The People My Dog Loved: A Memoir

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Evelyn was the first person my dog introduced me to just weeks after moving to Colorado with my husband. It was an early July morning when I met her. I hadn’t landed a job and was recovering from 6 months of chemo treatments after an unwanted tumor, so brushing my teeth and wearing matching clothes was low on the list of priorities for an early morning dog walk. I led Roxanne to do her daily business  in a private outdoor area of the apartment complex confident I would not encounter anyone that required lengthy conversation.

I was admiring how cool the weather was at that hour despite that it was July. I moved my coffee mug to my face to take a sip when the ceramic mug clashed against my teeth, coffee went spilling down my neck,  and Rox pulled me at a trots pace to the left. My dog was 6 years old at the time so I chastised myself for still not being able to maintain control of her when she wanted to hunt. Expecting to see a squirrel or rabbit, and yelling some command for her to stop, I noticed a woman standing on her patio enjoying a smoke. Hardly a rabbit or a squirrel, this woman was so thin I could see the faint outline of her ribs and pelvic bone through her sweatpants. Her hair was short and fine like a baby duckling. Rox emphatically shoved her muzzle through the metal bars of the patio and would have kept pushing if the width of her face did not stop her. The woman reached down to pet her head with a gaunt hand. My heart sank when I noticed how weak she seemed despite how young she looked and I had already forgotten about the hot coffee on my shirt. It’s hard to be angry when you’re grateful, and after my final chemo treatment and now  meeting this woman, I had a lot to be grateful for.

We engaged in a brief conversation at first; introductions and talk of the weather, however when I turned to leave the garden area, Rox became a stone and refused to move. While tugging at her harness to make her stand, this woman (I now knew to be Evelyn) continued to talk. I reluctantly decided to stay a while. After several minutes of conversing, I suddenly got the courage to ask Evelyn a question. I had lost all of my hair and it had only recently begun to grow back and didn’t look all too different from Evelyn’s. I soon learned she was going through cancer treatment herself; breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain and lungs, in fact. I looked down at Rox where she lay with her paws wrapped around the bar of the patio, her nose still as close as she could get, and she had not once taken her eyes off of Evelyn. Perhaps it’s true what they say; dogs can sense cancer? When our conversation ended, I checked the time on my phone. It had been almost an hour. So much for quick walks. Next time I would brush my teeth and carry a lid for my coffee.

Rox and I visited Evelyn every morning for over a year

I began to refer to these days as “Coffee talks with Evelyn”. I didn’t think it was possible but I watched Evelyn grow even thinner. We swapped stories about our lives, our previous jobs, and our cancer journeys. She had a snarky and dry sense of humor despite all of her physical pain and discomfort and I admired her tremendously. One day, she shared with me that she and some close family members had an argument. When I asked about this she replied, “I decided to stop chemo. We are just delaying the inevitable and death doesn’t scare me anymore. Does that make me a quitter?” I realized at that moment how much pain she must have been in but she seemed to be at peace with her decision. I began to notice over the next few weeks Evelyn’s stories became progressively more outrageous and on a few occasions she forgot my name…although it’s worth noting, she never once forgot Rox’s name. The cancer was growing in her brain.

I felt compelled to give Evelyn something that had given me strength on both peaceful and dark days over the past year. I created a small water color with a Psalm written across the the bottom.

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” Psalm 27:5

We had discussed our thoughts on God a few times; who we think He is and what He means to us. Some of our conversations were simple while some went to deeper places. Evelyn had a lot of questions, and of course questions I didn’t necessarily have the answers to but I always listened. About a week after giving Evelyn the painting, I noticed with disappointment, there were days she was not outside. Rox would shove her muzzle between the bars of her patio and stay there until I had to peel her away to go home. One afternoon, I noticed her seated on a lawn chair and she invited us to come inside. She gave me 3 large garbage bags filled tightly with her clothing. “I don’t have a daughter, nieces, or even a daughter-in-law, so I want you to have my things,” she said. I don’t remember my response, but I do recall hugging her, fighting back tears and somehow lugging those bags back to my place. I was moved, but it wasn’t until I noticed it was not Evelyn on the patio each morning, but her hospice nurse, that I realized she was really at the end of her life.

It was a Wednesday when Evelyn passed away

One afternoon, I saw Evelyn’s son cleaning her apartment and when he broke the news to me me we both wept. He asked if I was the one who had given her a painting with a verse on it. He mentioned that the words had given her a lot of comfort and that she held it in her hands when she died.

Days after her passing Rox faithfully visited Evelyn’s patio. I would wait for her sniff, while her brown nose would shimmy from side to side, wait for Evelyn not to come out, and let her walk away when she was ready. I reached down to scratch Rox’s ears one morning, and said, “Thanks, bunny. Thank you for spilling coffee on me and introducing us.” She looked up at me with loyal eyes and slowly blinked a “you’re welcome.”

I think of Evelyn often. I hope she’s found peace in heavenly places and that she wants for nothing. I think of how stubbornly Rox approached her and how certain she was that we would encounter something good. She was right. Dogs usually are. Rox found a person to give her love and treats, I found a friend, and Evelyn had found the peace that transcends all understanding and the courage to leave this world. I may have never had the privilege of meeting Evelyn were it not for my leash pulling, people loving dog.

It was a Wednesday morning when Rox passed away

Just like Evelyn knew when it was time to embrace the end and leave this world, I needed to do the same for Roxanne. I am warmed when I recall how much of a catalyst my dog was for great things in my life. She figuratively and literally “ran” into so many people and brought so much color and whim to the most mundane days. She showed me how to slow down, how to shove my face into flowers when smelling them, and how to greet strangers at 5:30 in the morning with a smile. She showed me how cool the grass can be in the shade on a hot day. She showed me how to remain completely silent and let others talk and how to loyally keep “showing up” even when others don’t show up. When Rox loved someone, it was with her whole heart and paw. I like to imagine Rox is Evelyn’s dog now. I’m not sure if there’s a place for dogs in heaven, but I picture Rox lying at her feet with a new body of a lion. Perhaps my grandpa is occasionally slipping her treats, but she doesn’t move an inch. She’s stubbornly waiting for me to join them.

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4 thoughts on “The People My Dog Loved: A Memoir

  1. Beautiful Story Dawn. Love the shot of Roxy and me. She was always willing to put up with all my abuse.

    As I read your story I just image Morgan Freeman’s voice in my head as I read and the tears just start rollin’… Always love your perspective on your life stories…

    -Dave

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    1. Thank you! If Morgan Freeman narrated my blog, I could die happy. Yes, you were one of those people Rox loved.

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  2. I get weepy eyed each time I read it. Such a heart warming story.

    Roxy was very perceptive and lived to please and comfort. I remember when I lost my job and came home crying; Rox placed her head and paws on my leg and would not leave until she knew I was okay.

    We have so many great memories of Roxy. What a wonderful dog she was.

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  3. Hello Dawn,
    We have met not long ago at Ryan and Sue’s house,I’m sure you remember me (Divina) You have that amazing energy very comforting voice and a sweet smile .I felt safe n comparable talking with you.I come across reading your post on Facebook, not realizing that I needed to read this story you wrote . It touched home for me ,I adopted a dog last year and name him Mosses,my very first dog ever, my heart brakes when I go out for a couple of hours leaving him, my daughter tells me he cries n seat by the front door till I get home so I decided to bring him with me when I do my errands, so he understand where I go when I leave him home, I discover a very special love ,he is my best friend my driving companion I don’t know how I will feel if something ever happens to him.
    But your story on your blog I couldn’t stop crying it’s sad and yet so beautiful
    I read it twice 🙂 God Bless, and thank you for this beautiful story I’m going to share it with my friends …

    Thankfully your’s.
    Divina Brown.

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