Roux’s final breaths last week were mourned not by the world but by a single, extended family.
She never won a ribbon. Her talents? Limited.
By the world’s standards, she was just another dog. To us, though, she was our daily good morning, our tireless tail wag, our beloved sidekick.
A yellow Lab, Louisiana-born, she lived at turns with my son, her first human, after his graduation from LSU and move to Virginia; with our son and daughter-in-law, after their marriage in Richmond; with our son and daughter-in-law and our granddaughter, in Wichita, Kansas; and finally with my wife and me in Lafayette. The last move, at age 8, began her first real stretch of duration in Louisiana, her name notwithstanding, and it came about because of our son’s work transfer to Asia.
The promise was we would keep Roux for two years, the length of our son’s commitment overseas. Labs wear down around 11 or 12, and we dreaded seeing her decline. We’d traveled that sad road with pets before.
But two years became three and then almost four and by then we were committed that our home would be Roux’s last. She was too old for transitions; she was at peace overseeing her fenced backyard here; she had returned to her proper role as center of a household, not playing second fiddle to babies. And we loved her.
There was more, of course. From the day of her arrival, she became our link to our son and his family, half a world away. Her easy step matched that set by my wife and I, as we glided into our 60s. We were the three amigos. She had energy for long walks and tennis ball catches; she’d hop in the car at the slightest nod.
But she also had much to teach us:
Choose your friends carefully. Surprisingly enough, she focused on me, least amiable of the family, for her chief human. And so our friendship started. Friends were baffled that I’d drop anything to go home to her. Our walks were a must. I’d squeeze in “Roux time” around golf games, then dropped golf for weekends in the park with her.
If you love someone, let them know. I’d park the car at night, walk toward the front door and notice the curtain drawn back, lower right corner, nose prints on the glass. She was ecstatic, even if I’d seen her at lunch — he’s home! — and my day was enriched before I’d crossed the threshold. I’d tell her I’m not that special; she wouldn’t believe it.
Be an optimist. Terrified of storms, she’d tear down blinds and curtains if a storm found her alone. She chewed up three door frames and the front door. On those awful days, approaching the house, we’d catch the first glimpses of wreckage — curtains, blinds — inside through the window. But, tennis ball in mouth, the living room in tatters, she’d greet us with a relentless, wagging tail at the door. That type of optimism is contagious.
Food is good. Anything below counter level was hers. Sometimes, if unattended, food on the counter was hers, too. This helped us organize the house.
We got word a month ago that the limp she’d developed was worse than we’d imagined: tumors, widespread, moving. But it gave us an opportunity to plan a “victory tour” for our beloved dog. Visits to her favorite parks. Time at the boat landing, where we could watch the Vermilion River flow by. Rides, though I had to lift her into and from the car. Eggs in the morning, burgers in the evening. Visits to favored friends.
All of that, until, one by one, she lost her passion for each of these pleasures. On that last day, she passed up a special breakfast, and we spent the morning in her backyard, me typing, Roux at peace in the grass. I carried her in while I prepared Mom’s lunch of grilled chicken, for which Roux showed some surprising interest. She ate a morsel, then another, until, in her enthusiasm, she ate all of two thighs — our lunch. A rascal to the end.
We made that last drive to the vet with back windows rolled down — it was her preference, always — my wife holding her head aloft so she could see all that Johnston Street offered. A faint breeze ruffled her thick fur and, as if it were our final, triumphant, one-car parade, a tribute to her joyful life, we could almost feel the confetti fall.
Not a bad exit for a dog that never won a ribbon. Only our hearts.
Email Ken Stickney at firstname.lastname@example.org.