Fare thee well Roxanne

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Hello my fellow bloggers and friends. Deep exhale…midterms are behind us. If any of you have been following my blog you know that I have had Halloween on the brain and I’ve been anxious over midterms. Here is the sad part. If you have also been following, you might have caught that my dog has not been well.

Oh my friends…it is with deep sorrow that I have to report that my dog Roxy passed away on Election night. There are so many things about this that have torn at my heart strings. So much guilt. This is the hardest part about making end of life decisions. You feel damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. I was completely prepared to put my pet down a week ago but did not. This week was tough on the old girl. It was tough on me. So many things about it have just felt so messed up. It all comes down to, how would I have changed things if I knew it was going to end this way?

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The bottom line is my dog is not suffering anymore and for that I am grateful. About three weeks ago, my dog suddenly became violently ill. It was like a 24 hour thing that did a horrible number on her. She could barely walk, she’d walk towards the wall, she forgot how to use the stairs. She was weak and dehydrated and would not eat. Then just like that she had an incredible thirst and she was back on her feet again. She was eating and her appetite was hearty.

It was perplexing. It was like she was on death’s door, and suddenly it seemed like she turned herself back around. It was as if she was making a comeback from a stroke or something. I’d find out later that this was likely due to vestibular disease which is common in older dogs. My vet compared this to extreme vertigo.

My dog made a recovery but she was not the same after that. It took a lot out of her. Then I noticed my dog started leaning to one side and licking her underbelly. We were getting somewhere. She had a very large cyst I was not aware of and it had ruptured. I immediately took her to the vet. My dog had an infected mammary cyst and other mammary tumors that would likely need to be removed and biopsied. The issue here was that in dog years she was a very old dog.

My dog’s behavior did not really reflect her diagnosis, and since the cyst ruptured she seemed to be doing better.  Her appetite and drinking were taken as a sign that we did not need to pursue drastic measures yet. The vet wanted to take care of the infection first and give her time to recover from her last episode, hydrate, and maybe get some of her strength back. I went home with antibiotics and pain medication. I was taught how to apply warm compresses, and my dog seemed to be getting better day by day.

I was so proud of my dog at the vet. She was an absolute sweetheart. I came in the day before to talk to the staff. The questions were, “Was this going to be an end of life visit, or something else?” They prepared me for both. I knew in the back of my mind that my dog’s condition may have metastasized. My other question was, “Do I need to have my dog come in with a cone or a muzzle because she is a troublesome dog and she feels extremely threatened by other people?” In the end, I decided no, that would only make her more anxious. I’d bring her in on a leash and take my chances.

Here is the thing about my dog. My dog was abandoned by her former owner. She spent the majority of her life confined to a kennel. When I married my husband four years ago the dog and I became acquainted. She had made some serious enemies in the neighborhood. She would chase. She could bite. She would snap. Her hair would stand on end like she was incredibly agitated. I feared this dog was a lawsuit waiting to happen. There was a time I actually wondered if we should have Roxy put down for that reason. I read up on it, and in the end I could not do it. The only explanation I have for this is that I had been formerly abused myself.

I proceeded with caution with my children. I was annoyed with the former dog owner. How DARE they treat their dog this way than dump this troublesome dog onto my husband and now this DOG was my problem. I married my husband, hence I married the dog. I was resentful that my dog’s temperament may have been a result of her upbringing. She might have been a different dog if she’d had a better start.

I took care of the dog’s basic needs. This also became my son’s chore. Soon she stopped being so leery of us and became downright friendly. My son was so happy to have a dog. A dog is like manna from heaven in a young boy’s life. My son started taking the dog for walks around the neighborhood and I noticed that he and the dog were starting to forge a friendship. In my son’s mind Roxy did not have a horrible reputation. She was the best dog ever. We even started calling her Roxanne in hopes that it would soften her image.

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I did not fully trust the dog with my son, but as I watched them play I noticed that once you were in Roxy’s circle of trust she was the most docile dog ever. It’s very strange to say, but I feel like Roxy never saw my son as threatening because of his autism. My son would get these ideas about Roxy and make Roxy do the most ridiculous things and Roxy was always happy to participate. My son started watching you tube videos about crate training and he made a goal to see if he could get Roxy in a crate. That did not take long. Roxy is part border Collie and we were finding out that she was pretty smart.

As the weather became colder the “normal” way of doing things bothered me. Roxy had a heater but she chewed through her cord. Bringing her into the garage with a heater seemed okay, but I wanted to try bringing her into the house. I remember that first night. I remember it very well. I lied down cardboard and newspaper and trapped her in an area by my son’s bed. She was pacing she was panting. She would NOT settle. I asked Tristan if we should take her back outside and he said no, he wanted to do this, and finally Roxy settled and went to sleep.

I knew my son’s sleep was a priority so I wanted to try to get her to settle during the day. I would bring Roxy in and put chairs around her and after a while she would calm and relax. Soon she would sleep by my son’s bed without the enclosure and before we knew it she’d be hanging in the living room sleeping by the fireplace going, “I could get used to this.” We’d take her on frequent trips to the bathroom and honestly she was not hard to train. It’s like she had been trained in this area before.

I wasn’t going to bring a dirty dog into the house, so giving her a bath was a trial. As aggressive and as horrible as her temperament was to everyone else she never tried to snap at us or bite. She just wasn’t having it. In the end, Roxy became a house dog. Sometimes we had company or other children over and we still did not trust her with strangers.There were times we had to kennel her up and she was easy with it because that is how she had lived her life before. However, somewhere in this process she became “spoiled.” and did not want to kennel up at all.

The bottom line is Roxy became an absolute angel for us but she had reached her max. She was never going to be “that dog” for anyone else. She was okay with our cats. In fact the cats bossed her around.  Roxy was always really good about telling me when she was out of food and she even started telling me when the cats were out of food too. It was almost like she became their servant and they were her bosses.

She was never going to be the dog that I could take to a dog park. I had to put her away when other dogs were around. I had to be hyper-vigilant with my children’s playmates or guests. I was fearful that she would get out and tear into the UPS man or snap at anyone who approached our yard. Every time the UPS man did a drive by she was in a mad frenzy. She hated the doorbell. She hated door knocking, she would not even stand for it if it was happening on T.V. I often wondered if my dog suffered from PTSD.

One day the unthinkable happened. My daughter came home and left the garage door open partway and Roxy got out. The UPS man was in his truck with the door shut because  my dog Roxy was right there ready to let him have it. My beloved neighbor who did NOT hate my dog gave Roxy a treat and calmed her down. A few day later the UPS man came to the house and my 11 year old answered. He flat out told her that if he ever had any problems with the dog, he would have her killed. I get it. No I don’t. Why would the UPS man relay that kind of a message to a child?

Again, I was wondering what was to be done with Roxy. We were lucky. Our house was so full of people coming and going what if something happened? I was terrified. What if it was not a matter of if, but when? We really had to beef up our efforts and still it felt unsettling.

At this point in the reading, some of you may hate or love my dog. This is the thing. Roxy went from being my son’s dog to being my dog. It was like she knew that I was the reason for the change in her quality of life and she would thank me for it everyday. Roxy had horrible separation anxiety and I became her human.

She followed me everywhere. For the last two years she has always been at my feet or in the same room as me. I couldn’t even shower without her being outside my bathroom door. Sometimes I would get annoyed and say, “Don’t you ever get tired of following me around Roxy?” When I’d do my hair and makeup in front of my full- size mirror, she would sit right there and watch me. Her reflection would be staring right back at me in the mirror. It  was almost like having a little stalker. This last week, she did something she had never done before, she put her head on my shoulder and rested it there.

Here’s the part that tears at my heart strings. Two years ago I was thrown into the depths of depression. Ten years ago, I had HORRIBLE postpartum depression. I barely got out of that one with my life. I never thought I could stoop that low again. These last two years I came awfully close.

This was when Roxy became my shadow and my friend. Marrying my husband brought big changes to my family. BLENDED FAMILIES ARE HARD. To say that our new home did not have a welcoming presence would be an understatement. In the midst of this I had oral surgery that went wrong and suddenly I was experiencing chronic pain that never went away. It escalated so much that I would pace the floor like a caged tiger. I hated waking up and facing the day so everything could reset all over again. Getting to sleep was not easy. I had five surgeries on my face in a year.

I saw multiple oral surgeons. I was on antibiotics six times and my gut health went to hell and than it was discovered that I may have an auto immune disease. NOBODY cares about the stepmother in my experience EVER. In blended families, if you do the research, stepmothers have the highest incidence of depression. I believe it. I experienced it. I started wondering if my new home life was toxic and if in order to heal I needed to leave the home entirely.

I had to pretend I was not in pain all the time. I had to consider everyone’s feelings but my own. I refused to take narcotics for my pain because I had worked in a pain clinic for eight years and I did not want to go down that road.

The only one who knew I was in pain was Roxy. My face would be throbbing with nerve pain and she would come and lick my face on the side that hurt. She just knew where the pain was. All of my children have expressed that the pets have been their solitude. If their was a welcoming presence in this home it came from the pets. The pets never made us feel unwelcome. The pets were always happy to see us. The pets have definitely been the grounding force in the house.

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My pain is not nearly what it used to be. I have had to make some drastic lifestyle changes to keep my health in check. I’m almost to the completion of my bachelors degree which I pursued on-line while I was in pain. The three teenage girls in the house have moved out. Did we ever fix anything? No, we did not.

I entered a blended family thinking there would be an adjustment period and everyone would adjust. That was naive. There are some in our family, who will NEVER adjust. We may do this for the rest of our lives. All the BS and anxiety over what has been happening in my beloved country over the past two years only added to it. There was no give between what was happening on the outside of my home and what was happening on the inside.  Where was the sanctuary?

What I can say is I feel like I have pulled myself out of something. I’ve reached a letting go phase. I have had to learn the art of realizing that self care and self preservation are important. I can’t allow people to have control over how I feel about myself and I was never in control. There are just some things that can’t be harnessed and it was too much of a burden to place on myself. NOBODY ever had the right to make me feel like every failure was my own. In many ways, I did this to myself. There were too many variables to make them all mine. Apathy ran rampant and the unconditional love, empathy, and feeling of acceptance that I so needed came from the dog.

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This is why I cry. My dog was a senior dog when I met her. She was a troublesome dog. She exceeded her life expectancy despite spending the majority of her life in a way no dog should ever have to live. Before she died, she was LOVED by a family…MY family. She fought so hard to make a comeback for us, and in these last few weeks she had a few successes.

In the end, it just wasn’t in her anymore. I’ve spent enough time with hospice patients to know when people want to go. My dog did not want to go. She wanted to stay. She loved us so much, but that only got her so far, and finally… she had enough. She HAD to let go.

When my dog was having her vestibular spell and could scarcely move, her tail would wave excitedly whenever she’d hear the sound of my voice. After our last visit to the vet, I talked to my dog (Yes I talk to my dog). I thought it was a long shot and I said, “Roxy…I’m going to be okay now…and if you need to go and when you are ready…just don’t wave your tail anymore, than I will know.”

My dog stopped eating. She stopped drinking. She had a severe GI bleed. This stage is not glamorous. This stage will try you in ways you can not imagine. It was beyond taking her to the vet. The blood loss was severe. I looked into the cost of GI surgery, her probable malignant tumors, and took into account her age. I knew it wasn’t going to happen. The humane thing to do now, would be to have her put down and I’d have to have someone do it at our home.

Last week when I was at the Vet, we had gone over the options. Options A, B, or C. It SUCKS when you have to take into account the expense. It will guilt trip any dog owner. I knew I could do the paw print myself. I didn’t need her ashes in an urn. The plan was the vet would do it in his office and her ashes would be placed with other dogs on a mountainside somewhere. To me, that seemed peaceful.

Looking back, I realize now, that my dog always hated other dogs. Her life was in our yard. She had separation anxiety. Why would she want to be away from us? In her last weeks she wanted nothing more than to be outside. If she could speak, or had any awareness of her own mortality she would be happiest here. We have acreage we have that option.

This is the gut-wrencher. I spent a chunk the week before at the vet getting her pain medicine and antibiotics. There was no way now I was getting her into the vet’s office in her condition. I pooled my finances to have a vet come to the house so she could be put down which would be far more expensive. Something had gone awry with my account.

Earlier in the day, I opened the garage and Roxy went out on the front lawn. She wasn’t going to chase after the UPS man. She couldn’t have done it if she tried. It was an unbelievably warm day for November. She was gradually moving to the front corner of the lawn soaking up every last bit of sunshine. I remember the sun hitting the last bit of her nose as she lied down so she could relish every inch of it.

I covered her with a blanket because it was starting to get cold. Right before this I said, “I’m sorry Rox. I have a direct deposit coming tomorrow and we’re just going to have to do this thing first thing in the morning.”

I sat with her soaking up the last of the day’s sun. I knew it was going to be a rough night and I hated that. I petted her. I talked to her. I told her I was sorry. The kids had come home and greeted her like they always do. As sick as she was she never got cantankerous or snappy with them. We’ d walk away and she’d still turn her head, like, “hey come back.” She did stop wagging her tail.

As the last of the sun went down and reflected off my dog’s nose, and as she veered her head in the direction of the sun, a HUGE flock of geese flew overhead. I remember saying, “Look Rox. LOOK! Look at all those geese?” Tears just started streaming down my face. It was like Niagara Falls. I knew in that moment my dog was going to die. There wasn’t going to be a tomorrow. This was her last day. This was her last day on earth.

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My neighbors who DESPISED my dog came over and talked to me. My husband came home from work and we tried getting Roxy to walk into the garage because it was getting cold. She sat up. She tried. She couldn’t go anywhere. My husband and I used her blanket to cradle her and carried her in the garage. We laid her down on some old carpet and I put some old Christmas towels over her. She died within a half hour. She died on Election day.

I don’t want to romanticize my dog’s death. Everything about the geese is absolutely true. It was one of those moments that if I could have it again on replay and do a life review that moment would be there. That is how my dog would choose to die if she were aware of her own mortality. Then again there’s this part to all of it , that eats at me. If I had known what I know now, I would have put her down a week ago. How could I not have known?

Roxy is buried in our backyard next to our cat Tom. I went with my husband to help bury her but my son touched my shoulder and said, “You stay here mom. Let me and Shane handle this.” I knew in that moment, that my son was becoming a man. He knew Roxy had become my dog.

My son had grown from a boy since Roxy came into our lives. I came out of a sea of depression, and our family dynamic had changed…not to resolution… but calm. It’s getting there. Roxy had fulfilled her “mission.” My mother said that it’s amazing how pets can bring a family closer. We’re not entirely there yet, but maybe my mother is right. I know Roxy made a difference in our lives. She made us better people.We will never EVER forget her. She was an absolute anchor.

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When our cat Tom died, his epitaph read “Tom, he was a very hungry cat.” Roxy’s will read, “Roxy, she hated everyone, but she loved us.” How lucky we were. Our cat Princess is in Kidney Failure, and I imagine hers will read, “Princess, she truly was a princess.” Aren’t pets funny?

I find absolute peace knowing that Roxy has been laid  to rest. Soon, she’ll be next to both of her former bosses. This is the part that’s the stunner. I never realized how much my pets truly loved each other. That is the peace I have found in all of this.

 

 

 

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