We weren’t looking for a dog. It was Friday January 27th 2006. We counted almost a dozen things that happened, which brought Roxy into our lives. But for any one of these chance occurrences, our paths would never have crossed and we would never have changed each other’s lives. Unusually I was working at home and so was Andy. I went to the barn to get a file and left the barn door open and the back door open. At exactly the same time, a gangling collie shepherd cross bundle of fur escaped from Don’s garden at the bottom of ours and ran into the barn. She jumped up on her hind legs, put her front paws on my shoulders, licked me and ran out of the barn. She then ran into the house, wolfed the cat food, ran into the lounge and greeted Andy in the same way. Then the whirlwind of fur ran out and escaped up into the village.
We thought little more of it until Don came round to knock on our door (when there were many other houses he could have tried): “Had we seen a fox-like dog?” We shared what had happened and offered to help him find the dog. We got chatting and learned of ‘Vicky’s’ history (as she was called then). She’d been found abandoned in Lydney forest and had been taken in by the dog warden in the cold of winter. She’d gone to a small local rescue centre and from there to a foster home to see if she was good with children and other pets (yes to both). The history then was a bit unclear, but she’d gone to at least one home before ending up with Ceri’s friend and then Ceri, who was Don’s daughter. She was too much for the friend and then for Ceri, who had a young family. Don and his wife wanted to help, but they had not even managed a week and had already decided to return her to the rescue centre. They were retired and didn’t have the fitness to cope with a boisterous, messed up 1-2 year old.
By this time we had found ‘Vicky’ – who was running aimlessly around the village – and we headed back to Don’s house with her. Andy and I exchanged one knowing look that said “we’re going to keep her aren’t we?” We went back to Don’s and immediately made the offer. He was really pleased that he could call the rescue centre with a proposal, rather than a problem. We made one proviso – we had a cat, Stanzi, and we just needed to check that Stanzi would be OK with this crazy hound. We borrowed a large dog bed from a neighbour and left ‘Vicky’ to wander round and get used to the house. No sooner had we turned our backs, we discovered this:
Vicky was staying! Only she wasn’t Vicky – we needed to think of a name that suited her. Some ski wear had just arrived for our trip in February and the brand was Roxy – Roxy Foxy – that was her name. We took her to the vet the next morning to have her checked over, chipped and registered as ours. Next stop was the pet shop for a lead, collar, bowls, food and a couple of toys. She was quite unfamiliar with toys, which gave us a sad insight into her early months.
Talking of skiing – the next challenge was that Andy and I were booked to go to Cervinia in the middle of February. It was all paid for and Andy loves skiing more than almost anything in life. We quickly realised that Roxy’s trust was going to be tough to gain and that she had a constant impending sense that she would be abandoned again at any moment. Just as we knew we had to look after her, we knew that we couldn’t go skiing. We were about to phone up to cancel – and to lose c. £2,000 – when we received communication from the holiday company. The hotel we booked was overbooked, so they could put us in the better hotel next door, but we were entitled to a full refund. We took the refund – it was meant to be.
And so our lives together began. Andy had had a dog as a child, but I hadn’t and neither of us had had quite such a basket case as Roxy was. We learned fast. We realised that a week away was out of the question, but we thought she’d be OK being left while we went to a rugby match. Give her a super long walk in the morning, tire her out, leave her sleeping – what could go wrong?
After that she was never left. Andy was working at home at the time and I joined him working at home in January 2009, so our furry kids had company all day long. If Andy even went to the shed for something, he’d get a greeting as if he had been away for days!
We watched The Dog Whisperer for some tips and we thought that the main mantra was a good one: exercise; discipline; affection. Exercise in the earliest days was 3 x 45-60 minute walks a day. Even on those walks, Roxy would run incessantly round us in circles covering way more miles than we did. We are fortunate to live in a village with many dog lovers and so Roxy made friends – some for life. She outlived Misty, Jake and Monty. She was outlived by her boyfriends Harry, Rocky, Billy, Roman and Fergie. She would dance and dive with most dogs, but big boys were her favourites ;-)
Debbie, our next door neighbour, fell in love with Roxy and so started a lifelong mutual adoration. Debbie moved a few miles away later in 2006 and soon after that “Debbie days” started. Debbie days were usually Thursdays. Debbie would arrive at 11.45am and drop Roxy back late afternoon. They would go on an adventure – maybe a paper round, maybe lunch at dog-friendly Tredegar House, maybe a walk in the forest, maybe a visit to Deb’s mum or some of her friends. Debbie Day was forever the highlight of Roxy’s week (and vice versa).
If Andy and I ever planned a holiday or were invited to a conference, the first thing we checked was Debbie’s availability. If she was free we went ahead, if she wasn’t, we didn’t. Deb would move in, we would go away. We would return and Deb would move out. It was seamless for Roxy and Stanzi (until July 2008) and Maxwell (from July 2008). Roxy came on some holidays (and Debbie looked after Stanzi/Maxwell). Roxy loved Wales, the mountains and the beaches and sleeping in our room in the holiday cottage at night.
The middle years were idyllic. A dog makes a house a home. A dog makes everything OK. You could get home from the worst day ever and Roxy would light up your life. There is no positive mental attitude like that of a dog. Everything is just awesome: Walks – my favourite! Sleep – my favourite! Food – my favourite! The beach – my favourite! Cuddles – my favourite! Snow – my favourite! Sun – my favourite! We can learn so much from these glorious creatures.
In August 2017, Roxy just wasn’t quite her usual self. We felt a bit daft taking her to the vet. She was still eating well. She would still come on walks – not as far, but then she was probably 12-13 years old. Will, the vet, examined her and then asked if we could leave her with him for half an hour for a biopsy. Within a day or so, we received confirmation that Roxy had lymphoma. Without treatment, Roxy had 1-2 months. With treatment, she might have 12-14 months. It all depended on how well she got on with the treatment. Both Andy and I thought that it was worth a try – she was too happy, fit and spirited to let her go without trying.
The first couple of weeks were tough. There were a few times when we wondered if we had done the right thing. As the lumps were first being attacked, there were brief moments when Roxy would shiver and shake or groan. Then she’d be up looking for food or a walk and we realised that it was worse for us humans to watch. She would look puzzled more than troubled – as if to say – things feel a bit different, but I’m not sure why. Before long, the weekly treatment became fortnightly and then we settled into a three week cycle which involved tablets on 3 days and 60 minutes with Will every third Wednesday. An hour every three weeks seemed a fantastic trade for a really wonderful last year. All in all, choosing the treatment option gave Roxy 16 more happy months. She ate well, slept well, cuddled up with Maxwell as usual every night, enjoyed walks and boyfriend tangos and – most importantly – she had about 65 more Debbie days – her absolute favourites.
On the 8th August 2018, following the Wednesday vet visit, Will broke the news that Roxy was no longer in remission. We should continue the treatment for a while, as it would help, but it would become less and less effective. On the 21st November, after vet Wednesday, Will shared that he thought Roxy would be unlikely to make Christmas. The lumps were getting quite big and would likely make her just stop eating at some stage. Her appetite for food, and life, continued to be good, but we made the decision (with Debbie and Will) to make that 21st November the last ever vet day and to cancel 12th December. Never again would she go in for treatment – a happy and heartbreaking day at the same time.
We knew that this meant that she wouldn’t make Christmas and we made sure that she had the best final days ever and she really did. She would stroll around the village (seeing her boyfriends) for 25-30 minutes each morning. She still had a terrific appetite and we gave her anything she fancied from roast beef to liver and cream! We carried her upstairs to have siestas with us and she and Maxwell slept peacefully in the evenings in front of the fire.
On Monday 17th December, Roxy had the most wonderful Debbie day and overnight. They walked to boyfriend Harry’s and had fun all day. On Tuesday, Roxy refused food for the first time. Not even cat food would tempt her and she looked at us with sad eyes for the very first time. It was time to let her go. Debbie said goodbye around lunchtime and we called Will and sat cuddling Roxy in front of the fire until he called back. We tried desperately not to cry for Roxy, but we didn’t entirely manage it I confess. Will arrived at 3.30pm and the sky was mid-winter black already and the rain was the most torrential of Welsh rain. It was a dreadful afternoon and it seemed fitting that the weather was as miserable as we were.
Roxy trotted up the lounge to greet Will at the door and then we had a funny moment where Maxwell jumped into her warm place in front of the fire before she could get back. Maxwell soon moved when he saw the vet kit bag. Roxy just looked content. Will popped the catheter in and then we chatted for a while about how she came to us and how well she had done over the past year and what a simply wonderful dog she was. Roxy was already sleeping in Andy’s arms, with me holding her paws when Will checked that we were ready and he put her to sleep for the final time. Will very sensitively left us with her for a while and we sobbed like we couldn’t cry anymore. Roxy left with Will and we were left with an emptiness and grief like none we had ever known.
Anyone who has loved and lost a pet will know the pain that the loss brings. It’s a real physical agony in your heart and stomach. Your insides feel empty and yet all twisted up at the same time. Tears are never far from your eyes and little things can make you sob in an instant. For a month short of 13 years, every morning, we or Debbie have gone downstairs to a crazy Roxy greeting. In the early years, this meant a wild running round in circles and jumping off the ground on all fours. In the later years, it still meant a wag and a slower ascent to her feet and a happy walk around the kitchen table.
From having had a shadow for almost 13 years, suddenly, overnight, everything stopped. No more barks for delivery people, followed by enthusiastic greetings. No more returning from shopping and having Roxy rummaging through each bag for smells. No more ‘sharking’ for food after dinner. No more ‘pre-rinse’ for the plates before they go in the dishwasher. No more gardening with Roxy happily lying by our side. No more dog walks. No more smiles and laughter watching her play with friends. No more evenings in the lounge with Roxy and Maxwell fighting over the bed in front of the fire. No more of the thousand looks that she could give you, which we had come to understand well over time.
Three things are helping us to get through our grief and we hope that they may help others going through the same upset:
1) The knowledge that Roxy had a long and wonderful life.
From the time that Roxy came to us, she could not have had more love, or care, or walks, or fun, or animal company, or reassurance, or anything. We gain comfort in the knowledge that we did our very best for an adoring and trusting dog who was let down in the worst way possible in her early years. While our pain has been immense, it must be worse for those who lose loved ones before their time. Roxy lived every moment until the end.
2) The knowledge that Roxy left us at the right time and in the right way.
When Roxy trotted to greet Will in her last hour, we had a momentary panic – was it too early? Then we remembered what Will had said to us the week before: “better a week too early than a day too late.” We knew from the familiarity with the treatment cycles that she wouldn’t make Christmas week and she had refused cat food just that day and so it was time. We had to make sure that we did what was right for Roxy and not try to gain one more day for ourselves at the expense of her contentment.
Debbie sent us a tear-jerking poem called “If it should be…” and we knew then that we had made the right decision. Roxy would never even know the first two lines of the poem – she would never grow weak and never would pain keep her from sleep.
3) The knowledge that we lost Roxy along the way – not all on December 18th 2018.
This thought has been surprisingly comforting. We found ourselves looking at photos of Roxy even the first evening she was gone. We were stunned by how much we had ‘lost’ along the way – things that had never been mourned, but that had been lost nonetheless. We couldn’t remember exactly when Roxy stopped running round in circles with sheer joy. We couldn’t remember exactly when she stopped jumping on beds and the sofa. We couldn’t remember exactly when she stopped going upstairs… We lost the elderly lady Roxy just before Christmas. We lost the puppy, the teenager, the peak-of-life Roxy along the way. That has helped to soften the blow a little.
We have also been deeply touched by the messages, cards and flowers that we have received since Roxy has passed away. She really was known and loved by so many people. She was adoring and adorable at the same time. She made us laugh every day – never more so than in her exchanges with ‘the cat’ – Stanzi for 2 years and then Maxwell for 10. Maxwell is as bereft as we are. He looks at us as if to say “where’s my big sister?” He loved her more than she loved him, but she secretly loved him loads.
Debbie is going through the same grieving process at the moment. The greeting that she got on Debbie days had to be seen to be believed. We videoed the last Debbie day – we didn’t realise at the time that it was the last – and Roxy could no longer jump off the ground on all fours, but she still went wild with delight.
At times of grief, the classic question can be pondered: is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Andy and I have absolutely no doubt for one second that our lives have been immeasurably richer for having had Roxy. No matter how we feel right now, the 13 years with Roxy were millions of times over worth every ounce of pain. We’d go as far as to say, unless you have loved and been loved by a dog, you haven’t really lived.
Rest in peace, darling girl.
Zoë & Andy