A Bittersweet Goodbye for My Best Girl

Roxie’s trademark old-lady face

12 Years Ago, a friend told my ex (Jason) and I that he was fostering a sweet Pitbull named Roxie. I remember going to Central Park to meet them on a sunny, warm day, when it seemed all of New York was outside enjoying the weather.

She could run…boy could she run. Halfway across the great lawn in a minute and then back to where we were with a simple call or whistle. We fell in love with her, and adopted that little munchkin.

She was athletic — which was perfect for Jason. Often, she’d accompany him on rides around the park, doing 6 miles without breaking a sweat, or a stride. She was also very obedient and smart, which worked well for me. No chewing, no scratching, minimal barking — she seemed the ideal NYC pup.

Those of you who knew her during that time might be more inclined to remember a beautiful brindle dog that had a somewhat prickly personality. She could never really be comfortable with strangers, and would often growl when meeting someone new. We tried all kinds of techniques to calm this behavior, but whatever original traumas had led her to be rescued, obviously were too great for our talents.

Amusingly, every dog walker, daycare, boarding or training person who met her instantly fell in love. She was smart and obedient (as I mentioned) and once they established dominance she was grateful for structure and order. This feedback always felt like such a contrast from our constant low-grade fear that she would bite someone. But it would be true her whole life.

After we divorced, Jason and I shared custody of Roxie. She’d spend a week at his place and a few days with me. The daycare service would shuttle her back and forth between us. Jason watched her more as I was traveling a ton, but when it was my weekend or week, she seemed just as happy to see me as ever. Over time however, we noticed the back and forth was wearing on her — and us. And Jason’s living situation made a mildly aggressive dog a big liability.

So we made the decision to send her to Silver Streak, a purpose-built ranch in upstate New York that takes in long-term boarding dogs. The owners are kooky, but love their big brood of adoptive animals. The decision to move her there was hard, and I remember the 3.5 hour drive up to the facility going by mostly in silence. I’d periodically look over at her and she’d eye me, tongue wagging, and I’d be filled with profound sadness.

When we got to Silver Streak, the dogs were there en masse to greet her. And the owners, so warm and welcoming, took Roxie in and off she went. I stood there, in the heat, the crickets chirping and stink bugs buzzing, hoping Roxie would turn back around and say bye, but she was off doing what dogs do — running around, peeing, making friends and being goofy.

It’s been years since I’ve seen her. Every month since, I dutifully paid for her boarding, and at the beginning they’d send me a pic of her every few weeks. They made sure she was well-fed, had plenty of exercise and socialization, and was taken to the vet regularly.

Over time, the photos and videos became more infrequent, and there were years that I saw her only once. Our interactions were limited to the credit card charges and detailed notes from the vet we’d receive. My thoughts would often turn to Roxie, and I’d think about wanting her to come back and live with me again. And then I’d quickly remember the snarling and growling, and how much she seemed to be fitting in at Silver Streak. For that reason, I decided it was best to keep her there, but it was always guilt-ridden. Yes, I was giving her a better overall life than she could have had in LA or NYC, but didn’t she miss me?

Everyone loves a brindle pup

A few days ago I got an email from Don at Silver Streak. He included some photos of Roxie, now 13–14 years old, grey in her old age, struggling to sit upright. He told me her hind legs had begun to fail, and she was struggling to move around. They had her living in their main house because they loved her so much, and it was their opinion that she was in pain and suffering. The time had come to let her sleep.

Waves of guilt and anguish washed over me. The photos were so sad. She didn’t look like the sleek, young, strong dog she had been — but a grey, lean-to version of herself. At first, I didn’t even recognize her, and thought Don must have mixed up my dog with another. But then her telltale old-lady look and striping brought me back to reality. There was no mistake, this was our Roxie, and her time had come.

Coronavirus or no coronavirus, my first instinct was to fly out to Upstate New York to see her one last time. It was definitely my guilt and remorse talking, because this is an odd time for non-essential travel to say the least. I asked Don whether or not she’d make it for the few days that I’d need to organize and get up there. He told me, unfortunately, she would not.

Having my wings clipped during this crisis is tough. Even without the death of my first-ever dog, it’s been a challenge, and the longest time I’ve not travelled since turning 25. Every fiber of my being wanted to jump on a plane and gallantly show up, to hug her one last time and tell her she was loved by us. I also wanted to apologize for not having seen her in so long.

But then I realized she was loved and knew it. By us, and by everyone who ever cared for her. Even the people she growled at would ask about Roxie. Her aloofness and prickly personality nonetheless made her an enigma of a dog that people wanted to befriend. I know she felt that love from all the humans around her. And I know that in upstate New York she had the kind of idyllic life that dogs dream of when they’re chasing squirrels, involuntary movements and all.

She got to live the squirrel dream for 5+ years. A full third of her life. That’s more than most city dogs ever get, and certainly more than most humans on earth. No matter how guilty I feel about not seeing her, I also know we did right by that little pisher.

I remember during the adoption process, the rescue made us sign a document that this would be her forever home, and that we’d promise to care for her for life. Prior to us, she had lived with no less than 4 different “forever” or foster families, and had found her way to our ramshackle duplex on W 113th st. She was there for the good times, and the not so good times. She kept Jason company as he worked on Linoto at all hours, and made me feel safe when we’d take late-night Central Park walks together.

In a way, putting her at a facility like that felt like a failure. It was a failure of my ability to parent or nurture something, and it fulfilled all the worst things my inner critic accuses me of. Flippancy, ADD, laziness, a tendency to buy my way out of problems. These were all things I beat myself up over, and that may not change with her passing.

But just as she taught me humility and acceptance in life, so too may she continue to teach me in death. That the bonds of love between a dog and his boy transcend time and space. And that sometimes, to love something fully, you have to let it be itself — even if that comes at the steepest emotional price.

Goodbye, Roxie. We love you.

Author and Public Speaker on Gamification, The 4th Industrial Revolution, the Future of Work and Failure. More about me: https://gabezichermann.com

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