She was born on a snowy day in March. Her mother, who had wandered on to our property some months before, sported the signature black tongue and red coat of a Chow but the body and build of a German Shepherd. The kids and I quickly became attached and decided to name the stray, Roxy. Devin, on the other hand, was not nearly as enamored with her. He protested at the thought of naming her anything, other than visitor, because he knew it would mean another mouth to feed.
During Roxy’s “visiting” time at our home, she involved herself in a torrid love affair with a logger-headed chocolate lab next door named Titus.
Nine puppies…yes I said nine puppies…born in our garage on a snowy day in March. While Devin was irked that Roxy the “visiting” dog just multiplied by nine, the kids and I sat on the cold garage floor watching in amazement as nature unfolded.
As the days and weeks went by, I witnessed Mr. “We don’t need another dog”, take a shinning to one puppy in particular. Her alluring charm, necessary webbed feet, ebony coat, obvious intelligence, handsome logger head and inherited black tongued impressed this otherwise sedate human being know as my husband. She was the perfect combination of Roxy and Titus. After weeks of watching her, testing her intelligence and admiring her webbed toes, Devin decided that she might make a good family dog for the kids, and a good retrieving buddy for him. We named her Dixie and she became ours.
Year after year we grew more and more in love with her, and just as Devin had hoped, she grew to be a phenomenal retriever. Beyond her duck and pheasant retrieving talents, She was also a keen squirrel dog. If she ever saw Devin, or one of the kids leave the house with a gun, she would jump with excitement knowing a jaunt in the woods was about to take place.
Dixie was more than a great hunter thoUgh. She could keep a secret like nobody’s business. She listened without judgment while the kids told her their deepest secrets. She was their comfort when they were sad or scared, and she celebrated with them when they were happy. She would play soccer in the yard, fetch as long as they would throw, take a swim in the pond, go for long exploratory walks in the woods and lay quietly on the bank as they fished. She guarded the house, protected the kids, welcomed our friends and scared away strangers with a vengeance. She was also Devin’s ever-present companion. Everywhere he went, she was there. Whether he was working in the garden, feeding the chickens, mowing the lawn or sitting on the porch, she was there. Whenever he left the house, she’d watch until his truck was out of sight and lay at the edge of the yard and wait until he returned.
As the years went by we watched her age. The hair around her muzzle began to gray, she labored to get up or sit down due to hip dysplasia. Once full if energy, she no longer bothered with chasing the squirrels, and showed little excitement when Devin would come home from work. We began to notice her appetite, which was usually ferocious, started to fade and she began to lose weight. Realizing she couldn’t eat her normal dog food any longer, Devin switched her to the softer canned food but she continued to thin.
Over the next few months her health continued to fail. After multiple visits to the vet and several rounds of different medicine, the doctor discovered a large mass of sores in her throat that was not getting any better. She was too old and feeble at this point to withstand any surgery or treatment. The thought that she might not pull through began to set in. Eventually she went completely blind in one eye and partially in the other, her hearing faded and she struggled to eat anything. We resorted to hand feeding her little pieces of hot dog hoping she would recover. Soon we realized that the mass in her throat was probably cancer.
We sat the kids down and prepared them for the worst. I called the two older ones and broke the news to them as well. Kelsey came to visit her, but Colton, our oldest was six hours away.
Another week past, with glimmers of hope along the way. At times she would find the energy to greet us at the car with her tail wagging or follow us to the garden which would renew our hope that she would pull through. Then there were days I feared she wouldn’t make it through the night.
Devin was scheduled to leave on a short-term missions trip to Arizona. I was so afraid she would die while he was gone or even worse…I would have to make the awful decision to put her down. Colton was scheduled to come home for a visit the same day Devin was to return from his trip. If she could just hold on till Colton got home, I thought, we could all be together with her one last time.
Devin left on a Sunday morning. By Wednesday Dixie had taken a turn for the worse. Much worse. She couldn’t eat, she had lost all sight and hearing. She was scared and so was I. I walked out in the yard to where she was laying in the sunshine, stroked her gently and whispered in her ear, “I’m so sorry Dixie. I’m so sorry. You’ve been the best dog ever”. Out of a mothers instinct, I began to sing a song I had sung a thousand times to my kids when they were sad or scared. A laid my head on hers and sang, “hush little baby don’t say a word, mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…” I sang the song in its entirety that ended with,”…and if that horse and cart fall down, you’ll still be sweetest little doggy in town.”
I then went into the house to make the dreaded phone calls. I first called the vet and made the appointment that I never wanted to make. Then I called all four of the kids and let them make the choice whether they wanted to be with her or not. All but Colton, who would not be here, agreed to meet me at the vet at 3:00.
I made a pallet for her in the back of the Suburban and drove over to the place in the yard where she was laying. I got out, opened the back, carefully picked her up and placed her in the back while continually telling her, with tear-stained eyes, how much I loved her.
The fifteen minute trip to the vet was long and somber. Kelsey had picked the kids up early from school and met me there as I pulled up. Before I could even get out of my car, the kids had already joined Dixie in the back.
As I came out of the office from talking with the nurse I went back to the car and told the kids it was time. But first I needed one last goodby.
I shut everything and everybody out for just a moment. I held her head in my hands, buried my face in her fur and slowly, I began to breathe her in. She always smelled good to me…like earth…everything that was good…never like a stinky dog. As I breathed her in I focused on her goodness, her unconditional love and loyalty, her sweetness, her love for my kids, all of the wonderful memories we made and the 12 years 2 months and 4 days she spent with us. I began my good-bye with a knot in my throat and a quiver in my voice. “I love you Mae Mae”, (which was our pet name for her), “I’m so sorry you’re sick and that we couldn’t make you better. I love you very much. You be a good girl up in heaven and tell Cody, Brando and Joe we said hey.”
As I gave her one final kiss and breath in one last smell, I stepped away as each of the kids took their turn with her. It was a sorrowful, yet sweet and intimate time. The Doctor was good enough to come out to the car where she laid comfortably. He and his assistant were compassionate and comforting which helped tremendously. He told us step by step what he was going to do, and within moments she was gone. She was now at rest. I got to be there when she was born and I got to be with her the day she died. What a privilege.
The ride home was quiet and reflective. As soon as we drove on to our property we hopped out and decided as a family where her resting place would be. It was beside the garden, where she had spent many hours watching Devin work, that we decided to bury her. Now, every time we work in the garden, we will think of the dog that didn’t stink, how we loved her and how she loved the Rohr family with all she had.