The Dream of Her Heart

“Do you know the other Dr. Ruth,” asked the woman on the phone. I laughed at the woman, a veterinarian. “Yes, I know who she is; I made an inappropriate comment about that when I heard your name.” Dr. Ruth Landau laughed with me and said, “I tell my clients that they can ask me all those breeding questions.” I was not speaking to the famous sex therapist, nor did I have “breeding questions” for the vet. I wanted to speak to Dr. Ruth about the end -of-life care she had provided for the great white dog, Roxanne.
Roxanne came to live with my second bride and our two kids about 10 years ago, after they had lost another pet. Teresa went to a shelter and adopted the dog who would become Roxanne, belted her into the front seat beside her and drove her to Mooresville to live. The dog weighed about 110 pounds — more than Teresa did, at that time — but she sat quietly in the car, calmly regarding the woman into whose care she had been delivered. Roxanne was integrated into the living routine of the household, and learned not to drag “Mom” across the cement, not to “dumpster dive” into the household trash can, to “sit” and “stay” on command and how to bark when the doorbell rang. While she had not initially seemed to know “how to be a dog” — “she didn’t respond when (they) threw a ball and dog toys were foreign to her” — she always delivered a quiet, muscular kind of caring and a human-like empathy. When Teresa fell ill after completing nursing school, Roxanne seemed to know that she was sick, and “followed (her) around … stayed next to (her)…)” Roxanne’s long sweet ride with Teresa, Lauren and Chris started to slow, and around March, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Office visits to the vet were taxing for the dog, and Teresa was introduced to Dr. Ruth, who provides relief veterinarian services for several organizations. She started to come to the house to check Roxie’s vitals, meds, weight and general welfare. Teresa spoke so warmly about her that I asked to speak to Dr. Ruth to find out how she came to be where she was in life, providing in-home vet services for ailing animals.
Dr. Ruth said that her path toward Roxanne was “circuitous,” starting with “human medicine” — a six-year stint — world travel and an accumulation of degrees, including a PhD in Public Health. But she found that human medicine was not “the dream of her heart,” and solidified her true calling with her DVM from Purdue. “I want to do something that means something to me,” she told me, adding that she provides the same standard of care at the client’s home as at the office. When she sees the kind of bond demonstrated by Teresa and Christopher’s commitment to Roxanne, she finds it “an honor and a gift to witness that kind of love.”
When Christopher told Teresa, “It’s time, Mom,” the two went through the dog-lover’s stages of grief: Tears, Snot, Sniff and Repeat. Once Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ “acceptance” was reached, Dr. Ruth came to the house to administer the two shots needed to conduct Roxie away from life; the first shot slows respiration and the second stops the heart. Dr. Ruth applied her stethoscope to Roxie’s side, and listened to the last beats of the big dog’s heart and when there was silence, she went away, having added a grace note to the soft song of Roxie’s life and to the dreams of her own swollen heart.