My Pet Partner’s name is Roxie. Roxie is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, famous for their affectionate nature. We had the honor of participating in Akron Children’s Doggie Brigade from July of 2011 to June of 2012. Though we only had one year of visiting due to Roxie’s heart condition, we still accumulated a fair amount of stories for our memory banks.
Roxie’s story began when we first went to pick out our second dog. The breeder took us to a makeshift pen she had crafted outdoors so we could see all of her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies.
My mom crouched down inside to get a better look at them. One energetic puppy barreled over all of the other puppies to reach her, jumping into her lap fearlessly.
“That’s Moose,” the breeder had told us, “because she’s bigger than all the rest.” My mom smiled up at me and said, “This is my dog.” We took her home and later named her, Roxie. This same exuberance became a consistent theme for all of her hospital visits.
One time Roxie and I stopped in to visit a young boy on a patient unit, when his two doctors came in to check on him. I offered to leave, but the doctors and the family both said we were welcome to stay. One doctor approached the young boy and held out the end of his stethoscope, asking: “Can I listen to your heart?”
The young boy, quite fed up with being poked and prodded, shook his head “no” and turned away to seek refuge with his mom.
The second doctor smiled and tried another tactic. “Can we listen to your heart… while you pet the dog?” The boy emerged and looked at Roxie, who began to furiously wag her tail. He smiled wide and nodded his head. He reached out and petted Roxie, giggling while the doctor listened to his heart.
On another visit, Roxie and I stopped in to see another family. Mom and Dad sat at their son’s side, anxiously begging him to eat. The boy refused pizza and chips, still not feeling well after a procedure. His parents looked to us and explained, “The doctor says he needs to eat, but it’s been hours and he just won’t!” Clearly they were very worried.
I smiled at them, and then their son. “It’s tough to eat when you don’t feel good,” I said. “Would you feel better if Roxie taste tested your chips to make sure they were good first?”
The boy smiled just a little; I could tell he thought the idea a little silly. “She likes chips?” he asked.
“She loves chips,” I explained. “It’s one of her favorite foods. She would be an expert taste tester! But she can only have a little bit, because dogs’ stomachs cannot eat lots of people food. So if they’re good, she’ll need your help to finish them.”
His parents handed me a chip. I broke off a corner for Roxie, which she excitedly snatched out of my hand and crunched on loudly. I gave her another piece, and another, all of which she ecstatically devoured.
The boy laughed at Roxie’s wild eyes and noisy chewing. “Mom!” he exclaimed, “She’s going to eat them all! Can I have some please?”
I will never forget the relief that crossed their faces as they relaxed, eagerly offering their son anything he asked for. They looked to us, their eyes saying: “Thank you.”
On another visit, we stopped in to visit a young girl. She was lying in bed, hardly able to move. I asked if she would like a visit and her mother at first said no, because her daughter was having a bad day and in a lot of pain. The girl had tears in her eyes, but she reached out toward us and asked us to come in.
I lifted Roxie into my arms and came up alongside the bed. Her tears stopped, and for a moment, she smiled as she stroked Roxie’s fur. “She’s so soft… and her tail is wagging a lot. Is she really that happy to see me?”
I choked back a few tears of my own, happy that I could genuinely tell her, “Yes, she has been looking forward to seeing you all day.”
Toward the last few days of visiting, Roxie and I stopped in to see an extra room after our normal rounds. When we finished, we stopped at the nurse’s station to say goodbye and check out. A man passed behind me and quickly petted Roxie. I turned around to thank him, but he had already gone.
When I arrived at the elevator, I bumped into the man again. This time I made sure to thank him for petting my pet partner.
The man was very upset, and he vented to us quite suddenly about how his child and his wife were both in the hospital simultaneously. He was frustrated by all the waiting and different information. In addition, he was feeling pressured by having to make decisions for both of them. “I’m power of attorney!” he repeated over and over.
When I recovered from the shock of his outburst, I apologized for the difficult situation he was in. I picked Roxie up in my arms, and I asked him, “Would you like to pet Roxie some more?”
The man looked at her, and then replied, “Yes, I would like to pet your dog.” He reached out to stroke her fur as he continued to talk out his frustrations.
The elevator came and went a few times before he finished. Then he paused, looked me in the eye and asked, “Does she always look like that? Her eyes are so big and her tail is still wagging.”
I laughed and told him that yes, she always looked like that. He smiled. “That’s a good dog,” he said to Roxie as he gave her a final pat on the head. He looked her in the eye and said, “Thank you.”
Roxie and I have had an amazing journey as a Pet Partners team. We mostly visited patients at the hospital, and we also attended Akron Children’s Holiday Tree Festival greeting guests, and a special night at Faith Family church so kids could have a fun night out while their parents had time to themselves.
I remember futilely trying to deflect a ball from whizzing by Roxie’s face, amazed at her fearless stillness. I swelled with honor when a dad, who had just watched his son hug Roxie even though he had previously been terrified by dogs, gaped in awe. I laughed at the Tree Festival when a bow vendor made Roxie her own special bow, and then gave all the children she saw treats to give to her.
She gave them so many treats that I had to trade the kids treats for regular food, and went home with a handful of treats.
The power of these dogs is like none I have ever seen in my life. I felt blessed simply to be in Roxie’s presence and watch her melt the walls and hurt feelings of everyone around her and bask in the love she seemed to generate. The whole experience was nothing short of miraculous. I am focusing on enjoying every last day with her that we have. My experience with her has forever inspired me to continue volunteering with any dogs I adopt in the future that qualify.
Have you been touched by our Doggie Brigade? We’d love to hear your story, or you can comment on this post.