Never Just A Dog
Her name was Roxy and she wasn't just a dog. She was my number one homegirl.
I didn’t look at her and see a dog, even though she obviously was. I looked at her and saw my best friend. My copilot. My ride or die. My sidekick. My family got her when I was about a month away from turning 16. Being that age and having a girl dog, she was the sister I never had.
When she was a puppy, she’d come into my room and steal my underwear and bras to proudly prance around the house with them. When I had my own house in college, she’d come to visit and ended up staying until my parents had to ask for her back months later. When I was driving us to Baltimore for my cousin’s wedding rehearsal and my car broke down, she rode in the middle seat between me and the tow truck driver. When I would go visit and stay with friends, she’d come with me because she was part of our pile. When I’d go for a walk on the beach, I never went alone; she’d get pissed if I even thought about it. When I was taking care of my yia yia with dementia, she was my assistant nurse, keeping her company, refusing to leave her side. (Weirdly enough, I knew yia yia's time was getting closer when Roxy actually got on her bed. Dogs, man.) When my parents would wake up at 6am and let her out, she could come into my room, climb onto the trundle bed I’d always leave out for her, and snooze until I woke up. When I moved away for my job, she’d come to visit on the weekends, sometimes during the week and I’d bring her to the office with me where she’d wander off into meetings to sit with the CEO; she even picked out her own vacant desk to claim as her own. When I started dating Jake, she’d be all over him trying to make me jealous, being the flirt she was.
Actual sisters. Actual confidants. I was never lonely. I was never misunderstood.
When she turned 12 in 2017, she still had the demeanor of a puppy. She’d play games. She’d pounce on her toys. She’d dance for her food. She’d bark at the TV. She’d gurgle and growl and roll around.
She had an amazing life, even during her last few months when we learned about her tumor. She’d get the surgery and start the recovery and everything seemed...okay. She was slower, but trying. She never stopped being happy though.
One weekend in early August, she came to stay with me at my apartment. She was her typical, normal, cheerful, sassy self. On Sunday at her dinner time, she started to dance like she always did. She ate her food, and not even five minutes later, she got sick. I took her outside where she walked a little bit, then she just...froze. She couldn’t move at all. Thankfully, Jake was there and he helped get her back inside by putting a towel under her back legs so she could use her front two. She came back inside and got sick again.
To say I was worried is an understatement. I tried to give her one of her pain pills, but she kept spitting it out. She wouldn’t drink any water. We made her comfortable in the living room with pillows, blankets, a spoonful of peanut butter and a water bowl for when she was ready, and her favorite toy. I laid next to her talking to her, asking what she needed, what was wrong, while Jake went out to bring us sushi for dinner. I called my mom to ask if she’s done this before, to which she said, “Yeah, she gets in her little funks, but she’ll be okay. Just let her rest and she’ll bounce back in the morning.” I already figured this was a strong possibility, so I was rest assured. She did play and walk and dance for her food, even when I told her to stop and take it easy, so she probably just overdid it.
We left her where she was in the living room, right outside my bedroom door where I could see her. Normally, she’d want to be in whatever room we were in, but she could still see us from where she was. Plus, she didn’t look like she wanted to get up, and we spoiled her with comfort so I let her lie.
Normally, Jake would’ve been gone by this point on a Sunday night since we were still dating long-distance, me being in Maryland and him in Pennsylvania. I’m forever grateful he didn’t go anywhere.
We were watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and every couple of minutes, I’d look at Roxy to check on her, her head blissfully rested on the pillow, eyes peacefully closed, sleeping soundly. I knew she was sleeping. I could tell she was breathing.
About halfway through the movie, I saw her back leg kick her water bowl over causing it to spill, so I got up to move it away from her. That’s when my heart dropped. She wasn’t breathing anymore. What I just saw her back leg do was a post-mortem spasm. She was gone. Just like that, gone.
I looked up at Jake confused. I couldn’t say anything. I looked back down at her and it was obvious. There was nothing to be confused about.
I always thought the saying “my knees gave out” was a dramatic exaggeration, but no, my knees actually gave out. Jake had to hold me up as I cried harder than I’ve ever cried before.
This couldn’t be real. She was alive, she was just alive. She was happy and playing and dancing all day. She just had a bad past four hours. What the hell happened? It was all so fast. My best friend was gone and I did nothing to stop it. She knew it was her time and I didn’t. That’s why she wouldn’t take her pill. That’s why she wouldn’t drink. How could I be so stupid? She died under my watch; I failed her. This was my fault.
The thought of taking her to a vet did cross my mind at one point that night, but I didn’t think it was that serious. After the fact, everyone told me I did the right thing by not taking her anywhere, that she was ready to die, and die comfortably at home on her own terms, with me. But still. I didn’t do enough. I shouldn't have been watching that movie. I should've been next to her like she was always next to me during my lowest moments.
I sat down to pet her head, to be with her for a little longer. I held her paw that was growing cold, and I cried telling her I’m so, so sorry. You’ll always be my best friend.
I didn’t sleep at all that night knowing Roxy was gone (still too harsh to write the "d" word) in my living room next to my bedroom door. I’d have moments of panic throughout the night worried that she couldn’t breathe. It was the longest and one of the worst nights of my life.
It took awhile for me to push away the guilt from that night. Even now, I still blame myself. Her vet would tell my mom later that another small tumor she still had had ruptured and I'd didn't have any way of knowing this. But it does help thinking she chose me. After all we’ve been through together, she chose me.
No dog will ever replace her or even compare to the relationship we had. She wasn't just a dog. No dog ever is. That's something a lot of people don’t understand, but the lucky ones do. They bring us so much light into our lives. They remind us to lighten up, to appreciate the little things, to slow down, to play. They can literally act as medicine, helping to lower blood pressure and ease stress and anxiety; I mean really, people, we got Roxy to cure my dad's heart palpitations.
As much happiness as they bring, they also leave a hole. Even now months later me writing this, editing this, proofreading this, I have tears in my eyes. It hurts, and yes, I know she wasn't a person, so it's "not as serious, get over it." But I had a bond with her unlike any bond I've had with a person. Like I said, I never had a sister until I had Roxy. A loss is a loss, and she was my best friend for 12 years. Twelve amazing, loving, fun, cuddly years.
So ultimately, I’m comforted by the fact she died naturally with me, wrapped up in my blanket with her favorite toy, a spoonful of peanut butter next to her, ready and waiting to enjoy when she got to the Rainbow Bridge.