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Roxie and Verna

This whole dog thing started because of a story Verna used to tell over and over again. It was a very sad story I can’t bear to repeat, but it had to do with leaving behind her much-loved dog when she moved to Cleveland from Pennsylvania decades ago. I used to drive Verna to church, and whenever she saw someone walking a dog, she would repeat that story, much to my dismay, and end by saying she loved dogs and wished she could have a dog in her apartment. Even when she became unsteady on her feet, Verna would insist she’d like to have a black lab, her favorite breed. A lab could have knocked Verna over just by breathing on her, but that was the kind of dog she hankered for.

If you don’t much care for dogs, you should probably stop reading now. Sometimes when I start on this track, even talking to people who loved Verna, their eyes glaze over, and I realize they’re feeling the disengagement of non-dog-lovers when people like me start going on about dogs. Not everyone loves dogs, so feel free to just move along and read something else now. No hard feelings.

Verna and Portia

Verna and Portia

Verna died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 95, and her funeral was today. I’ve been thinking about what to say about her, if anything, and finally felt inspired by our dog connection. Because Verna loved dogs and couldn’t have one, a few years ago I asked my friend Joanne to bring Portia, her lovely golden retriever in possession of an actual therapy dog certificate, to visit Verna with me. Portia is calm and sweet, and Verna really enjoyed meeting her and petting her. Then, by a convoluted set of circumstances, I acquired our little dog Roxie and tried her out with Verna. At first, Roxie was antsy, exploring Verna’s rooms, and Verna would insist that Roxie must have to pee. But she didn’t. She just had to get acclimated. After awhile Roxie would calm down and sit on Verna’s lap, and Verna would pet her. Even though Roxie is about one-tenth the size of Verna’s preferred dog variety, they got along. Verna called Roxie cute and enjoyed getting her face licked. Roxie accommodated herself to Verna’s skinny lap and sat with her for as long as we wanted her to.

About ten months ago, Verna’s health problems worsened. She ended up in a nursing home about five minutes from my house. I soon ascertained that the nice attendants welcomed visits from dogs, and I began taking Roxie along with me. Some of the other residents clearly didn’t like dogs or were afraid even of a seven-pound Maltese, but others were excited to see Roxie come in. Verna always enjoyed it, and Roxie made things easier for me, frankly, because as Verna’s memory gradually failed, Roxie gave us something to talk about. Verna couldn’t tell stories anymore or recall her recent visitors. Because Verna’s mind was entirely in the present, Roxie was the perfect visitor, because Roxie the dog lives in the present, too.

entreating Roxie

Roxie

It moved me not only to see how much Verna enjoyed Roxie, but how earnestly Roxie attempted to do the right thing for all of us. It was hard to balance on Verna’s sloping legs in a wheelchair, and Roxie would keep her eyes on my face, checking to make sure she was supposed to stay there. Eventually, she’d settle in, lie down, and accept Verna’s affectionate petting. She’d greet the other residents joyfully, even when they were loud and clumsy.

Like pretty much everything in life, these memories are a mixed blessing now that Verna’s gone. I’m glad she and Roxie got to know each other, I’m grateful the nursing home was welcoming, and I’m happy I visited as much as I did, although I could have done more. Now, though, when I look at Roxie’s entreating face, I don’t just see my funny, much-loved dog. I see her perched on Verna’s lap, and she reminds me of my loss.

23 Comments

  1. Mary wrote:

    Kathy, thank you for this beautiful story. I was very touched. I am going to pass it on to some friends.

    Sunday, January 31, 2016 at 8:25 am | Permalink
  2. Kathy wrote:

    Thank you, Mary!

    Sunday, January 31, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink
  3. Robin wrote:

    This was lovely. I am a dog liker, not lover and this still resonated with me. Really enjoyed it.

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  4. Jewel wrote:

    Lovely story. Though I never met Verna, I an picture Roxie on her insubstantial lap. You paint a clear picture. So sorry for the loss of your friend.

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  5. Kim Christopher wrote:

    This story is identical to mine with my relationship with my dog(now) and her original owner Peggy. Peggy was a friend from church and she had a stroke about 9 years ago and could not take care of her dog anymore so Chris and I took in Vicky, a Chihuahua mix. We visited Peggy almost every week for the next 8 years until Peggy died last August. The other residents loved seeing Vicky and it took me awhile to get to Peggy’s room. Vicky was always calm and did not bark when she visited Peggy, unlike at home, lol. And yep, I love dogs!!

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  6. Ruby wrote:

    Thanks for sharing this story. I did not remember the story about her dog in PA. You were a wonderful friend/daughter to Verna. I appreciate you taking the time to be with her when others could not. You are a blessing in my life.
    Love you sister,
    Ruby

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 6:34 pm | Permalink
  7. Doreen wrote:

    You’ve done it again, Kathy… found a way to say good-bye to Verna with a sweet story about Roxie (and dogs). I love your writing, but it’s especially meaningful when I know everyone involved (well, Verna and Roxie anyway). Thank you.

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 8:24 pm | Permalink
  8. Daniel Begin wrote:

    I wish you would have shared that at the funeral! I remember her talking about that dog she always missed. Fred was a bit relieved they couldn’t have a dog as I remember. Thanks for your special way with words that even the most hardened dog hater could ever resist. Roxie is also unresistable.

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 9:29 pm | Permalink
  9. Kathy wrote:

    Thanks, Doreen.

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Permalink
  10. Kathy wrote:

    Roxie really did make it much easier to visit Verna.

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
  11. Kathy wrote:

    Back at ya

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 9:36 pm | Permalink
  12. Kathy wrote:

    How nice for all of you, especially Vicky, who got such a good home.

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 9:38 pm | Permalink
  13. Kathy wrote:

    Thanks, Jewel.

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 9:38 pm | Permalink
  14. Kathy wrote:

    Thanks, Robin!

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  15. Kathy wrote:

    I’ll share one Verna story here, my current favorite. Her husband Fred was a jokester and a very funny guy, but Verna was funny as well. On their 59th anniversary, a friend told her, “Verna, this is quite an accomplishment. You must be very proud.” Verna answered, “He’s starting to get on my nerves.”

    Monday, February 1, 2016 at 9:45 pm | Permalink
  16. Mary Mudler wrote:

    Thank you for sharing, from a dog lover. Rest easy, Kathy. You do so much more for others than most. I wish I knew some elegant Latin phrase to sum you up! Dominus vobiscum! (??)

    Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 8:40 pm | Permalink
  17. Kathy wrote:

    Thank you, Mary!

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 12:40 am | Permalink
  18. Barbara wrote:

    Kathy, I pictured you, Verna and Roxie in the most wonderful way while reading your story. Thanks for bringing back memories of Verna.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  19. Pat vernas daughter wrote:

    Kathy,thank you for that story.i can’t hardly see from crying.i will cherish that story always.what a wonderful friend you were to my mom.iwish I could have been around her more.lsure miss her.thank you again .love pat

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
  20. Christie Peel wrote:

    Thanks for sharing. Love the story. (Verna’s Granddaughter-in-law

    Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 9:25 am | Permalink
  21. Kathy wrote:

    Thanks! It was so nice meeting you all.

    Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  22. Kathy wrote:

    You’re welcome, Pat. I’m missing Verna, too, and can only imagine how you’re feeling. Thanks for the comment here.

    Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink
  23. Kathy wrote:

    Thanks, Barbara.

    Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

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