CHATHAM – Five years ago, a golden retriever named Lazy Daze Sir Charles Barkley (known better as Chatham Charlie) became the “unofficial ambassador” of the town of Chatham. That status continued after his unexpected death last August from hemangiosarcoma cancer.
“One day he was swimming at Cow Yard, and the next morning he passed away,” said Paul Litwin, one of Charlie’s owners.
Charlie’s life will be celebrated at Kate Gould Park on Saturday, June 29 at 10 a.m., with a the dedication of a bench accompanied by a memorial plaque.
“On the plaque, there’s one place to put a phrase,” said Litwin. “I had all these different sentences I was thinking of that could sum up his legacy.”
The phrase that Litwin and his wife, Robin, settled on was “He brought joy wherever he went.”
“He really did touch people in ways that I never realized,” said Litwin. “He did a lot for the town of Chatham. It helped that he was a dog, and a golden retriever no less. They’re friendly and approachable.”
At the memorial event, there will be two readings. The first is from the children’s book “Kaylee Finds a Friend” by Anne LeClaire with photographs featuring both Charlie and four-year-old Kaylee Isner.
The second reading will be by Tom Jahnke, the director of the Chatham Band, who will read his book, “Little Town Band,” in which Charlie is also featured.
Charlie’s career started when Robin Litwin was walking on the beach and photographed Charlie on a dory that they happened upon. She submitted the photo to the guidebook published yearly by the Chatham Chamber of Commerce, and it was selected as the cover.
According to Paul Litwin, “merchants started calling me and asking me if they could do a promo with Chatham Charlie. There were people flying into Chatham and calling us in advance, asking if they could meet Chatham Charlie.” Visitors came from as far as Ohio to meet the dog.
“Charlie was strikingly good-looking, but most importantly, he posed for the camera,” said Litwin. “He would sit there and look regal.”
But posing for the camera wasn’t the only thing Charlie did. “I think that when people met him, he looked at people and connected with them,” said Robin Litwin. “He was very joyful and full of life, and that was a core part of him.”
“He wasn’t just a pretty face,” said Paul Litwin, chuckling, “and not just a vacuous dog model. I’d say that there was a range of reactions from people when they met Charlie—a lot wanted to take pictures with him because he was simply a cute dog, but others knew who he was from his presence on the chamber website and Facebook, and they wanted to meet him. It’s as simple as that.”
“He had this presence and connection with people that just made them feel really happy,” said Robin Litwin.
"And then there were people that just wanted a photo or selfie with him because of who he was,” continued Paul. “He was kind of like a mini dog celebrity.”
He said that after Charlie passed away, people made them meals, just as if a person had died. “He touched a lot of people, more than the average dog.”
“His photographs struck a chord with people,” said Robin Litwin. “It’s almost like he was beyond a dog. He had a very deep soul.”
The Litwins will be in attendance at the memorial event, and plan to continue to honor Charlie’s memory for as long as they can.
“We’ve had a lot of dogs,” said Paul Litwin, “but we’ll never have another dog like Chatham Charlie.”
Saturday's dedication is open to all, and families are especially encouraged to attend, as the readings are geared toward children.