Blue Christmas

In my experience most holidays are not as advertised. The family gatherings are fraught with tension, exhaustion from preparation, and the ghosts of loved ones no longer alive.

It’s all about expectations.

The year we gave Roxy a forever home was one of those rare times when our expectations were exceeded. We saw her walking with her foster parents just before Thanksgiving in 2009. The adoption agency said they had already promised her to another person.

Disappointed we could not forget the happy little dog for weeks. Then we got a call to say that Roxy had escaped from her new home and run away several times. She had been placed back into foster care. The voice on the telephone said, “Do you still want her?”

“Yes,” we said without hesitation.

In early December, Roxy joined our family. When the foster parents came to introduce her to our home, they brought with them some doggie diapers. No one had told us about her lack of bladder control. I put the diapers in a drawer and never used them. “I’d rather have to scrub the carpet than put a diaper on a dog,” I proclaimed.

I swear, Roxy grinned at me. But, then she seemed to always have a happy face.

The shelter said she had been born five years earlier, but she looked much older. When we took her to the veterinarian for a check we discovered that her heart condition was much more serious than we had been told. If we had known I doubt that it would have changed our minds. It was love at first lick.

Roxy welcomed anyone who entered our home with a gentleness that extends equally to friends or strangers. I called her the watchdog because she liked to watch at a respectful distance any carpenter, electrician, or plumber. She didn’t bark unless we were preparing her dinner. Even the squirrels in our yard seemed to know she was harmless.

The two cats that share our home are attracted by the smell under her floppy ears. They try to cuddle up beside her as if trying to share her warmth. She isn’t sure they can be trusted, so without a growl or protest she simply moves to a different spot. The younger cat does not take the hint and tries again and again, despite Roxy’s subtle rejections.

She is like a bodhisattva, infinitely forgiving. As we scrub the carpet with pet stain and odor remover, barely containing our annoyance, I look into her confused brown eyes. She doesn’t understand anger.

She takes heart medications, pain medications, and a pill for incontinence. We purchased the special food for intestinal distress. None of these are a cure, but they do help.

She coughs when she drinks water and recently her cough wakes her up from a deep sleep. After several trips to the veterinarian we learned that her heart was so enlarged now that her trachea has collapsed. The vet prescribed several new medications that alternately make her restless and groggy.

“I’ve come to hate this holiday season,” the vet says. “Every year I euthanize more pets at this time of year than any other.”

Now her waggy tail droops down like a flag without a breeze. We are exhausted from trying to help her feel better. With some coaxing we can get her to eat little bits of food wrapped around her medications. Watching Roxy wheeze, cough and struggle to breathe makes the joy of the holiday season crumple like discarded gift-wrapping.

It’s all about expectations, I tell myself.