History Repeats Itself (sort of)

The Zaxby’s Incident

Labor Day weekend, 2010. Seven years before Rocky left for the Bridge, there was … The Zaxby’s Incident.

College football season kicked off that Thursday night. And, like any college football fan, I decided to celebrate with wings and beer while I sat down in front of the TV. When the night was over, I placed the 10 wing bones back in the box, slipped the box back into the Zaxby’s bag and then placed the whole package inside my tall kitchen trash basket.

Wing bones and beer go well together

The next day was Friday, Sept. 3 (seven years to the day later is when Rocky would leave for the Bridge). At no point during the day did Rocky show any interest in the trash basket and its hidden treasure of wing bones. The thought that they could tempt him never crossed my mind (yes, I was foolish).

That evening, I headed out for dinner. I was gone a scant 45 minutes. But that was more than enough time for Rocky.

When I walked in the front door, there he was with the goofiest grin on his face. He looked like a child who had discovered his Christmas presents a week early.

I had no idea what he had gotten into, until I walked into the kitchen. There was the trash can, laid out on the floor like a Mike Tyson opponent. The trash bag pulled about a foot out of the basket; the Zaxby’s bag about a foot out of the trash bag; the open box about a foot away from the Zaxby’s bag.

There wasn’t so much as a fragment of bone to be found anywhere.

If you own a dog, you know a chicken bone is bad news. But how bad is 10? Frantically, I Googled. First issue is the dog can choke on the bone. OK, we avoided that one. Second issue is the chewed up bone fragments can become tiny daggers inside the dog’s digestive system. Yeah, that’s not good.

Rocky’s vet was already closed for the long holiday weekend. So I placed a call to the emergency vet. I explained to the operator what happened and pleaded for advice.

“I can’t advise you on whether you should bring your dog in or not,” she said. “You have to make that decision.”

Decision made: Into the car we went to head across town.

An hour, a couple of stomach X-rays and $90 later we learned that Rocky had chewed those bones so well they posted little threat to his digestive tract. Still, we played it safe and he ate Metamucil and bread the rest of the holiday weekend. Other than a little diarrhea, he suffered no ill effects. Still, he never would reveal whether the Metamucil/bread diet was worth his Friday night wing fest.

The Tenders Incident

We now fast forward seven years, six months and four days later. I rarely go to Zaxby’s anymore. Tenders, a local joint, has better wings. They also have grilled chicken tenders, a healthier option for me.

After feeding Baxter his Salmon flavored kibble, I headed to the Tenders drive-thru for my regular seven grilled tenders, side of bread and sweet tea.

He may look innocent here, but don’t be fooled.

I returned home with my feast and began eating. Two tenders in, I needed to take a quick bathroom break. So I put the box with the remaining five tenders up on the kitchen counter, close to the wall.

Ten minutes later, I emerged from the bathroom to find a piece of mail laying in front of the bathroom door. Conspicuously, it had a couple of Baxter-sized teeth marks. Strange, since I was sure I had left the mail laying on the kitchen counter.

I continued my trek toward the kitchen. As I made my to the hallway, I spied a yellowish styrofoam box laying upside down on the hallway floor. The box looked remarkably similar to the one that held my tenders. Coincidence? I picked it up. Empty.

As I continued, I saw the remains of a styrofoam cup laying past the hallway on the dining room floor. Ice cubes were scattered around the pieces of styrofoam.

I made my way into the kitchen. Spilled tea had pooled on the floor. The box that held my tenders? Gone. The cup that held my tea? Gone.

I marched into the living room. There was Baxter, laying in his favorite spot on the couch. His look wasn’t one of a kid at Christmas, but rather one that had just handed me a report card full of Fs.


He leapt off the couch and cringed toward the back door, tail firmly between his legs (literally).

Fortunately, the tenders were boneless. No trip to the emergency vet necessary. No punishment by Metamucil and bread. But I’d been had again. And this time it cost me my dinner.


It’s been six months …

Today is March 3. Twelve months ago today Rocky had recovered from his amputation and was resting after having his first round of chemo a few days earlier. I was full of hope. Eleven months ago today was April 3, a Monday. Rocky was doing great and I was contemplating physical therapy for him. Ten months ago today was May 3, a Wednesday. And Rocky got groomed for the second time post-amputation. Nine months ago today … you get the point.

Well, today is March 3. Six months since Sept. 3. And six months since Rocky went to the Bridge. It feels like it was just 10 minutes ago his back leg went out on him. Yet, somehow, it also feels like 10 years ago. Time can be just as illogical as cancer.

A lot has changed. There’s a new dog patrolling Rocky’s back yard now. And Baxter isn’t as forgiving about squirrels and rabbits invading as Rocky was. But a lot has remained unchanged. The love for my dog being chief among those things.

The Greenway

I went to the greenway today, for the second time since Rocky went to the Bridge and the first time since the actual day. I’m not sure why. Compared to other places, it doesn’t really hold a lot of significance. Then again, maybe it holds more than I give it credit.

There’s a dog park there. It’s off from the parking lot where people leave their cars before walking. Rocky always hated the dog park. I surmised that maybe he ran into a pack of bigger dogs and got the worst of it when he was on his own. Just a guess.

The view from the bridge (January 2017)

It was sometime around Thanksgiving, 2009, when I took Rocky to the dog park there. It was just about two months after I adopted him.  We met my dad, who was there with his two dogs РRipple and Tigger.

I’m a shy guy. Ask anybody who knows me to describe me in a word and there’s a 95 percent chance they use the word “quiet”. So there we were. Ripple and Tigger running and frolicking, chasing and being chased by other dogs. Rocky? He quietly meandered along the fence, sniffing and searching, far away and out of sight from the other dogs. He wanted no part of the pack running and playing together. His dad sat at a picnic table, far away from the other people. Yup, two peas from the same pod.

We eventually left – my dad, me and our three pups – along a winding path that avoided the playground between the parking lot and the dog park. That may have been the first and last time Rocky and I went to the dog park there. I’m honestly not sure. I see no reason why we would have gone back.

More than two years later, Rocky and I were back in the parking lot. I had gotten my car washed and then swung through the drive-thru at Chick-Fil-A for a large sweet tea before meeting a female co-worker on an abnormally warm late February day. We had started spending a lot of time together – me and her – and she wanted us to meet up on a Saturday afternoon to take our dogs for a walk along the greenway. It’s roughly two miles from start to end. And by the time we had completed the four-mile round trip – me, her and our two dogs – I had decided I wanted to be more than just c0-workers or even friends.

Six months later, Rocky and I were back on the greenway – just the two of us. The brief romance with the co-worker had fizzled. As we walked on a warm September day, I reminisced about the February walk, sad at what had become of my human relationship but thankful that my best boy was still by my side.

The greenway wasn’t much more favorable to Rocky than the dog park. It was an asphalt path that split a row of trees. Rocky was never really comfortable being surrounded by woods. I surmised that he had been abandoned in some similar woods. Again, just a guess.

As we walked away from the car, he was careful to keep me either in front of him or by his side. He never dared get in front of me. We’d walk about halfway down the path to a bridge. There we’d stop and stare out at the water for a few minutes. Then we’d head back to the car. Rocky made a bee line – no time for sniffing or peeing – as he pulled in front of me on the path back. I could feel his anxiety. It never relinquished until he was safely in the back seat of our car.

I can’t tell you how many times we repeated that scenario on the greenway. When the weather was decent – in the spring or fall – we’d go a couple of weekends a month. The last few years we didn’t go as often. It was easier to just walk through the neighborhood, where Rocky was more comfortable.

Last January, as we waited on word as to whether Rocky needed a biopsy for his hobbled front right leg, I went back to the greenway on my own. The weather was similar to that late February day years before. I made my way to the bridge and peered out at the water. And I prayed. I prayed a biopsy wouldn’t be necessary. I prayed Rocky’s leg would be fine. I prayed it would be anything but cancer. My prayers went unanswered.

Eight months and seven days later, I went back to that parking lot with Rocky’s collar in hand. I went to the dog park and watched the handful of dogs run and frolick and play. I imagined my boy walking along the fence in the distance quietly sniffing and searching by himself. And I cried.

I took the same winding path we had taken years earlier past the playground and parking lot and made my way down the greenway. I stopped at the bridge and peered out at the water. Then I continued to the end of the path before turning around and making my way back toward the car. I walked as fast as I could on my way back.

Random Thoughts

It’s late on a Saturday night, so I thought I’d just post some random thoughts.

  • It’s been nearly three weeks since Rocky went to the Bridge. Time seems to have flown by, but these last three weeks have lasted forever.
  • I really wish now that I had started blogging at the start of the journey. There were some really good times these last eight months that I have no record of now. March, April, May and June were really good months. I remember thinking in mid June that I had no regrets.
  • The house still feels really strange and foreign without Rocky. It’s not so much the quiet as it is just a complete lack of energy.
  • I have yet to vacuum since he went to the Bridge. I can still see some of his hair in the carpet, and there’s still some mud he tracked in the last few days he was here. I’m not refusing to vacuum for sentimental reasons; I just haven’t had the energy to do it.
  • I’ve found three pennies – one each week he’s been gone. They’ve all been pretty mangled. I’m still waiting for a bigger sign that he’s made it.
  • I really need to spruce this blog up.
  • The one silver lining I was looking forward to was the relief that our battle was over. But, at this point, I think I’m more worried about him now than before.
  • I’ve barely been out in the back yard since he’s been gone. It feels completely foreign now.
  • I feel miserable most of the time. I know, eventually, that will pass. But there’s a pretty big part of me that never wants to feel good again. In a weird sense, it’s like if I hold on to this pain, I’m still holding on to him.

What’s In A Name?

His name was Isaac Joseph. I’ve always assumed that was the name given to him by the rescue group that saved him. I have no clue what his original name was. Or if he even had an original name.

Isaac, Ike or Joey would have worked just fine. But I wanted him to have a completely fresh start. And a completely fresh start involved a completely fresh name. So I went with Rocky.

I’m a proud University of Tennessee alum. People naturally assumed my alma mater inspired his new name. And I used to say: “Top is his middle name.”

But, truth be told, my school’s unofficial fight song wasn’t the only inspiration. It was obvious this dog was a fighter.

In the summer of 2009, Rocky was found wandering along the side of a highway. He weighed 20 pounds, was filthy dirty and his matted fur was covered in burrs. He was picked up and taken to a shelter. There, he tested heart worm positive.

Sick dogs don’t get adopted. And shelters have neither the time nor money for those kind of dogs. His only crime was daring to survive, and yet he was placed on doggie death row.

He was two days from his end when he was discovered by the rescue group. He was out of the shelter, but his fight was far from over.

He broke my heart, then his was fixed. And we became inseparable. His first night home, I remember looking into his sorrowful eyes to speak to him.

“I don’t know where you’ve been or what you’ve been through, but I know you’ve had it pretty rough. But those days are over. You’re with me now, and I’m going to take care of you. I promise.”

Little did I know his toughest fight was still yet to come.

Most people send cards or candy to loved ones on Valentine’s Day. I had one of my dog’s front legs removed due to Osteosarcoma. The day after the surgery, as I walked Rocky through the emergency room lobby, a man surveyed my dog’s new form.

“Oh my God! What happened to him!?!”


“Is he going to be all right?”

“Yeah. It got his leg, but that’s all it’s going to get.”

I was wrong. Six months and multiple chemo treatments later, cancer took one of Rocky’s back legs. There’s a reason there’s a Tripawds but no Bipawds site. I had to throw in the towel and stop the fight.

In the nearly two weeks since I said goodbye to the best friend I’ll ever have, I’ve had several people tell me it’s a shame he lost his fight with cancer. But he didn’t lose. The cancer may have taken his body. But his personality was never broken. His will was never broken. His spirit was never broken.

Rocky’s at the Bridge now. Romping on all fours with a yucky green tennis ball in his mouth. That’s not losing. That’s winning. Because fighters win. Champions win.

From now on, I’m going to say Balboa is his middle name.