My husband and I volunteered for several years with a Boxer rescue. We provided a foster home for dogs in need of new homes. We had gotten Sassi, our white Boxer, as a pup the year before and decided to try fostering to see if we could handle two dogs.
We got our first foster dog, a deaf white Boxer named Brutus, in the spring of 2006. After a few weeks, he was ready to go to his forever home. Our second foster was Joe, a big brindle boy, and like Brutus, in a few weeks, he was placed in his new home.
We got the call about Luke shortly after Joe left. He’d been brought to a local dog breeder who had a reputation for taking in unwanted dogs. The family who had him had three little boys and said they just didn’t have time for the dog. The boys weren’t very good with him, they used him as a target for their wiffle ball bats. He spent most of his time either outside or in the house in a crate with very little play time with the family. We met the woman in the parking lot of a local zoo (we always teased Luke that we got him at the monkey pen). Our assignment was to evaluate him to see if he was a good match for the rescue program. We met him, evaluated him, and he went home with us. The rescue was surprised, they didn’t think we’d be taking him that day, just evaluating him, but he was such an awesome dog, we couldn’t leave him.
Luke was a fawn boy, a bit on the thin side when we took him in, but you could tell that while he was small in stature for a Boxer, he was going to be a big boy. He had the typical expressive face of a Boxer, but there was just something about him that spoke to us. Luke was the foster dog who never left.
We had three more fosters after Luke. He tried so hard to assert himself, to prove himself the “alpha,” but when one of the other dogs pushed back, he gave in and for all his trying, he was normally “bottom of the totem pole.” When our third Boxer, Mickey, came to us four years later, Luke again tried to assert himself top dog, but as usual, he gave in. For our part, not wanting him to constantly be low man, we fed him first, let him outside first, did everything we could to enforce to him that he was top dog. Of the three dogs, he had the most typical “Boxer look.” He was tough-looking and rugged, with solid muscles and a thick, strong Boxer head. He was stocky, had the solid look of a German Boxer more than the lankier, slimmer American Boxer.
For all his insistence on trying to be top dog, and for all his looking the part of the rough and tumble pluggy little Boxer, Luke was the gentlest of our three dogs, leading to his becoming the favorite among our relatives and the one who was allowed to mingle with guests when they were over. Sassi and Mickey could be a bit overwhelming in typical bouncy Boxer fashion, which can be daunting for children and elderly people. Granted, they are not dangerous, would never intentionally harm a soul, but their tendency to get excited and their lack of awareness of their own size gave them a tendency to knock people over.
Luke, on the other hand, belying his timid nature, seldom jumped, never bowled anyone over in excitement, and was forever gentle and calm. Kids loved him, grandparents loved him. He would stand with his head down letting you scratch him behind the ears or rub between his shoulders. He was our gentle giant in a small package.
Luke’s beautiful fawn coat was a light golden brown in summer and a gorgeous red-brown in winter. His expressive big brown eyes were set in a black mask, his chest and the tips of his toes flashed with white. He was thin when he first came to us, but over the next few years, he filled out into a little ball of solid muscle.
A bit of a scare around age two when he had a small mast cell tumor removed from one of his back legs left him with a dark-colored “tattoo” and was the only health problem we encountered with him until he was diagnosed last year with canine degenerative myelopathy. We began noticing a slight underturn of his rear feet when he walked, a little stumbling now and then, but during his annual checkup in the summer, the vet told us it was probably nothing to worry about. We were more concerned with his sudden difficulties eating; he would often regurgitate his food shortly after. We began feeding him three times a day and sitting him upright afterwards for a short time to let his stomach settle. As the months passed, he continued to lose weight, and his gait continued to worsen. He was finally diagnosed with DM in the fall. The prognosis was not good. DM tends to move quickly, and this was true in Luke’s case. He continued to lose mobility in his rear legs, tended to stumble down the few stairs to the backyard at potty time and by the time winter arrived, he needed assistance getting up and down the stairs.
The final few weeks of his life were hard for us, watching our “big brown boy,” as we called him, become weaker and weaker and lose control of his legs. He paced continually, the tops of his toes scraping against the floor, bleeding. We’d come home every day to urine and feces in the kitchen. Frustrating, annoying, but easily cleaned up. When we started finding blood from his toes from one end of the kitchen to the other, we knew the time was coming when we’d have to make a decision on whether to continue allowing him to live like that or to let him go.
My husband came home one day to find the usual mess, but this time Luke was laying in it and didn’t get up, barely lifted his head to even look at him as he cleaned it up. At suppertime, it was becoming necessary for one of us to stand beside him and hold him in place so he didn’t fall over. My husband had to carry him outside to the yard and hold onto him so he could relieve himself without stumbling. This was when he knew it was time. It was a painful decision to make because he was still mostly alert, still trying to lead a normal doggy life, but his rear legs just were not cooperating with him. We could tell that it was frustrating to him, trying to walk with his legs going in different directions and not doing what he wanted them to do.
On Thursday, February 20, 2014, my husband called the vet and made an appointment for that Saturday. I took Friday off from work and spent the entire day in bed with all three dogs and the cat snuggled around me, and on Saturday morning, we took the long, solemn drive to the vet. Luke lay on my lap, wrapped in his favorite fuzzy blanket, hugged tight to me while I spoke softly to him, told him what a good boy he was, thanking him for being in our lives and for giving us all he had over the years, telling him that it was okay, that we’d see him again someday.
On Saturday, February 22, 2014, we said goodbye to our “big brown boy,” stroking him, kissing him, and speaking softly to him as he left this world and headed to the Rainbow Bridge to wait with our other departed pets. We watched the light go out of his big brown eyes, tears streaming down our faces as we said goodbye.
Goodbye, my sweet brown boy. We miss you:(