For love of a dog

One day, a little over fifteen years ago, I went to the pet store for a bag of cat food. This particular pet store always had the cutest puppies and kittens, all hand raised from local families. My six year old son was with me – he loved the lizards. That day I was completely taken by a little eight week old puppy. I had no intention, absolutely no intention of getting a dog. A few months earlier I had put down another dog, our beloved Bingo, a stray who found us some eight years earlier. I intended to be a dogless family, just cats. But then this puppy, with big brown eyes looked at me. And melted my heart.

I promptly left the store, minus cat food, but with son in hand. I called my husband and asked him to run over to the pet store and check out the puppy. I told him I’d get the kids and join him later, but he was to ponder whether or not we wanted this puppy. We’d decide when I joined him. I collected both kids and slowly made my way back to the store. There I found my husband on the floor, fully engaged in playing with the puppy. It was clear. Absolutely clear that she was meant to be ours.

No doubt she chose me.

But I heard the call of the spirit and responded in kind.

 The kids named her Rocksy – because the spots on her bodies reminded them of rocks.(Don’t ask me the logic of this….it’s just what they said)…so, I suggested we name her Roxanne and call her Roxie. The kids agreed. And so, Roxie became a beloved member of our family.

Here is Roxie at about age four

 Training her to be housebroken, was easy. She was a smart dog. Training her to walk on a leash was a little bit more of a challenge…Roxie is mixed breed of Red Heeler and Labrador Retriever. As part cattle dog her response to learning how to walk on a leash was to nip me on the back of my legs, as if herding me along. There is nothing like the very sharp baby teeth of a puppy, seriously. But in time Roxie learned to walk on a leash, and over the years we had many long walks.

In puppy classes she was brilliant – learned every trick practically the first time we tried it. And she remembered them. One of her favorite games was hide and seek. Oh we had fun trying to out smart her – but she always found us!

Later, about the time Roxie was four, we got a second dog, Ruby. Shortly there after we joined a dog park. Those were the days! This dog park was a fenced-in area of about twenty acres with a large pond, grasses, and small patches of woods. I could take both dogs for a long walk off lead. Roxie would lumber ahead of us, looking back now and then to make sure she could still see us, but the rest of the time her nose was to the ground. Her most favorite thing in the world – sniffing everything. And Ruby would run, full out, and jump over the grasses. Two dogs, as close to heaven as possible in this realm.

Roxie and Ruby came to love one another. It took awhile however. Roxie was always a more independent dog, liked to go off on her own. Ruby was the complete opposite, always wanting to be right up next to you. They clearly had some power struggles to determine who was the alpha…evident by newly acquired submissive behavior on Ruby’s part after they had been left alone for some time. But over time they came to love one another. All of Ruby’s life she has gone on long walks with Roxie. She has never really known a day without her.

Roxie was particularly fond of cold weather. We use to say, “It’s Roxie weather!” On snowy frosty cold days her spirit would perk up, a bounce in her step, a smile on her face. Roxie was a smiler.
 
One day in 2011, just a few days before we moved to Michigan Roxie began to have seizures. That day I stood by as she had the first seizure that knocked her to the ground unconscious. I knelt to help her and when she was successfully revived I realized she couldn’t walk. Eventually she regained use of her legs. A trip to the vet determined severe arthritis, the treatment included  pain meds and an anti-inflammatory. Over the next two years she improved temporarily and was able to take long walks again and fully enjoy life. 

Roxie, summer 2011 enjoying some time on the deck

But she would still have seizures, three or four in a row and then nothing for months. It took us awhile to really understand that the seizures all seemed to be related to pain in her hips, pain caused by a powerful spasm. Or at least that was the best we could make of it. We monitored her pain and adjusted her medication. We did what we could to keep her comfortable.

I thought for certain that we were going to lose her last summer. At the end of a long, wonderful walk, as we were crossing the street to our yard, Roxie had a seizure. In the street. With cars coming at us. I had the other two dogs (Ruby and our most recent addition, Emmy – who is four). I tied them to a post near the church and went back to help Dan as he assisted Roxie. We lifted her to the sidewalk and massaged her chest and hips. We steadied her as she clambered to her feet and staggered around until she had her balance and sensibilities back.

And then she was fine. Many months passed, and she was fine. Happy. Eating. Playful. Enjoying her favorite old dog activity – looking out the window and barking at dogs walking down the street.

Roxie loved life. Every night she would jump up on our bed and snuggle in. Then about the time we turned off the light to fall asleep, she would jump off the bed and go to her own bed. Always the independent dog.

In her old age she took to following me around the house. She would come up to me and snuggle her head into my leg as if to say, “love you.’ And I always reached down and stroked her head and ears and said, “love you, beautiful Roxie.”

About two weeks ago we gave her a bath and cleaned her ears then took her to the vet to have her nails done. A little dog pampering. Then, over the course of those two weeks she began a clear and steady decline. Unable to stand up she’d just fall over. Her back legs could not support her to eat, walk, or do her business outside. She panted non-stop. On Friday I came home from church to find her in her usual place under the kitchen table. She didn’t wake up when I came in, she didn’t even lift her head. She was clearly still breathing but she was out of it. She rallied a bit for the next couple of days. But it was clear that she was on a steep decline: her eyes were looking poorly (maybe an eye-infection), she developed a urinary tract infection, her panting increased.

We made the decision yesterday. Today would be the day. I knew this day was coming. I expected it every day for the last twenty-six months. I worried that one of the seizures would be her last. But that was not to be the case. We were not spared the visit to the vet. We had to walk that final journey with her. She, in our arms, tired, panting, looking at us like she knew. Knew that we would care for her in these final moments as we had her entire life.

Love you beautiful Roxie.

Love you forever.

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About Terri C Pilarski

I am an Episcopal priest serving a delightfully progressive, interesting, creative congregation. I have been married more than half my life to the same man. We have two grown children, plus two dogs and two cats, although the number of four legged household members changes from time to time. I love to garden, knit, read, and play on Facebook or with my blog. I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen. I practice yoga five days a week and walk every where I am able too.
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13 Responses to For love of a dog

  1. Purple says:

    Hugs to all and so sorry.

  2. zorra says:

    Oh, Terri, I'm so sorry. Sweet Roxie. What a great life you gave her.

  3. Lisa :-] says:

    One of the saddest facts of our lives is that our beloved animal family members walk this earth for a much shorter period of time than we do. We trade the unconditional love they give us for the burning sorrow when they leave us. But it's worth every tear. Hugs to you, my friend…

  4. Gaye says:

    Terri I am so sad for you. Hugs and prayers.

  5. Dear Terri, I'm so sorry.What a nice dog.Joanna

  6. oh my friend and virtual neighbor… i shall be right over with a huge basket of teas, dark chocolates and a big bottle of red wine, mmm and kleenex.it hurts, even when we know it's coming, or it's the best thing to do… and even when we "professionally" walk through grief often… it hurts. so take the time you need to be gentle with thyself. prayers from me. big lab kisses from lucky latte…

  7. Jemma says:

    Roxie sounds like a very lovely dog. So sorry for your loss.

  8. Joanne says:

    Sending hugs.remembering when you got Roxie

  9. Nancy says:

    So sorry to hear of Roxie's death. What a wonderful story of her life you wrote. Hugs to you and yours, including Ruby and Emmy.

  10. momrevdr says:

    In the midst……grief when we've had the gifts and priviledge to nurture and companion life…Roxie is romping now together with the other beloved ahead of us……mystery of hope be yoursWith love,Colleen

  11. Teri says:

    hugs to you all, and pets to Ruby. so sorry. Roxie is a beautiful dog, and I'm so glad she had a beautiful family to spend her life with.

  12. Terri says:

    Thank you, everyone. Grief is such a wiley critters, sneaks up on me from time to time and takes me out at the knees. Mostly we are adjusting, dogs and humans, and moving a tiny bit from grief to gratitude that we had her as long as we did.

  13. Patti Money says:

    I am so, so, sorry. Pets…they're like our children, and it's really cruel that they have shorter lifetimes than us…

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