Roxanne Grace Varnen-Heusser-Grossman
~February 1993 – December 3, 2007
A Big Dog Appears - Around August of 1993 a large dog showed up in my neighborhood in Silverlake, CA. She had a tattered brown leather collar with no tags. She was a sweet dog that just kept hanging around the neighborhood. My roommate, Teena Heusser, owned the house we were living in and was a confirmed cat person with two cats already. I, on the other hand, was very much a dog person.
I don’t remember how it happened that Teena let the big dirty dog into our house for the first time; but some how she did. The dog was extremely agitated unless there was a clear exit. With the sliding glass door open to the backyard, the dog was happy to hang out in the house for a little while. When she was ready to leave, she did. How she knew the backyard wasn’t fenced and she could get back to the street, I have no idea.
As the weeks past, the dog came into the house periodically. We’d feed her and play with her and when she was done with us, off she went back to the street. This pattern continued for a couple of months. On December 31, 1993, I wasn’t in the mood to go out for New Year’s Eve and the dog was happy to come into my room as long as the door to the outside world was open. I remember getting up to close the door just to see if she still needed to have have a clear exit and the big dog got up and ran ahead of me to get out. I left the door open and she was again happy to stay with me.
One day later, January 1st, 1994, the dog wandered into the house plunked her butt down in front of the fireplace and looked up at Teena and me and seemed to say with her eyes, “I live here now.” She was never again antsy about her freedom doors being closed. A day or so later, I let her out into the backyard to pee and she ran off. I ran after her and brought her back home. That was the only time she ever ran off even though the backyard was never fenced.
Teena and I agreed the dog had to pass three tests: 1) She had to be housebroken or be able to be. 2) She had to get a clean bill of health from a vet. 3) She had to be good in the bath. She passed all three! I’ll never forget the look on her face during her first bath – “I don’t know what or why you are doing this to me, but I’m going to just stand here until you are done.” After the 73 layers of dirt were removed, we found out we didn’t just have a tan dog; but a tan AND white dog.
As to where her name came from, that was all Teena’s. “Let’s name her 'Roxanne' after the song Roxanne by The Police. It’s all about a street walker that doesn’t have to be a street walker anymore.” It fit too perfectly; so the big dog became Roxanne.
As for her middle name, “Grace,” well…that was the most graceful part about her. If you're wondering what breed(s) Roxanne was…well…let’s just say her parents got around. She’s probably Akita, Shepard, Dane, Lab…
Teena and I started to walk Roxanne around the neighborhood as any proud parents would. No less than 5 of our neighbors said, “Is this your dog? I’ve been feeding her.” One neighbor told us how her dog would bring a pull toy to the fence and Roxanne and her dog would play tug-a-war. Even though Roxanne was much bigger than the other dog, she never completely pulled the toy away.
As the weeks wore on, we were stunned to find out how smart she was. She very quickly learned to give either left or right paws, would get any of five toys on command, rolled over simply by saying “roll over” or just “roll” – that was it! The first time we said the word and made a rolling motion with our hand, she did it! No other training required. When she was bored, Roxanne would play fetch with herself. She would pick up a toy in her mouth, throw it, run and get it and repeat.
And there was my personal favorite. One day Roxanne was being annoying, I looked at her and said, “You’re being an annoying dog! Where are you supposed to be?!” And with that she went straight to her blanket and laid down with a heavy sigh. Likewise the first time an irritated Teena said, “Where do good dogs hang?!” got the exact same action.
As our time together grew, Teena and I realized something else about our dear new dog – she was…well…a klutz. When we first adopted Roxanne Teena referred to her as the “Dainty Flower.” A few months later she was the “Sturdy Flower.”
The Not So Free Dog - Her first vet bill, $90, declared her healthy and about 9 months old. Within six months she had multiple ear infections, a bladder infection (you have no idea how much like a faucet a 75 pound dog peeing on your bed sounds!) and hip replacement surgery. And a year later the prosthetic from the hip replacement surgery had to be removed due to an infection in the cement of the new joint. For the rest of her life (~12 years), Roxanne had no right hip. She recovered so well, we went for 2 mile gentle runs almost every day for 3 years and continued to go for long walks until her last day.
Teena had had 20 something consecutive Halloween parties and the year Roxanne joined the family, Teena made her a Poodle costume complete with a rhinestone studded collar and large gold heart shaped dog tag that on one side read “Fifi” in rhinestones and on the other, “JAPP” – Jewish American Poodle Princes.
Contrary to what you might think, Roxanne didn’t mind the costume. (Note the fur cuffs around her legs.)
In December 1994 Teena suffered a brain aneurism and died in June 1995. Roxanne and I went to live with my parents as I went back to school. My mother didn’t really care for having our first dog – a 35 pound well behaved dog. I was concerned how she would react to a now 85 pound well behaved but clumsy dog.
“Roxanne will worm her way into your mom’s heart. You just wait.” a friend told me before the move. And sure enough the big dog did! I actually saw my mom pat her head and give her treats several times. Something she had never done with our last dog.
Over the years, Roxanne and I shared many changes and adventures.
For the last three years of Roxanne's life Brian Grossman was our roommate. He loved and cared for her more than I could have asked. In recognition and gratitude for his many kindnesses, Roxanne’s name was expanded to include his.
The Big Dog Goes Home - The years wore on and the good big dog aged. The last two years of her life were spent in diminishing health. At the end, Roxanne was suffering from kidney and gum disease, dementia, and significant hearing loss. Very early in December 2007, it became painfully clear Roxanne’s quality of life was suffering too much; and I knew it was time to release my dear, dear friend so she could go run and play with Teena and my dad. Four dear friends came to be with Roxanne and me; and she left this life, on her bed, in her house and surrounded by love.
Beloved Dog, Friend and Daughter