Quality of Life

Advance apologies: this might be difficult for you to read, but I had to get it out, for myself.

Roxie

This dog.

Twelve days ago I was walking her down the street, both of us happy as could be.

Today, we said goodbye to her.

She was happiest when she was outside, running down the sidewalk.
Actually, she was happiest when she was eating any kind of food: hers or ours. (Beagles, man.) But getting out on the leash was a close second.

She was only eleven, one month short of twelve.
Our beloved vet, Dr. Withers–who has seen Roxie ever since she was getting puppy shots–has been telling me for the last couple of years that with her great health, spirited personality, and penchant for shenanigans even now as an older dog, he could see her as “one of those beagles that lives to be fourteen or fifteen years old”.
Obviously that was just a prediction based on observation and not a guarantee, but I agreed with him. I believed it myself, and I truly feel cheated.
This was too soon, and so damn unexpected.

A week and a half ago we discovered a problem with her eye, and that same day she started losing her balance. After vet visits and an eye specialist and steroids and painkillers and antibiotics and blood tests and eliminating certain theories before moving onto the next step and then a very steep decline in her state of being, we arrived at the neurologist, yesterday. She ruled out the illnesses that would’ve started improving with the meds and then ruled out a stroke (which was Jim’s and my theory) and concluded that–although more tests would be needed to absolutely confirm–considering her expertise and what she was seeing in the dog in front of her, she was worried that there was a brain tumor and/or a problem at the brain stem. And so we found peace in the decision we had told the neurologist we were strongly leaning into, because our girl’s quality of life had gone from probably 95% two weeks ago to nearly zero as of yesterday, when she needed assistance even to stand up.

I received the email containing the neurologist’s full report of our visit only two hours after we returned home. I read it several times and kept hanging on the one line near the end:

“The Wells Family is very concerned about Roxie’s quality of life and do not wish to pursue extensive testing; they would like to spend some time with her and will likely elect for humane euthanasia with Dr. Withers tomorrow.”

That.

While agonizing and heart-shattering, we have done right by her.

I completely knew she was going to be Trouble with a Capital T from Day One; all the signs were there. On our way home from picking her up at eight weeks old, she bit into one of the glass beads on the bracelet I was wearing and broke it. We hadn’t even gotten her home for the first time yet.

She electrocuted herself before she was even a year old. I was playing with her, tossing the ball around in the basement. When I wasn’t looking, she forgot about the ball and bit right through a wire. I did everything you’re not supposed to do: I basically grabbed her and pried her mouth off of the live wire. It was terrifying, as was the visit to the emergency vet. She survived that, though.

She has been extremely annoying (and, on occasion, cheated death) by finding and consuming baking cocoa, assorted chocolates including Hanukkah gelt WITH the foil wrappers, candy canes, entire packs of gum, whole loaves of wheat bread, whole loaves of chocolate chip banana bread, glasses of milk and Coca Cola, unattended sandwiches, and many more things I can’t recall at the moment because my mind keeps going back to last year’s Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which she ate a little bit of every treat I put into gift bags for the boys EXCEPT for the Flaming Hot Cheetos and then got sick all over the house, leaving a mess that took Jim and me nearly an hour to clean up.

She also survived two adventures away from home (she snuck out by squeezing under the fence somehow), one of them ending up at the office of an apartment complex behind our subdivision. The handyman called my number and told me that he saw her running down the golf course, ears flapping in the wind. When she arrived at the office she had a great time saying hello to everyone there, and when I rushed over to pick her up, she didn’t care that I had arrived at all, soaking up the attention from everyone else.

Typical.

I was never her true favorite, which was a little frustrating considering that I was the one who wanted her the most. I was the one who was her primary caregiver. I spoiled her. I was the one who constantly humanized her but then when she got into trouble, rationalized that it was because she was “just a dog, after all.” She was not a cuddler like our Late, Great Bijoux. She loved, like she did everything else, on her own terms. Her love language where I was concerned consisted of following me everywhere, being in my general area but very rarely in my personal space. I couldn’t get up from the family room couch to go use the bathroom fifteen feet away without hearing her nose poke at the door. But there was no snuggling up to me on that couch: she usually sprawled out on the other end. Even when I let her sleep in our bed when Jim was on business trips, she stayed on his side of the bed, usually under the covers up to her neck with her head on his pillow.

She loved him, her Alpha, so much. And as much as he’s always been a tough-talker about the “damn dog”, he’s also well known for sweet talking her in funny voices and giving her so much love. I loved watching her nuzzle into his neck when he got home from work, sometimes gently smacking his face with her paws if she didn’t feel like he was being attentive enough. She would let him bite her ears when they were playing, and when he roughhoused with her she came back for more, constantly. I could stand on the back patio and call for her to come in from the yard a hundred times and she would act like she couldn’t hear a thing. Jim could stay seated in his chair and call her one time through the window screen and she’d come running. This loss is every bit as difficult for him as it is for me, I know it is.

And the boys. We had a family meeting on Sunday because we wanted to let J know that she might not still be here when he returns home for spring break. That was tough. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure the only two times my boys have ever seen me wail desperately were at the end of our two dogs’ lives. It was a rough discussion, and they are so saddened, too. J is at school but D was in the room with us at the end. The drive home was silent except for the crying.

I have cried more than I thought humanly possible this week. I spent a crazy amount of time sobbing into her fur because here at the end, she gave me the enormous gift of her presence in my personal space. I sat for hours with all thirty pounds of her molded against my chest and stomach as I petted her and whispered in her ear. Although the circumstances were highly abnormal and completely awful, I appreciated and will always remember all of the times I was able to hold her close over the past few days.

And even in the end, she was making me laugh. She refused to eat some of her favorite foods yesterday, gingerly sniffing the bowl of chicken and rice I made and then literally spitting out the rice while eating the chicken. Just a few days ago she would have fallen all over herself to get across the room and accept a corner of my PB&J sandwich but yesterday she turned her nose up at that, and seconds later happily munched on the Fritos I offered. She was continuing her tradition of “Her way or the highway”, and I was fine with it.

Sharing her adventures online has been a blessing. Where I felt a weird sense of panic when Bijoux died because I was worried I would forget the details of her life and ended up furiously typing out everything I could remember over the next week or two, it’s different with Roxie because I’ve been doing it all along, right here. I only have to click a few times to see some puppy pictures or relive the time she massacred Bobo the Blue Dog or the time I thought she killed a small animal but she really only killed a tomato or the time she put herself in “danger” by destroying my sister’s special holiday gift from Maker’s Mark or…well, you get the idea. (And she’s all over my Facebook and Instagram accounts, too.) Thanks to blogging and social media in general, today I have a little peace of mind where memories of Roxie are concerned.

She was loved. Well loved. I would give anything to have her back here, being a general pain in my butt, stealthily (and repeatedly) bypassing the cabinet “lock” to get into the kitchen trash, dumping my purse out all over the floor to find some gum when I leave the room for only two minutes, and even barking her fool head off. Since that can’t happen, I’ll just imagine her with a renewed quality of life, running to Bijoux on that Rainbow Bridge, ears flapping in the wind, so they can compare notes.

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