On January 2nd, my family and I had to say goodbye to the single greatest family member to ever come into our family. They say losing a pet is 10 times harder than losing a human family member but you really have no idea until it happens to you. You also have no idea what unconditional love means, until you have been loved by a pet.
Roxy was born on October 12, 2001. She outlived her parents and all eight of her siblings. She was one tough pup, causing us to believe she was part cat, due to the “expenditure” of lives over the years (giving her humans more than a few heart attacks).
I remember the day we picked her up from the breeder. There were nine puppies in her litter – all of them with different little personalities. Some were huskier-looking labs, some were more playful, some were vocal, some looked sad and sleepy, and others were just curious. Then there was the perfect one, currently asleep in a teenage girl’s arms with a sweet face, and large floppy ears. I knew immediately that was going to be the family dog. So when the girl put her down, I snatched her up and she became ours.
Roxy was a fast learner. The first night we had her, we didn’t have a crate for her yet, so we piled blankets in a rather large Rubbermaid bin, and I slept on the couch, to make sure she didn’t wander off. I’ll never forget the 3am swat on the face with a little paw, puppy breath burning through my nostrils, this sweet face, eager to get outside. I put her leash on her, took her outside, she immediately “went”, and was then ready to go back in and go to sleep. We learned quickly that she came housebroken at 2 1/2 months.
She’d learn so much else during her first six months, and we learned a lot too. She overcame Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (Lyme’s Disease) at five months (first heart attack), she never liked fetch but loved chasing anything living out of the yard. She loved swimming in pools, chasing humans in pools, stealing dinner off people’s plates when no one was looking (even eating a pan of cookies, fresh out of the oven), car rides, dog park visits, and naps in front of the fire.
When she was three, she moved with me to Seattle. We both learned to love the outdoors. She would jump in the Wenatchee River or Lake Wenatchee and decide swimming downstream and/or chasing boats at a rapid pace (heart attacks 2-4) was the most fun she’d ever had. Thankfully, there was always someone to pick her up and bring her back. 🙂
She also learned to “self-socialize”, as I loved to call it. When I lived in Seattle, I dated someone whose parents lived in a little town called Cashmere. When we’d visit them, it was there that Roxy realized no door, paging collar, or other device, meant to keep her on the property, mattered when it came to socializing with other neighboring dogs every morning, within a one-mile radius (heart attacks 5-20). By year two of that, she also attempted several escapes through our SUV window when we’d get into the town (I’ve lost count on heart attacks). She was a lab through and through.
It was through this time that I also learned she hated loud noises and although meant to be utilized as a duck hunter, hated gun shots, and could care less about the retrieval part. In fact, she was 100% labrador, with no sign of retriever anywhere in her.
In 2006, my heart broke when I decided to move to San Diego, and could not find a rental that would allow dogs, especially ones of her size. I made the hardest decision I ever had to make and flew her home to my dad and his wife, to live there – a place she was familiar with for the first three years. She came back to them a more well-trained, sharper pup than they had remembered.
Throughout the next eight years, Roxy enjoyed grilled steaks, an automatic dog door that gave her instant access to the pool (and instant access back inside, dripping wet), jaunts with horses, boat rides, sleepovers with other labs she adored, and more road trips than anyone could count.
In 2014, her age started to show. She had a tumor the size of a football inside of her spleen. We were not prepared to let her go and the fighter in her said it wasn’t time. When it was removed, the very next day she looked at us, as though we were all crazy for being freaked out. Our problem wasn’t one of her longevity anymore, but of having to find a way to keep her from getting her stitches wet in the pool, and trying to run around the house at full speed. Still, at 91 human years, old age finally started to set in with a bit of degenerative hip disease, which caused a slowness to her movement. Although she could feel it, she was determined not to let it slow her down.
In the final year of her life, at the age of 98 (far surpassing any of our other family members), her hips were frail and she was in pain intermittently. It was heart breaking to watch her try to be mobile – you could see her brain was telling her she could do it, but her muscles had other ideas. So, once we were through the holidays, we gave her, her last round of cooked steak and salmon, her last belly rub, and her last goodbye. She “went to sleep” right after the new year.
While I’ve been an emotional wreck, I reflect back on all that she’s taught me – lessons that I wouldn’t have learned well, had she not been in my life:
- Nothing is more important than experiencing unconditional love.
- My dad is right – animals have little souls that speak to you.
- They might not be able to talk (in human language), but they understand you just fine – they know when you’re upset, and they know when you’re happy.
- Happiness should be the only thing on your agenda. Ever. Also naps.
- Never take things for granted – enjoy every moment of it – especially with someone else (human or otherwise).
- Pets have a calming presence. They change so much about your personality. There are reasons why they are used as therapy.
- Taking care of/being responsible for another living being is the most amazing/rewarding experience there is.
- You will never be as grossed out by bodily functions and dead animals again.
- You would die for your pet if you had to.
- You would spend your life savings on your pet if you had to.
Although I have had my own little dog for the last year and a half, Roxy will always have a huge place in my heart and in my soul. I only hope that when she made it to heaven, there was someone there to show her to her swimming pool, tower of treats and salmon, and a nice, big belly rub.
My dad put a beautiful tribute together for her (click here to view). I’ve also put together some of my favorite images of some of her favorite times.
I miss you Roxy girl.