Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Roxie and Me

When the big black dog with the golden eyes came to us she was at death’s door. Literally. The vet had tried to find someone who would adopt her – in our little rural town in Georgia, people who cared about strays took them to Dr Mike instead of the local shelter which put them down after 48 hours – but the medical costs would have been huge, and he couldn’t keep her any longer. She was nearly bald from an advanced case of mange and her right front leg was loaded with buckshot thanks to some dribble chinned idiot with a gun. And while I’m on that subject, can we all agree that anyone who would shoot at a helpless dog just because she’d homeless should be shot themselves? Thank you. Moving on.

A good Samaritan grabbed our girl her and brought her to Dr Mike where she met my husband Roger, AKA, St Francis of Assisi. We were broke and unemployed at the time but Mike and Roger negotiated a payment plan for the expenses Mike did at cost and the girl came home to us. She was named Roxanne by my stepson, and I gather a song by a rock band was involved in the selection. Since my musical knowledge is pretty much limited to old Broadway show tunes and the really popular arias by Puccini I never knew which group it was. Roxanne was a beauty. Roger called her a Disney dog and said she was made up of spare parts – an Irish Setter’s tail, a Lab’s build, a Terrier’s grin. When her coat grew in it was luxurious and thick and black. Her smart, smart eyes were, as I said, golden brown. Her tongue – thanks to a Chow somewhere in her family tree – was partially purple.

“She’s a runner,” Mike had warned when he turned her over to us. “You’ll have to keep her tied up when she’s outside.”

So on her first night home we celebrated her arrival with a cookout and happily attached her to a heavy portable grill by means of a collar and leash guaranteed to restrain a small elephant, if for some reason, you had one in your home. We wanted Roxanne to be outdoors with the rest of the family – we had six other rescue dogs -- so she would feel welcomed and loved. We figured there was no way she could get loose—we had the running thing covered. We were right, actually, she couldn’t get free. But what she could do was drag the collar, the leash, and the grill along with the hot coals, the half-cooked hamburgers and the three zucchini burgers for my stepson the vegan, across three fields and a good portion of the thirteen acres of Kudzu that surrounded our home. In fact, if she hadn’t run afoul of a pole anchoring the electric lines Georgia Power had run across our back forty, we probably would have lost her. The next day we had a fence built. It was the first of many over the years. And FYI, a good, strong link chain fence costs slightly more per foot than laying track for a high speed train.

Now, I’m sure anyone reading this is wondering why I’m bothering to write about Roxanne. I mean, most rescued dogs have a hard luck story in the beginning. And at some point they find a home and are cherished and blah, blah, blah. Hang on, because this one was different – at least for me.

Roxie and I had a special relationship because of a dog Roger and I had also rescued named Jennifer. Jen came from the San Fernando Valley. We lived in California for two years while I tried to become a movie star – don’t ask – before we finally moved to Georgia. Jen had problems—deep psychological problems. And she and Roxie took a hate to each other. It was a parenting issue – differing styles of motherhood to be precise. We had at the time a rescue puppy named Dorothy. Roxie adopted her, and indulged her wildly. There was evidence that Rox had had puppies of her own at some point and while all the professional dog folks swore to me that she’d forgotten about them, I knew better -- okay?

Anyway, at one point little Dorothy decided to steal one of Jen’s toys. Jen growled a reprimand . The puppy squealed, and Roxie ran to the rescue. The fight between Rox and Jen was on. Under the dinner table – it was Christmas Day, did I say that? After we cleaned up the blood, Roger, who had broken up the battle, needed thirteen stitches, Jen was in Dr Mike’s emergency room, and Roxie was off in a corner muttering to herself about how no dumb Valley Girl was going to mess with her baby.

After that there was no making peace. Mike explained that with two male dogs a grudge match would end when one dog was clearly the victor, at which point the other would shrug and say “Whatever, dude.” But when you had two females, someone was going to die. It was, he said, a girl thing. Which is how Roxie wound up living in the studio where I did my writing.

My studio, which was separate from the house, was heated and air conditioned and it had running water and a microwave –everything Roxie could possibly need. Unfortunately it also had me in it. Except for visits with Dorothy, I was Roxie’s main companion. And I was not in good shape. I was in the process of figuring out that I’d been aged out of my old career as an actress, and my new one as a staff writer for daytime drama, as we used to call the soaps, was not working out so well. To be honest, being a staff writer meant being anonymous, and I’d been a leading actor throughout my career, and I’d won an Emmy. My ego was just too big to be a worker bee. I’m not proud of this, I’m just saying.

For one long terrible summer I went into that studio everyday and tried to write scripts for other actors to say and I cried. And Roxie lay down on my feet and played dutiful dog. Until she couldn’t stand it anymore. Then she’d start nudging and barking and carrying on until I took out the leash and we’d hike through the Kudzu, her theory being if I wasn’t going to write, I might as well work off some of the butt I was acquiring by eating comfort food and spending hours watching old movies on TV.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep I’d get up and stumble across our the breezeway to my studio where Rox would cuddle with me on the sofa even though she hated cuddling. But always at some point her sense of humor – to say nothing of tough love -- would kick in and I’d be nudged with a cold nose and I’d know that she was saying, “You’ve had a lot more luck than many people with as much talent, or more, than yours. Get over this, and get on with it.”
When I finally got up the courage to try to write my first novel we were back in the Northeast where I had an office in the basement level of the house. Rox stayed down there with me while I fought off the fear that I couldn’t write a book and the even bigger fear that no one would want to read it if and when I did write it. And when I needed a break there was the nose nudge, although sometimes we’d just go outside and sniff the sunshine instead of hiking around our cul de sac. By that point she was getting old and more than a little tired. But she stuck it out until I published the Three Miss Margarets.

I don’t remember much about the day when she left. She’d been sick for a while and I do know that Roger and I both had to reassure her that we could manage without her and it was okay for her to go if she had to. I remember doing that. And to be honest, since then it’s been a little hard to think about her. I used her picture on my recipe cards because it was a way to keep her involved – without doing the thinking part.

But this year I found myself writing a novel in which the leading character is a writer who is having problems. And she has this dog. A stray dog with smart, smart eyes. And a thick, luxurious black coat. A dog who doesn’t like to cuddle but does it for her sake. The dog’s name is Annie. And the plot hinges on her. And I don’t know if you’ll believe this or not, but until a good friend pointed it out to me, I didn’t realize that Annie and Roxie had so much in common. So I guess now I’m ready to talk about Roxie. And while I wouldn’t want to get all spooky and say Rox helped me write this book… maybe somewhere out there in the ether… yeah. I think that’s what happened. She did.