Written by Scott McIntyre

rocky1Rocky came into our lives almost four and a half years ago. Jodi had seen him on Facebook and helped get him into rescue. I remember the day clearly; it was the day after my first play closed. Jodi has just come home from a trip to Tennessee and she met me in Northport Village with our new foster with our granddaughter to see the pet parade (which we missed). Rocky had just come from his original home. His human mommy was elderly and couldn’t care for him any longer. When he arrived, he had a huge skin tag on his belly. I am not exaggerating when I say it was a big as a cigar or a metal fishing lure. It wasn’t long before we had that removed.

Rocky was initially pretty high strung and would start fights and bite us if he felt cranky about something. It was, honestly, a problem. We hoped to find a home for him quickly, someplace without kids and would be the only dog. The months went by. Nobody seemed interested. While he waited, he formed a bond with Jodi, the special kind you can’t plan or decide. He fell head over heels in love and it was mutual. He had a “marry me” expression whenever he saw her. However, we knew he had to go to a new home. Finally, when that day arrived, letting him go was heartbreaking for us. He was with us long enough to become a member of our family. Still, fostering is fostering and we tearfully left him with his new family.

Weeks later, Rocky still isn’t settling in. He apparently didn’t feel at home there. I knew what it was immediately: he was missing his Mommy. The new family was very nice and they tried, but Rocky was bitey and unhappy, so we took him back – forever. When Jodi went to collect him, his little tail wagged non-stop when he saw her. They were reunited. Our family was whole again. Jodi would call him Rock Star, but to me he was always Rocky Doodle (also “Doodle” and “Doodle Bug”).

As the years went by, Rocky mellowed and things changed for him. His hearing cleared up, he had rotting teeth removed, and he lost a lot of excess weight. He went to pug meet ups and even took the drive to the Milwaukee Pug Fest in 2014. He was a true Rescue Rock Star. Then, in 2015, he took a turn when he had breathing issues. He was panting and heaving, so we rushed him to the ER. His lungs were collapsing and we were told he may not survive the night. However, like the Sylvester Stallone character, Rocky never backed down from a bout. He fought back. We couldn’t float the bills, but so many people in the pug community and beyond donated so much to the fundraiser that was started for him, it was all taken care of. Best of all, he recovered! Not fully, he still had issues, but he came out on top. Rocky remained spry and squishy.

His hearing and sight began to fail and he began to grapple with dementia. He started bumping into things and getting lost in the house. He would look for his Mommy and would fall asleep when Daddy would put him on the couch and cuddle for a while. We knew the end wasn’t all that far away, but he was still happy and comfortable, so he just whiled away his time eating, sleeping, getting massages and snackies.

Finally, just as February rolled around, Rocky’s breathing started becoming labored. He was drinking more. He was getting increasingly confused. In the afternoon of the second day, Rocky was more agitated than normal. He was standing strangely. I picked him up and brought him to the couch, but he wouldn’t have it. I tried to cuddle and he kept trying to break free. I put him on the floor. He stood for a minute and began to lie down. He grew calm and gradually fell asleep. I walked away, feeling secure that he would snooze for a few hours, possibly well into the evening as he usually did. I came back about twenty minutes later and looked at him. His head was turned strangely. Something didn’t seem right. He was a shallow breather when he slept and often would take slow, gradual breaths. This day, though, my worst fears were realized. He wasn’t breathing. I bushed my hand across his head, as I would to wake him, and he didn’t move. I picked him up and he flopped limply in my arms.

Our precious Rocky was gone.

My heart shattered into a million splinters. I felt immediately guilty. Did I abandon him in death? Unlike Bowser and Neumacks before him, this wasn’t our decision. We didn’t prepare, hold him when he died or say goodbye. Or, did he wait for me to leave? Did he not want me there? In the end, it doesn’t matter. He died peacefully in his sleep, at home surrounded by his brothers and sister. I held him for the forty minutes it took for Jodi to get home, telling him how much we loved him and how we’ll miss him. We took him to the ER where we said our final farewells. Now, as we wait for Rocky’s ashes to come home, our grumble is a little smaller, our hearts a little emptier.

We will never forget you, Rock Star, our sweet Doodle. He was our handsome, squishy little curmudgeon with the heart on his forehead. A RockStar in more than name, he was just a few months shy of his 15th birthday. He was a tough little fighter whose big heart finally wound down. Even his relentless spirit and scrappy attitude couldn’t fight the march of time. We love you and miss you so much.  You took a piece of our hearts with you.