It’s true. I was raised by wolves. Okay fine. Not really. I was raised by a dog that looked like a wolf. Well, by one dog that was roughly the same size as a wolf and two dogs that probably would have made a great wolf snack.
The point is, I have had dogs in my home my entire life. My parents had Ripper, a boxer much sweeter than his name would lead you to believe, when I was born. That dog let me poke, prod, pull…pretty much just annoy the crap out of it until he had enough, and when that moment happened, Ripper would literally put a paw on my face until I learned my lesson. After Ripper came two King Charles Cavalier Spaniels, Alexandria and Moonspinner (what?? I was a free spirit and creative with names!). Alex was my mom’s dog and truly had very little tolerance for me. Moonspinner on the other hand…he was my DUDE! Moonspinner was a few years older than Alex. We brought him into the family because Alex would only eat when there were other dogs around (“No, I wasn’t going to eat that, you sure as hell aren’t either, so I’ll just eat it myself!”). But I, being a typical 9 year old, was more than excited to add another furry member to our family, no matter the reason. Moonspinner became my late-night confidant, my secret garbage disposal when dinner wasn’t exactly what I wanted, and my funniest friend.
I was a sophomore in college when Moonspinner suffered from congestive heart failure. He was much too young to die and it caught our entire family off guard. Spinner’s death was my first experience with losing a family dog, and it shook me to the core. I hadn’t lost a pet. I had lost a lifelong friend.
Shortly thereafter, in July of 2005, our family grew by one baby girl boxer. Chicago, the movie version of the stage musical was one of my favorite movies. I knew every line, every musical nuance, and my senior year prom dress was designed to look like the one Renee Zellweger, playing Roxie Hart, wears during Funny Honey (Google it. IT’s a beautiful dress!). So it was only natural that our newest addition was named Roxie Star (Star after the late Moonspinner Star). Because I was in college, beginning my junior year, Roxie lived with my parents, but was considered my dog. I purposely got a boxer so that I would have a large, protective dog with me when I moved out of my parents’ house after college. Our family found a breeder with puppies we liked and Mom and I went to visit and pick one out. When we arrived, there were puppies everywhere! Out of the litter, there were 2 left available for adoption. I picked them both up, one in each arm. (The-Dog-That-Was-About-To-Be-Known-As) Roxie looked up at me, gave me a once over, and gave me a full faced, sloppy wet kiss. It was love at first slime.
In December 2007, I moved out of Mom & Dad’s and Roxie came with me. We were independent girls on our own, able to conquer and obstacle that came our way! Roxie and I had already experienced many adventures together. We went to the beach with my parents. I tried to introduce her to her joys of ocean swimming. She came out of the water panicked, and I came out with scratches, head to toe. Roxie took part in a long standing family tradition of going to the Circleville Pumpkin Show every year. She even got to go dressed as a pumpkin! She never stayed with me, but Roxie did get to see what college living was like in a sorority house and off-campus house (now you know why she didn’t stay!). Roxie experienced at least 6 Depp-a-Thon’s (if you don’t know, it’s a long story. Basically a weekend-long Johnny Depp movie marathon of EPIC proportions.).
Roxie and I lived together for about 2 years before my mom’s cancer came back. The first time my mom had cancer, I was away at college and Roxie was living with my parents. Normally a super energetic dog, Roxie knew that Mom was sick and sat by her day after day, just resting her big head on Mom’s lap, not needing to play or be walked, but happy to just sit and be a 60-pound love beast. So when Mom’s cancer showed up again, she played what I lovingly termed, “The Cancer Card.”
“Ash, you know how Roxie kept me company the last time I had cancer right? Well, It’d be nice if I could have her to sit with me again.”
There is absolutely ZERO arguing with The Cancer Card. And rightly so! It’s fucking cancer! So off Roxie went to live with Mom & Dad again.
On October 27th, 2010, my mom lost her battle against cancer. When it came to Roxie’s living arrangements, what was I going today to my dad?? “Sooo…you don’t need Roxie to keep Mom company anymore…I know that it’s gonna be a big empty house without Mom or the dog, but…can I have her back??” HELL NO! Roxie stayed with Dad, and a little over a month later, Dewars On The Rocks With a Twist (named after my mother’s standard drink of choice), Dewey for short, barged into my life. So Dad had his dog and I had mine.
Dewey TERRORIZED Roxie! And she tolerated him with the patience of a mother. Sure, he got the occasional warning bark, but Dewey & Roxie actually became very close friends. Dad couldn’t babysit Dewey without clamoring on about “They really play well together!” Dewey became the little brother Roxie never wanted and surely didn’t ask for, but learned to love because there really was no other choice.
Well, about a week ago, Dad told me that Roxie had fallen off of the bed in her sleep. I laughed it off as a silly dog moment. Dad said that for the rest of that day, Roxie was acting strangely. I assured him that he was overreacting and that she was probably just shaken up from the mid-sleep tumble. A few days later it was Christmas Eve 2013! We went to lunch at our cousin’s home around noon. After dinner, Dad dropped me off at home and I got ready for my annual sleepover at his house. I had to stop at the pet store and get a few toys for Roxie 7 Dewey’s stockings (yes, the have their own stockings!). While I was in the store, Dad called me.
“Roxie is acting strange still. She’s being really lethargic and just not her normal self. I am going to take her to the vet. DO you want to come with me?”
Uggghhh! Dad! I told him I was sure he was still overreacting but to go ahead and go and that I would stay at home with Cathy (his lovely lady friend) because in an hour he was going to have a house full of people and someone should be there to greet them. I also told Dad that should the vet want to keep Roxie overnight for observation, to not let them because I was not about to have my little girl spend Christmas Eve in the hospital. We would take her back in the morning for testing if needed.
About 2 hours later, after everyone had arrived, Dad called with an update.
The vets had run their bevy of tests and discovered that our sweet little girl Roxie had a belly full of blood caused by a mass in her liver and/or spleen. The mass was probably caused by Hemangiosarcoma (HSA), “an extremely aggressive tumor of blood vessel origin.” Because it originates in the blood vessels, it never showed up on any of her yearly exams. If there was any good news in this, it was that for the months that this had probably been happening, she didn’t feel any pain until the tumor started bleeding, which was probably just the past day.
Roxie’s prognosis was not good. The options were to take her home until the morning, in which case she would bleed out internally and her death would not be peaceful (Nope.), perform surgery to remove the blood from her belly, which might result in the vet having to put her down on the table (No thanks.), or, the vet’s suggestion, taking away her pain and end her suffering by putting Roxie down that night (No…).
Over the phone, Dad asked me what I wanted to do since she was my dog. I forced him to decide, although I think we both would’ve made the same decision. He decided that she would not suffer anymore and that it was in her best interest to put her down that evening. Dad came home from the vet to get me and we went back together.
I’ll spare you the dramatic emotions of the procedure, but in case you haven’t experienced this with a pet before, it is just plain awful. Dad and I found comfort in being able to be with her in her last moments, hugging and kissing her and telling her what a good dog she was and also knowing that it is a painless procedure – they put Roxie to sleep (sedation) before injecting the concoction that would stop her heart. I think Roxie knew she was sick before she left the house. And I think she knew she was done. Her eyes just said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve tried and I can’t anymore.” It was like she was asking for our help.
When we came home, Dewey knew something was off. I seriously think he was in doggie mourning. He just wasn’t his usual annoying, energetic self. He laid under the piano during dinner (he’s usually in your face begging) and laid by the fire the rest of the night.
Some might read this and think what a terrible Christmas we had. And yes, it was not how we wanted to spend our holiday, but there is some joy somewhere in this. We were together with family. We could celebrate Roxie’s life with the people who loved her and that she loved. Sometimes it is hard to believe or to understand, but there is life in death. Not only will Roxie live on through our stories and memories, but I believe that I will see her in Heaven someday. I know that Roxie is once again sitting at Mom’s feet while she enjoys her afternoon Dewars on the rocks with a twist.