By Cindy Doetsch
Today is April 5th, 2003. Tomorrow it will be one month to the day since we put Roxy to sleep. The longest my husband and I have been without her has been 2 weeks, when we'd go on vacation every other year and leave her with his mother who loved to dog-sit her. Even though she was easy to dog-sit, she would stop eating for the first several days and then start to eat just enough to get by until we came home. We are still feeling like she should be returning soon from his Mom's. I want to call her and tell her we're ready for our dog to come home now. I wonder, wherever Roxy is, is she eating? Is she waiting for us, just getting by until we come back to her?
I met my husband Mike in the Fall of 1995. Roxy was 2, almost 3. I remember the first time my friend and I went to his house and Roxy met us at the door. Her short little nub of a tail wagging back and forth like crazy. She was the nicest dog from the first second I spent with her until the last. When Mike moved into a new house, I moved in with him and Roxy. Within one week she chewed a few pairs of my underwear, and the "private" area out of a pair of my sweatpants. Clearly she did not approve of another woman in the house taking up Mike's attention. But she never showed even the tiniest bit of aggression towards me, and she never chewed anything of mine again. I think she decided she liked me and didn't mind if I stayed. And I just loved her. I had always wanted a dog and now I finally had one and she was so much fun, she had such a great personality.
Roxy went everywhere with us. We went for a walk, she went with us. We ran errands, she went with us. We went boating, she always went with us. We live in the Northwest Chicago suburbs near a chain of lakes called the Fox Waterway. Every time you pass from one lake to another you have to go through a slow speed zone. Whenever we slowed down in one of these, Roxy would run and jump up to the front of our little 19-foot boat and sit at the very front like a giant hood ornament. The people on every other boat on the busy waterway would look, point & smile. It became a joke between us. We'd watch the other people out of the corner of our eye and say "1-2-3there's the smile". Roxy made everybody smile, every time.
Boating was one thing, the water was another. One spring when she was about 4 we decided our goal for that summer was to teach Roxy that she could swim. We kept throwing tennis balls (oh how she loved those tennis balls) 10 feet out into the water, but she would just sit there, about stomach-deep in the water, waiting for the ball to drift back to her. Until one day, finally, she discovered how you could let go of the bottom of the lake, get the ball, and swim right back to shore. That day she swam in aimless circles, just in awe of her new talent. It opened a whole new world to her - now she could jump in with us when we cooled off in the water. And every year when spring came she would look at the water, then at us, as if to ask "Can I go swimming again yet?"
The years drifted by. Roxy's days were full of walks, chasing after balls, snoozing on the deck in the sun, taking naps with her buddy the cat. We thought about getting a new puppy for a few years. I read dozens of articles about dozens of different breeds. We went to dog shows to meet breeders. I looked through animal shelters' websites. We wondered: Would Roxy feel threatened, or would she love the new playmate? Then, one day in October 2002, after a moment of weakness, we came home from the pet store (of all places!) with a Beagle puppy. Roxy was all over her; sniffing her, knocking her over, looking at us like "what is that?!" But she was so gentle to new, little Maggie. Maggie spent her first night with her 4 _ pound body sleeping on Roxy's 118 pound body. The pictures are great. Maggie came to us with a cold (big surprise, from the pet store), and Roxy caught it in just a few days. Within 2 weeks Roxy had developed a very severe case of pneumonia. She stopped eating and lost 15 pounds. She couldn't breathe through her nose. She slept all day long. We thought she was going to die and talked about putting her out of her misery. But we just couldn't do it. So we laid with her and loved her and did everything we could. And she got better. By her 10th birthday on November 15th 2002 she was eating again, she had put on some weight, and we were going for walks and rides again.
Then on December 20th we all moved into a brand new house. We were so excited for Roxy because this house was completely carpeted and there would be no more slipping around on the hardwood floors (good for her hips in her old age). After a few weeks in the new house we started to notice that she was beginning to look like an old dog. Her usual youthful, bouncy personality had turned into a tired one. We figured it was a result of the hard hit she took from the pneumonia. Then we noticed she had lost a lot of muscle mass on her back, and her spine was starting to protrude. So I asked my husband "How many times have you refilled her food bowl since we moved in?" I don't remember the exact number, but between the two of us it wasn't many. So we went back to the Vet. They did blood tests and took X-rays of her chest to make sure the pneumonia wasn't coming back. Two days later the Vet said everything was fine. All of Roxy's blood counts looked good and her lungs and chest looked great in the X-ray. So we figured it was the confusion of a new puppy, a new house, and old age. She wasn't interested in her dry food anymore, so I went and bought her wet food which she devoured happily. This however was short-lived. Within a couple of weeks she wasn't very interested in the wet food either. She was still a happy-go-lucky dog, but was getting weak. One night she couldn't even climb the stairs to come to bed with us. Then, the next day, I felt 2 large lumps where her lymph nodes were. I knew you weren't supposed to be able to feel the lymph nodes, but still I wasn't too alarmed. The pneumonia had given her swollen glands, but they had gone back to normal. I felt around some more and noticed a watery feeling at the front of her chest, like she'd had water injected under the skin. Back to the Vet. They wanted to take X-Rays again.
Roxy sat on the examining room floor panting happily and begging for treats while the Vet explained to us that there was a very large mass growing in her chest. It had not shown on any of her previous X-Rays in the past 4 weeks, so it was developing rapidly. They suspected Lymphoma and explained our options: We could take her home and make her as comfortable as possible until it was time to ease her pain, or we could look into chemotherapy. We were sent home with prescriptions of Prednisone and Furosemide. The Furosemide can make dogs lose bladder control, so we laid plastic sheeting all over the downstairs carpet. That day I spent on the phone with 3 different chemotherapy centers in our area, asking questions and figuring prices in my head. They said that Lymphoma responds very well to chemo, but before we started Roxy on treatments we should make sure that's what she really had. The next day I took Roxy to a specialist. They took a needle aspiration from her lymph node and sent it to the pathologist. A couple days later the specialist gave me a call. She explained that Roxy's cells indicated a malignant form of Histiocytosis. The condition is always fatal, and rapidly so. Histiocytosis does not respond at all to chemotherapy, and there is no other known treatment at this time. We had been agonizing over whether we should make Roxy go through chemo or not, and now all of a sudden we didn't even have that option anymore. All we had left was time.
We are so thankful for the prednisone, which suppressed the growth of her cancer. It gave us so much more time that we otherwise wouldn't have had. Without it we would have lost Roxy within a week after I felt the watery mass in her chest. With it, we had 2 more great months together. They were not easy months. Roxy still wasn't eating. But the watery mass disappeared and her lymph nodes, though still noticeably swollen, shrank considerably. I switched from dog food to people food for Roxy. I cooked her brown rice, barley, lamb, beef, vegetables, broth, you name it. We bought her vitamins & supplements. She loved the people food (big surprise). After a week of that, life returned to a somewhat normal routine. Roxy was now sleeping downstairs in the family room since it was difficult for her to climb the stairs. She was definitely not herself, she was sick, but she was happy and comfortable and enjoying being with us. Days drifted by until the end of February came. I started to notice the watery build-up return to Roxy's chest. She started to lose interest in the people food. I knew the cancer had built up an immunity to the drugs and it would be only days now. I laid with her and cried and told her I was scared for her to leave. I tried to memorize her face and the soft fur on her neck where I buried my head. I repeated over and over what I'd always called her my favorite dog in the whole world. I thanked her for being so much more than a pet.
On March 4th, Tuesday, Mike and I had an appointment to put her to sleep at 3 p.m. We tried to have a regular day, spending it at home with Roxy. We sat down and had lunch, and there was Roxy begging. She was hungry. She kept eating the food we gave her. She had her normal happy expression and was licking her chops, looking back and forth at Mike and me. She was having a great day. 2:50 rolled around and Mike & I tried to take her to the Vet, but we couldn't stop crying. After 15 minutes we both admitted to each other that it didn't feel right that day. We weren't just being selfish, Roxy was feeling so good that day and seemed so happy to be with us, we felt guilty. We felt we weren't doing her a favor that day. So we made the call to say we wouldn't be coming. Then we cried even harder, out of relief and happiness because we got to have Roxy at least one more day.
On Thursday, March 6th at 3 p.m. we put Roxy to sleep. That morning she had thrown up a thick, yellow liquid, which I assume was the cancer taking over her lungs. We are thankful for euthanasia, because Roxy's death would have been a horrible one, had it happened naturally. She was drowning in her own fluid. Mike and I both sat on the floor with her; talking in her ear and petting her until she was gone.
Throughout her life Roxy had been so completely healthy, we were sure she'd live to be at least 12. Right up until she developed pneumonia, she was still bouncing around, playful and energetic, like when I first met her. That disease robbed us all. I often think If I just hadn't bought that puppy, Roxy wouldn't have gotten pneumonia. And if she hadn't gotten pneumonia, the histiocytosis wouldn't have surfaced. I know that she probably would have developed the cancer anyway, but in my heart I really believe it wouldn't have been until old age weakened her, if only she hadn't gotten that pneumonia. Still, I'm not mad at myself, I didn't know anything would go wrong. I'm just thankful for all the time we had together. I know a lot of people curse God when a loved one is taken away from them, but every time I start to talk to him in my head, all I can say is "Dear God, Thank you for Roxy"..........
Roxy was loved by Cindy and Mike Doetsch