Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Saying Goodbye

In the spring of 2003 I had to put down Dutch, my 14yr old English Pointer due to Lymphoma. By the fall I felt that I’d significantly recovered from that enough to consider getting another dog. Over the previous few years I’d developed an affinity for Mastiff breeds and after doing some exhaustive research, attending a number of dog shows to speak with owners I decided that I would look for a Bullmastiff. The Bullmastiff is a relatively new breed of dog, first appearing in England in the mid-1800’s. The breed was created to serve the needs of estate gamekeepers who needed a quiet, agile, powerful and fearless guard dog for the purpose of guarding game on private estates against poachers. They were trained to track an intruder, use their formidable strength and weight to bring an offender to ground until the gamekeeper caught up to place the offender into custody.

In contrast to the fearsome working function of the dogs they are also very docile around their families, intelligent, intuitive and accepting of strangers who are welcomed by owners. It’s argued by many that they were the first guard breed designed to work exclusively with a handler in the same fashion that the Belgian Malinois and German Shepard are used as police and military dogs with a single “partner”.

The traits of the breed appealed to me as I wanted a dog that was mellow and didn’t require a great deal of exercise due to my hectic work schedule, that had a strong guard instinct without being vicious but most of all one that was sensitive, self-aware, affectionate, connected with me and my family and that was easy to groom. The Bullmastiff fit the bill in all of those respects.

I felt then, as I do now that rescue should be one’s first path toward bringing a new dog into the home and sought out the rescue organization of the American Bullmastiff Association. It took a few months to find the right dog as many in their system had special needs that I as a busy, single professional didn’t have the time to adequately attend to. I ultimately found Roxy. A pure breed Bullmastiff from a well respected Bay Area breeder who’d been abandoned. The crapweasel that bought her had apparently skipped town and left Roxy to her own devices. She’d spent some time as a stray and as such developed a pretty strong prey-drive and she had a slight hitch in her right-front shoulder but other than that she was fit, strong and very healthy and when I met her we immediately connected.

Walking around with a VERY large dog is a unique experience. There are essentially two reactions that people have. They’ll drop to their knees and start hugging, petting and telling the dog she’s the cutest thing ever or they try to cross the street to get the heck away from it. The most amusing interaction is with parents with kids. Invariably the child is mesmerized and wants nothing but to touch “the biiiiig doggie” and the parent is utterly terrified. Admittedly, Roxy does look intimidating. A deep black mask, and red coat, heavily muscled, with a head the size of a volleyball and a chest a full 15” wide. She’s a formidable looking critter. But anyone that has ever experienced a Bullmastiff or English Mastiff knows that the overwhelming majority of them are complete marshmallows. As was Roxy.

She did have a pretty good protection instinct though. On one occasion when she was younger I was out jogging with her at night and we were surprised by a couple of teenagers who came around the corner ahead of us. Both were dressed in the uniform of the wanna-be thug and walking with an affected swagger with their chests puffed out. They attempted to present an intimidating look and Roxy sensed a threat. She’s sharp, but not sharp enough to tell the difference between an actual thug and some snot-nosed kid who’s seen too many LA gangbanger movies. At any rate, Roxy moved from trotting at my side to placing herself directly between me and the two punks. She set her feet, squatted slightly as if ready to charge, the hair on her neck and back stood straight up and she released the deepest most “I ain’t foolin around” growl I’ve ever heard. She didn’t bark, she didn’t gnash her teeth, she didn’t attack she simply put herself between us and clearly communicated to the punks that they had come close enough. The message was received in no uncertain terms. They immediately transformed into the twerps they really were and tried to play off their bluff, “Um…..hey man….um…..nice dog.” And as they passed by us one said, “Did you see that? Like f’ing Cujo yo!”  Roxy behaved similarly on numerous occasions when out on walks with me and my wife, less intimidating but she often clearly moved to place herself between us and someone acting a bit “off” or a dog acting somewhat aggressively.

On another occasion she and I were at a local dog park and I was speaking with another dog owner who had a very young male Boxer. Most Boxers are highly energetic and this one was no different. I was playing with it a bit and petting it as Roxy stood by my side. I stood up to speak with the owner a bit more and the Boxer pup jumped up toward my chest looking for more play. Roxy must have thought the dog had other intentions as she immediately launched herself at the young dog, took it to the ground and pinned it there. She never opened her mouth to bite him, didn’t hurt him a bit but she sensed a threat to me and neutralized it…while teaching a young dog a valuable life lesson.

This is not to say that Roxy is all guard dog. She’s far from that. Before our new home was completed we were living in downtown San Jose. It was an ok area, but close enough to area’s that weren’t that the UPS guy would leave packages on the back porch instead of the front if we weren’t home when he delivered them. One particular day I was working from home when the UPS truck rolled up out front. I met the guy at the door, signed the manifest and before he left he said to me, “Ya know how I usually leave packages on the back porch? Well when I go through that gate your dog rolls over on her back and wants her belly rubbed. I don’t think she’s guarding much for ya.” The difference between this guy and the above is that Roxy didn’t perceive him as a threat hence it was belly rubbing time.

Despite her size 115-120lbs and considerable strength she might be the most gentle dog I’ve ever met. When she was younger she’d romp and wrestle with me for as long as I wanted, she could easily tackle me after which I’d roll her over and pin her and she’d literally smile, get up and wait for me to do the same to her. But once my grandparents would enter the house she’d change. If able to take down a 220lb man she certainly could knock down an elderly woman only by accidentally bumping into her. Her awareness of her size and strength was amazing and her ability to transform her behavior around older folks and kids is astounding. She would gently approach my grandparents and sit at their sides, never leaning into them as she would with me and affectionately place her head on my Grandmothers lap. Further, my younger sister was able to let her 2 & 1yr old daughters run all over the house w/o fear of Roxy bumping into them or playing too rough. 


My previous dog, Dutch, really only connected with me and my Grandfather. He was completely aloof toward almost everyone else. Roxy was different. Provided we accepted them, she loved everyone. Without exception Roxy loved every one of our friends and family and they all loved her back. After Kathy and I wed and we moved in together Roxy really connected with her. Roxy became every bit Kathy’s dog as mine. She’d follow Kathy everywhere in the house and yard rarely letting Kathy out of her sight. I have a sneaking suspicion that Roxy is a large chunk of the reason why Kathy agreed to marry me. I’d like to think I’m a pretty ok guy, but Roxy’s cuteness added a lot of value. Kathy’s employer allows people to bring their dogs to work and Roxy has become something of a fixture in her office. People go out of their way to stop by to see if Roxy is at work today to give her a couple of pets. 

The average lifespan for a Bullmastiff is around 8yrs and with Roxy being in her 10th year of life I’d thought I’d prepared myself for the fact that she likely wouldn’t be with us much longer. On a number of occasions I recall telling Kathy or others that, “She’s been playing with house money for around two years.” Meaning that we’d shared the time she was supposed to have on earth and every day thereafter was a bonus. She was certainly slowing down. The hitch in her shoulder had become arthritic which made it tough for her to exercise which caused her to put on weight. The additional weight put more pressure on the joints which just exacerbated the problem.  

Six weeks ago I was out of town at a sports-car race and Kathy thought Roxy was behaving oddly and seemed uncomfortable and short of breath. She took her in to our vet to be examined and upon my return she broke the bad news to me. Roxy had Lymphoma. Dutch too died of Lymphoma so I had a pretty good idea of how this was going to go. We discussed treatment options with our vet. The chemo treatment would have required 1 injection a day for 2wks and then weekly after that for 6mos. We weren’t concerned about the cost of treatment but the impact of the treatment on her. She'd be really miserable for about 6mos and if it worked (big if) and if she didn't fall ill from something else in the interim the treatment would buy her an additional 6mos to a year at best. Both Vet's assured us that the cancer would eventually return after remission and there's no telling how long that remission might last. 

We were under the opinion that our best option at this point is make her as comfortable as possible and put her down when that became untenable. We began giving her pain meds and prednisone to treat her discomfort and damn the weight, feeding her all the stuff she likes.

Dutch lasted about 2wks after diagnosis. Roxy, as strong and stubborn as she was put up a much longer fight. In that time she made the best of the new-found free flow of treats and access to the kitchen where she’d previously been forbidden. Over the remaining six weeks she had good days and bad and she did her best to remain the dog she’d always been. She would struggle to get up and follow Kathy around the house. She’d do her best to hide her discomfort. Almost to the end she was the first to initiate affection toward us. Over the last couple of weeks the bad days outnumbered the good and it became apparent that she was really working hard to not show us how much discomfort she was in but we knew. Eventually she came to the point where she was no longer interested in food and she wasn’t responding to our affection let alone giving of it freely as she once had. Her quality of life had declined to the point where neither food nor affection was of interest. It was time.

We said goodbye to our girl last night. To the last she never whined and she did her best to be the girl we’d always known and loved. We are absolutely crushed by the loss. We’ll have other dogs and they’ll be great too but different in their own ways but our lives will never be the same without Roxy.


  1. The soul of a dog is pure and unblemished. Rest assured that whatever afterlife there is, they will be there, waiting for us. It is up to us to live the kind of life that not only honors them, but insures that when the time comes, they will be able to greet our arrival.

  2. thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute to very sorry for your loss.

  3. On out, Roxy. We'll miss you.

  4. Big hugs to you and Kathy. Life won't be the same without Roxy for sure. I know I'll miss that lil punkin. Thanks so much for this thoughtful post. I appreciate being reminded of your history and those memorable moments you had with her. I am sure that she has gone to the land of biscuits and belly rubs. She deserves nothing less.


  5. Since Rabbi and I just said goodbye to our beloved feline on Monday, I definitely feel y'all's pain. So sorry for your loss--I know that you miss her but are glad to know she is, as Pixie sez, gone "on"....Our lil gal also kept up her loving ways until the final 2 days. My heart goes out to you both,

  6. In tears on the bus as I read this. I know you will be very gentle with yourselves and each other and take care of one another during this hard time.

    She was such a sweet girl. She's up there now, with Dutch and my Buck showing her the ropes--as Pixie says, endless biscuits and belly rubs.

    Love to you both. She was lucky indeed to have the two of you:)

    On out sweet, sweet girl.


  7. We who choose to surround ourselves
    with lives even more temporary than our
    own, live within a fragile circle;
    easily and often breached.
    Unable to accept its awful gaps,
    we would still live no other way.
    We cherish memory as the only
    certain immortality, never fully
    understanding the neccesary plan....

  8. I gasped when I read the title of your post.
    I knew.
    But..I literally cannot fathom Roxie won't be chomping at the leash for one-more-walk or prancing around in your home, or holding that glorious eye-contact moment when I bent down to stroke her. I am so saddened. She was loved. She loved. You chose well. She was a gift.
    Take care of each other M& two must feel very fragile; you two were wonderful with her.
    I miss her already. Hugs. Memories.

  9. I'm so sorry to hear that time came. She had such a wonderful life with you. I'll miss her slow dance under the ficus tree and the welcoming licks each visit. I bet she strolled right up to Saint Peter and rolled over for a belly rub.

    Lots of love to both of you. Thanks for the chance to have some great dog memories. Love, Christian, Kirsten, Ani, and Xena

  10. I'm so sorry to read about Roxy's passing. She looked like such a well-loved and happy dog.

    One thing I've always learned about having a dog... is that they teach us something new every day... whether it's patience, or being compassionate, or just reminding us to take a few moments out of our hectic schedules just to play with fetch with them. Even when our dogs get sick... or old... and it comes time to do the humane thing... they teach us how to say goodbye. They teach us how to feel. They teach us how to be grateful for every moment they gave so willingly to us. They never stop teaching... and we're all better human beings because of them.

    I know that this is of little comfort at a time like this. Words can't take away the sadness of such a loss. There is no doubt that she had a wonderful life with you both and your lives were most certainly touched by her. All the very best to you two.