it. And now, at last, our parents have answered that long-ago query. 

When we spoke on the phone this past week, I asked my brother, “Do you like having Chevy around?” I wondered if the experience of getting a new dog was living up to his expectations. Willie doesn’t usually elaborate when asked yes or no questions, but this time, his reply went above and beyond. 

“I love having Chevy around!” he exclaimed. I could practically see the grin on his face. In remembering the happiness in his voice, my nightmare dissipates. Instead of dwelling on the past, I consider how far Willie has come. He’s taking on new responsibilities and enjoying the process. At present, Willie feeds Chevy each night, and does the dog’s obedience training on a daily basis. As I wrote in last year’s "Pets and Progress," “Something about the concept of [Willie] taking care of [a pet] makes me glad. I am encouraged by the thought that he's able to contribute as a caregiver. It's both an indicator of his progress and, potentially, a source of growth in and of itself.” 

“Willie really has been getting better at giving commands,” Mom tells me. “Like last night, when Chevy jumped up next to us on the sofa, Willie said, ‘Chevy, down!’ right away, with authority.” 

“And does Chevy obey?” I ask. 

“Well ... sometimes,” she says, and we laugh. 

And the relationship is a two-way street; Chevy is, apparently, doing a good job when it comes to taking care of Willie. For example, the dog had an unconventional, yet highly effective, response to a recent meltdown. One recent afternoon, Willie became agitated, banging his head and threatening to hit our mother. He had to roll up in the rug in order to have some calming pressure, and prevent him from hitting his head too hard against the floor. Chevy, having never experienced such a meltdown, interpreted these strange events in his own way. In fact, he thought Willie’s rolling up in the rug was a game. 

As such, Chevy didn’t run or hide away, as Curley used to; instead, he trotted right over to Willie, eager to play. Nuzzling his head into the opening at the end of the rolled-up rug, he licked Willie in the face. The puppy’s playfulness diffused the tension, made Willie laugh and, ultimately, relax. Though I’ve never seen Chevy, I love him already; any dog who can help diffuse a meltdown is a winner in my book. 

Just before we hung up the phone, my mom asked if I knew the etymology of the word, “chevy.” Since I didn’t, we looked it up online. As it turns out, “chevy” is actually a British-English term. It means, among other things, “to chase, run after, pursue.” Since Chevy the dog was abandoned by his former owners, we’ll never know how or why they chose his name. But I can’t help but see it—and him—as the right fit. 

Willie doesn’t need a passive dog, one that will sit back or run away in the face of a meltdown. On the contrary, my brother needs a Chevy: a dog who chases the nightmares away.