Dog in carrier bag.


Unknown To 2021

by Claire O’Brien 

Pint-sized, but made a huge impression

Charlie, a scruffy white Chihuahua-Terrier mix, passed away May 25, 2021, surrounded by friends. Charlie, age unknown, had been living on the streets of Uvita, Costa Rica, for some time before being adopted by the O’Brien family. 

I met Charlie while waiting in the reception of the local vet clinic in Uvita, Costa Rica, with my own rescue dog. A family of American tourists entered with panicked energy. They’d found a senior dog in the road and couldn’t find his owner. To their surprise and disappointment, the local animal shelters were full and would not accept another stray animal.  As a last resort, they’d arrived at the vet hoping to find a solution before flying home to Denver the following day. The young boy leading this crusade had named the weak, deaf, and blind mutt “Charlie.” Overhearing the commotion, I gave the family my phone number; the next day, Charlie had a home brimming with love and possibilities.

Old dog, new trick

The other dogs in our family were hulking labs and pit bulls, so Charlie quickly gained the status of being my “purse” dog. Of course, he looked adorable in a purse, but he also couldn’t walk well due to a poorly healed broken leg. (And when he did walk, it tended to be in an unproductive circle.)

Pet carrier bags hadn’t yet caught on in Costa Rica, so I special ordered several from the States (a cheerful satchel crafted from vibrant Guatemalan fabric being the favorite). Charlie soon was accompanying me everywhere. He took to his outings and new mode of transport with panache. Charlie made appearances at the Dog in pet carrierhairdresser, the bank, furniture shopping, and Saturday mornings at the coffee shop. Once, he escorted me on a road trip to San Jose, Costa Rica, where he enjoyed a pampered evening at the Residence Inn Escazu.

Always a trendsetter

His initial vet visit determined that Charlie suffered many medical issues, so trips to the clinic became weekly. He quickly charmed the staff with his lopsided gait, sweet disposition, and innovative style. With each arrival, the front desk team burst into cheers—Charlie’s here!

Charlie made new friends wherever he went. It took a tough customer to resist scratching those soft white ears poking out of his jaunty Guatemalan pet carrier. Before long, I saw other owners taking their dogs out in their own carrier bags. “Just like Charlie,” one of the vet technicians explained as he arranged his rescue wiener dog into a backpack. Briefly, Charlie and I considered going into the Dog Carrier Purse business with an eye on the Central American market. Charlie ultimately had other plans (mostly napping).

To have known him is to have loved him

Nothing was known of Charlie’s past, of course. I estimated he was at least 12 years old. He’d likely been somebody’s pet, but how he ended up on the streets is anyone’s guess. We know Charlie had a huge appetite and never turned down a treat. His favorite place to nap was his pink donut bed, but anywhere would do. And he never complained when I used his diminutive size to demonstrate the scale of the enormous exotic fruits in the garden.

Dog standing next to a jackfruit.During his time with us, his health had stabilized. And while Charlie’s new family and friends wished we had more time with him, after six months of rehabilitation, Charlie’s health suddenly began to decline. Too soon, it became time to say goodbye. 

Charlie is survived by Claire, Reuben, and his fur siblings, Jose, Goat, Hugh, Gus, and Sophie. We also send many thanks and pura vida vibes to Cai, Myung, and Grace Kim for scooping Charlie off the street that January afternoon, and to our dear friends, the Centro Veterinario Costa Ballena, for their bottomless generosity towards the homeless animals in the Costa Ballena community. 

Donations in Charlie’s memory can be made to El Refugio of Costa Ballena, Costa Rica.



  1. Katharine Lowrie

    Absolutely adored this story about Charlie. How inspiring that he was so handicapped…and so loved by the O’Briens.

  2. Bonnie

    Such an inspirational story!

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