We could not have come into each other’s lives at a more perfect time.

We saw one another for the first time at the same exact moment. Roxy was terrified, disoriented, in ill health and very much in need of someone to love her – and I had forgotten how to embrace the need to be needed.

She was a 100 pound, pure-bred Newfie who was at least 30 pounds underweight, and I was still emotionally closed down following the loss a few weeks earlier of my beloved four year old German Shepherd, Terra, to leukaemia. So there we were, sizing each other up. And I guess that, in spite of our challenges, we both liked what we saw.

As a favour to the president of our rescue organisation, Chicagoland Dog Rescue, I agreed to foster Roxy for a while because we had no other place for her to go.

“OK, Kiddo. We got this. You’re going to stay with me for a while.”

In hindsight, I remember how easily she fell into step beside me as we headed for my car, and I suspect she knew long before I did she would be staying with me for more than a while.

We settled immediately into an easy rhythm of sharing our lives. We played goofy games with each other, and she couldn’t wait to go to work with me every day. As time went on, she assumed the mantle of our rescue’s super-star ambassador dog and became quickly known as Da Rox. It was quite a mantle – it had to be to fit her 160-pound frame!

For the next nine years, she tirelessly appeared at fundraising functions, posed for calendars, taught our youngest foster puppies their manners, and endured adolescents, both canine and human, as they climbed all over her, testing her limitless patience. And she showed our hope-starved senior rescues that she had once been just like them, and to never lose hope.

And, oh my goodness, Da Rox literally traveled the world without ever leaving Illinois. No matter where we went or what we did, folks insisted on selfies with Da Rox which they would immediately share. She became a marquee star in China, Japan, Germany, Italy and even Boone, North Carolina. Her humble confidence and easy charisma won over every single heart she ever encountered.

Then on 5 April 2017, my beautiful 27-year-old daughter, Jamie, died from a drug overdose.

For many days afterwards, Roxy did not… would not… leave my side. She shadowed my every movement and made sure that she was always in contact with me, literally touching me, in some way. She knew that I really didn’t want to be here anymore, but she would quietly lay her big bear head in my lap and look at me with those eyes that were always more human than dog, as if to say, “OK, Kiddo. We got this. You’re going to stay with me a while.”

Quite simply… she saved my life. And against all odds, though completely unimaginable, after Jamie’s death my bond with Da Rox grew even stronger. She really was my soulmate, and I was hers. Don’t ask me to explain that. It just… was.

She greeted the vet with a wag of that mighty tail. She was just that way.

Then, in mid-August, 2017, she suddenly became ill and couldn’t keep food or water down, so of course off to the vet we went. What was originally diagnosed as the canine version of diverticulitis was eventually determined to be cancer of her intestines. The doctors told us that at her age surviving surgery would be a 50/50 proposition at best, and even if she pulled through, her quality of life would be severely compromised.

So, she and I talked it over, right then and there at the vet’s, and as heartbreaking as it was, decided it was time she should set out for the Rainbow Bridge. We spent another couple of hours together reviewing the joys and challenges of our lives together, agreeing that there could have never been a sweeter relationship than the one we shared.

Then it was time to say goodbye, and the vet came in with the needle that would send her on her next journey. She greeted him with a wag of that mighty tail. She was just that way.

I held her big bear head in my lap and said, “OK, Kiddo. We got this.”

With a final loving look at me she sighed deeply and slipped peacefully away. My life will never be the same without Da Rox in it, but it will always be better because she was…

This is a guest post by Phil Brakefield. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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