Rocky the boxer is gone. The lively clown who came into our lives 15 months ago and made us laugh, brought us comfort, and provided the kind of companionship only a beloved dog can bring has died. In all my imaginings of this summer with my mother in hospice care here in our home, never did I consider Rocky would depart from us.
I’ve described how Rocky came into our lives. He was truly a gift from God that bounded into our hearts. It didn’t take long for us to become part of his pack. And for some reason he became especially attached to me. He followed me around the house wherever I went. If I went downstairs to do laundry he was right behind me. He would find a place to get comfortable, usually his crate, and settle down until I went back upstairs when he would follow me back up. If I went outside to check the mail or work in the yard, Rocky insisted on tagging along. When I showered in the morning, he expressed his displeasure at my unavailability by going into my bedroom and emptying my waste basket. When I emerged he would be sitting close to the door, waiting for me, looking as innocent as he could muster.
He seemed to have a different kind of relationship with each of us. He would rough house with my son, lay down and put his head in my daughter’s lap, sit at my mother’s feet, ignoring her politely. When my husband came home from work, Rocky announced it by loudly barking. He would start his chortle when he heard the car pull in and bark until my husband came in the door. Rocky would run to me and bark some more as if to make sure I knew hubby was home. When I went to greet my husband with a hug and kiss, Rocky would try to wedge himself between us and bark even louder. We could never figure out if he was jealous, trying to protect me or what.
Sometimes my husband and I would hold hands while sitting next to each other watching TV. Rocky would come over and nose his way between us trying to get us to quit touching each other. Eventually Rocky got used to that but he never liked to see us hug and kiss.
During dinnertime he would settle down in the other room where he could observe us. He was ever watchful and ready for the call that we were finished. My husband would give him a look and an invitation, and he would trot into the kitchen to be hand fed some ice cubes and then have a little snack in his bowl. It didn’t matter that he had already eaten, he felt entitled to a little something more. It only took a small handful of dog food to satisfy his need. And then it was playtime. He would find his toy and bring it over, waiting to see which of us would chase him around for it.
He loved to run around the yard when we were out there. He would leap and bound around like a puppy. Once he hurt his knee and limped for a long time. We took him to the vet for laser treatments and gave him a special supplement that helped, but after that we didn’t encourage him to use the yard like a race track. As long as he didn’t overdo it his knee didn’t seem to bother him. But he was hard to keep down when he was in an exuberant mood.
With his pushed in face and droopy jowls, he could look fierce to those who didn’t know him. Many times he scared someone who came to our door by barking “ferociously.” Little did they know all he was saying was, “Hey, hey, who are you and do you want to be friends?” As mean and grumpy as he could look with that boxer mug, when he opened his mouth it looked like he was smiling.
One of the things he loved the most was a car ride. We didn’t usually have a collar on him but when we took him somewhere in the car we would snap his collar on and grab the leash. Then he knew he was about to go for a ride and could hardly be contained before we could get out the door. He would circle around and around the car looking for his opening. He was not about to get left behind. Sometimes he would even jump into a visitor’s car in the off chance he could sneak in an unexpected ride.
For those who have never owned a pet it’s hard to explain the attachment we felt towards Rocky. But it’s very simple really. He was a gentleman dog who loved us with abandon. How could we resist him?
On Sunday morning we found him collapsed in my daughter’s bathroom in the basement. He had an accident on the floor–which had never happened before. He could not get up on his own so my husband and I worked a beach towel under him and carried him upstairs–each of us holding one end of the towel and Rocky lying limply in the middle. We laid him on his bed and spent the day watching him, cleaning up vomit and carrying him outside to relieve himself periodically. He could barely lift his head and when we took him outside we had to set him on his feet.
The next day my daughter and I took him to the vet, carrying him on the towel as we had done the day before. When the assistant weighed him I was shocked to see he had lost 10 lbs. since his last visit 2 months ago. The vet gave him fluids and anti-nausea medication and told us he was a very sick dog. She took blood and told us to call the next morning for the results. We spent the rest of the day taking turns sitting with him outside in the shade. His condition did not improve and he became increasingly more incontinent.
The next morning his bedding was soaked with urine. I made the call to the vet and heard the words I feared to receive but already knew were coming. Rocky was not going to recover. I had to make the decision to end his suffering. My daughter, son and his wife went with me to take Rocky to the vet. We stood around him, petting and scratching him in the way he always loved, talking softly to him, telling him how much he meant to us. Without embarrassment, tears streamed down our faces as we said good bye to our dear companion. We watched the life drain out of his body, the spark disappear from his eyes.
The intensity of my grief has caught me by surprise and perhaps even alarmed my family a bit. It’s almost a physical pain and it comes over me unexpectedly when I walk outside and realize Rocky will not be joining me; when I pass his crate on my way to the laundry room; when I see his supplement in the cabinet. I think it’s all related to the on-going mourning I have been experiencing with Mom. With Rocky it all happened in 3 days–but I’m watching something very similar play out in my mother over a much longer period of time.
Mom was the reason we got Rocky in the first place–to be a companion for her. She loved him as much as any of us did. Rocky thought he was higher in the pecking order than she was and acted accordingly, but Mom never noticed. As long as he was lying at her feet she was happy and always referred to him as her dog.
Even though her memory and cognitive skills are quite impaired I told her Rocky had gotten very sick and was no longer with us. We cried together. Later, after she had woken up from a nap, however, she asked where Rocky was–no memory of our previous conversation. I decided to live in her reality and said, “He’s out playing, you’ll see him soon.”
Although my theology doesn’t necessarily support the idea of pets going to heaven, I like to think Rocky might be there. I envision him greeting my mother there one day, realizing at last she surpasses him in the pecking order. May he beg her forgiveness!
I’ve asked God why He would take Rocky away so soon after bringing him into our lives. It’s hard to understand, hard to accept his passing. I told Him today I still needed Rocky. And I heard a quiet voice in my heart say, “No, you need more of Me.” And of course it’s true. Rocky was a wonderful companion, a special gift from God. But it’s not the gift that will get us through this challenging time with Mom or anything else in life, it’s the Giver. Let me learn to rely on Him and Him alone.