CHATHAM – Chatham Charlie was a “heart dog,” a special dog out of many beloved dogs, who wiggled his way deep into hearts.
For Charlie’s “humans” Paul and Robin Litwin and, it turns out, for an awful lot of other people, the beautiful golden retriever with his huge smile and extraordinary personality made each day a little better. In his capacity as unofficial “ambassador” for the town of Chatham, Charlie lured visitors from as far away as Ohio just to meet him.
“I love this dog more than you understand,” Paul Litwin said one day last week when the sad news was percolating out.
Chatham Charlie died unexpectedly on Aug. 16, a month after his sixth birthday, following a brief struggle with hemangiosarcoma cancer. In the end he did not suffer, Robin Litwin says.
Paul Litwin’s law office on George Ryder Road is decorated with photographs of his family, his goldens and especially Charlie.
The Litwins, who live in East Harwich, are dog people. For a brief time when their two sons were young, the Litwins took a break from raising dogs. Then they made a practice of always having two golden retrievers, a male and a female, a few years apart in age. The idea is that the older dog will help train the puppy.
“As much as goldens love people, they’re still pack animals and want a sibling,” Paul Litwin says.
Charlie was born in July 2012 at Lazy Daze Farm in Upton, Mass., and given the AKC name Lazy Daze Sir Charles Barkley, with the “call name” Charlie. The Litwins brought him home at the end of September when he was nine weeks old. A couple of months later Paul, Robin, their older golden and Charlie were out at Mayflower Beach in Dennis when Robin, who is a photographer, shot a photo. With the older golden standing parallel to the camera, Charlie is sitting in front of him “regal, staring at you, locking eyes,” Paul Litwin says. “That’s when I said, ‘this is a really photogenic dog.’” Charlie had “good bone structure, a boxy head.” He was perfect in both form and disposition.
The following year Robin was walking on a beach when she spotted a dory. She positioned Charlie in it, and submitted the photo to the guidebook put out annually by the Chatham Chamber of Commerce.
And so Charlie’s career as a model and ambassador began. Lisa Franz, then the chamber’s executive director, put Charlie’s photo on the guidebook’s cover. Danita Scribner, the chamber’s operations manager, dubbed him “Chatham Charlie,” and the name stuck. Franz made a poster of the guidebook cover, and “people went nuts. Everybody loves goldens,” Franz recalls. Charlie began attending events such as a Chatham Band concert, Oktoberfest, and the arrival of Santa. In 2015 Charlie even marched in the Fourth of July parade.
“The idea was to use this dog to help promote Chatham,” Paul Litwin says. Franz created a Chatham Charlie Facebook page and it drew a lot of followers. “He loved people,” Litwin added. “He loved strangers.”
Charlie graced a second guidebook in 2016/17, standing in the back of the CG36500, the famous Coast Guard boat used in the Pendleton rescue.
Kim Roderiques, the author of “Dogs on Cape Cod,” photographed a story for Chatham Magazine using Charlie and four-year-old Kaylee Isner as models. The girl and the dog developed such a special chemistry that Litwin and Roderiques created a children’s book around them.
“If dogs could be referred to as gentlemen then Charlie would be just that,” Roderiques says.
“Kaylee Finds a Friend” (Golden Paws Publishing, 2018), was written by Anne LeClaire, illustrated by Roderiques and released in June. Charlie attended the premiere party as well as a signing event at Yellow Umbrella Books on Aug. 11, just five days before he died.
No one had any intuition of what was about to happen.
On his last full day, Charlie went swimming with his sister Rosie and the Litwins. It was a hot day, and when they got home, the Litwins washed the salt water off the two dogs and put them inside the air conditioned house. The Litwins went out for an hour or two, and when they returned that evening, they observed that Charlie had trouble standing and acted “tired and dazed.” They suspected Lyme Disease. Still, Charlie rallied enough that they decided it would be safe to wait until 8 a.m. the next day to take Charlie to VCA Pleasant Bay Animal Hospital. From there, he was referred to Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists in Dennis. That’s where an ultrasound helped confirm the grim diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma. The Litwins made the sad decision to prevent Charlie from suffering.
Since Charlie’s passing was announced on his Facebook page on Aug. 20, well over 4,600 people have read the post. Of those, over 135 friends and strangers have offered their sympathy. “A part of my heart broke off,” one man wrote.
“It does help a little to know he touched so many people in such a short life,” Paul Litwin says.
To honor Chatham Charlie’s memory, donate either to the Sampson Fund for Veterinary Care, P.O. Box 1756, Orleans, MA 02653 or to the MSPCA Cape Cod, 1577 Falmouth Rd., Centerville, MA 02632.