Roxie’s Final Gift — Part 2

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The second of a 2-part post, you can read part 1 here.

I had decided to take Foxy Lady back to the humane society. It was the only thing I could think of to do. She was attacking Amber rather than being her friend and the whole reason why I brought her home in the first place was to be Amber’s friend.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about those eyes. So desperate, so anxious, so eager to please. And how she didn’t stop wagging her tail when I gave her that bone.

Was there anything I could do?

I decided to call my friend who had done rescue work for years in Phoenix. My friend would know if there was any way to salvage this situation (or not). One very small bright spot was how submissive Foxy Lady was to ME (and my husband) and how she would listen to us.

Could I get her to leave Amber alone?

My friend gave me a list of things to do. I decided it was worth a try. I’d give it a week or so — if we couldn’t turn it around we’d give her back.

I called the humane society and told them we changed our minds. We were going to try and make this work. To be honest, I think they thought I was a little nuts. At the same time, Paul went and picked up the scruffy, skinny puppy, which I think they had second thoughts about giving to us after this Foxy Lady debacle (Paul said they seemed less than enthusiastic about us taking her home.)

So that’s how we ended up with Maddie (the scruffy, skinny puppy) and Roxie (a.k.a. Foxy Lady because I never could bring myself to call her either Foxy OR Lady much less both).

Maddie turned into my buddy. She loved being a house dog — never enjoyed being outside. Her favorite thing was being in the house, lying on something comfortable near me. Maddie was a survivor — her time by herself in Sedona in July and August had made her one. Border collie nature be dammed — she was going to be a house dog. Other than wanting to bark a bit too much (border collies really aren’t barkers so not sure where that came from) she had no bad habits and was a pretty easy-to-live with dog.

Roxie, on the other hand, had just about everything wrong with her. She was never fully housebroken (although years would go by between accidents, once I figured things out). She would eat her own excrement. She had that awful, annoying, high-pitched bark — and she used it anytime we tried to take all 3 dogs for a walk or take her to dog trials or training. She was dog aggressive so we had to keep a close eye on that.

She had been abused and would run and hide if she saw my husband with a stick in his hand. She was terrified of thunder and would hide during thunderstorms. She was an escape artist and if I wasn’t careful she would run away (but she always came back if we didn’t find her first).

She was a dog of extremes — endlessly licking us and if we tried to stop her, she would get up and leave the room. It was one or the other — we couldn’t just sit quietly next to her, she was either constantly licking us or laying down in the next room.

You see, Roxie was a true border collie. She had an incredibly strong herding instinct that had been twisted by her earlier upbringing. (She was such a powerful herder she could move sheep even with a fence between them, just by using her stare.) We taught her to play fetch to channel some of that energy, which did help some. But that wasn’t the biggest problem.

The biggest problem was she had trouble figuring people out.

This is difficult to explain but I’m going to try — you see, when you’re with a dog who was raised by kind humans, the dog can pretty much figure out what humans are trying to communicate to them. The dog “gets” you.

Not Roxie.

She would watch the other dogs and then mimic their behavior with us. (Hence part of the housebreaking issue — she didn’t know how to communicate with us she had to go outside. I had to adapt to her schedule — plus there were many times one of the other dogs “told” me she had to go out.)

She was exhausting and challenging. But we kept her. Even though I finally realized (too late) that Amber really wanted to be an only dog and was never terribly happy I had brought not one but two dogs into her home. Even though Roxie never did completely stop attacking Amber if we weren’t around. Even though she hindered our dog training activities because it was difficult to bring her with that high-pitched barking and I really didn’t want to leave her at home, alone, and feed into her insecurity.

But, then she would look at us, full of love and gratitude for keeping her. She loved pleasing us and would do anything we asked (just as long as she could figure it out) because she wanted to make us happy. When I would do dog training with her, she would puff up her chest with pride as she proudly “sit” or “stay” or “come.”

So we kept her.

Amber died first — suddenly — in my arms — December 2001 (in other words, 3 months after 9-11 and two weeks before my grandma died). Two months later, when I could see through the fog of grief and the guilt for not letting her be an only dog — we brought home Nick.

Unlike her stormy relationship with Amber, Roxy and Nick became good friends right away. Maddie decided she was my dog and pretty much stayed out of their relationship. The dog aggression faded, Nick helped with that, and the longer we had her, the more we were able to tame her undesirable habits.

For years our 3-dog house ran fairly smoothly. Then, a year and a half ago, Maddie died. Some of you reading this may recall that. I had a lot of social networking and email love over her death — thank you all.

I was devastated. Maddie was my buddy. Who was going to replace that? She was the one who was always in the room with me while I worked, always following me around.

I was all set to write an article about Maddie — she was a survivor after all.  She had an interesting story.

But then I didn’t.

I didn’t because Roxie stepped into her role.

Roxie became my buddy. Roxie started doing everything Maddie did — hanging out with me in my room, following me around.

Roxie realized with Maddie gone, she could be that to me. I don’t know if this was a role she always wanted or if she realized I needed that and decided to step up. Whatever it was, she saw an opening and she took it.

While I missed Maddie like crazy, it didn’t take me as long to recover as I thought it would. Because of Roxie. And I never saw this happening because, for one, I had such a challenging, complicated relationship with Roxie. And second, I never thought Roxie would outlive Maddie.

(Remember, I brought them home together. Maddie was a puppy, Roxie was 4-6 years old. It never occurred to me Roxie would live this long especially with her difficult upbringing.)

As Roxie helped me through Maddie’s death and became my buddy, something odd, unexpected and very unpleasant happened to me.

I became racked with guilt.

Guilt because Roxie had always been “last” in my heart — she had never been my “favorite” (my other 3 were my favorites in some category). Guilt because I was sure she knew she was last in my heart — how could she not? I HAD treated her differently then the other dogs. And guilt because I resented how she had treated Amber. I had brought her home to be Amber’s friend, not attack her. I did this to Amber. How could I have done that?

My guilt suffocated me like a sticky spider web cocoon. I couldn’t breathe. It made me sick. Worse, I didn’t even realize how sick it had made me.

Let me tell you a little secret about guilt — and “stories” around guilt. You don’t even realize what you’ve done — that you’ve created a story around something that doesn’t exist. You assume it’s true — how could it NOT be true? You don’t even realize there’s a possibility it’s NOT true.

With the help of a beautiful animal communicator Val Heart ( she helped me break through that guilt, crack that dark, sticky cocoon web, and, like a ray of sunshine, see the true Roxie.

That Roxie was the one who would come to us every day, her entire face alight with joy and gratitude and give us kisses. Every day she would tell us how much she loved us and how grateful and happy she was we had kept her. I never had a dog look at me with that much love in her eyes and finally, I could see it, appreciate it, and love her back.

I could also see the Roxie who was a trooper — who lived at least 17 years and was probably even older. The Roxie who shattered her leg 7 months ago falling 15 feet onto a concrete floor. Her leg was held together with a metal bar and pins and was an inch shorter. Eight weeks later, she was completely healed and stomping around the house, still coming over each day with love in her eyes and joy on her face to give us kisses.

And most of all, the Roxie who had overcome abuse, neglect, at least two trips to the humane society, Valley Fever (a potentially fatal illness), 2 months of misdiagnosis of Valley Fever (don’t even get me started on that nightmare — I actually ended up creating a chart and was taking her temperature twice a day and screwing around with pred, a steroid, which was the only thing that would keep her temperature below 104 degrees but pred has serious side effects as well so it was a constant battle with the dosage), 2 very serious infections and a shattered leg — to live a long and full life full of gratitude and love.

And along the way, the dog who had the most difficulty communicating with humans, taught me the most important lessons of all about forgiveness, hope, gratitude and love.

I will miss her so.