In January our sweet Rocco passed away. It was really hard on our family, every single one of us. I was surprised at how every person in our family handled his death in a different way. Five months later and Shae still asks about him every day.
Rocco leading up to January had two scares. One day Tyler was out of town and I was feeding Rocco his food (we feed raw meat to our dogs) and he could not swallow it. It was terrifying. I was faced with the decision to pry open his mouth and put my hand down a 100 lb Rottweiler throat to get it out OR see if he could work it out on his own. I massaged his throat to try to get it down while he was close to passing out. He finally got it down and I was so relieved. But I realized that is body was very old and very weak.
Rocco also collapsed in the backyard one day. After he collapsed he lost a lot of strength in his back legs and hips. Rocco has always been incredibly healthy and we knew he was just getting old. We knew he would pass away eventually but other than those two things was not in pain normally and very happy. He ate well every day, waiting for his Dad by the window every day, and slept at the foot of our bed.
Rocco had an eye infection that we were able to clear up on our own but in January it came back and looked worse. The next morning his eye was full of blood and I told Tyler to take him into the vet. They got in that morning and I got an awful call from Tyler. Rocco had cancer and was internally bleeding severely. They drained his stomach of blood a bit but he needed to be put down. They guessed that Rocco had been dealing with cancer for a month, probably when he had collapsed a few weeks before.
It was a hard decision to make over the phone if they should put him down right then or if we should have one last day with Rocco. Rocco was very stressed out and upset at the vet’s office. I told Tyler that we needed to have one last day with Rocco. To let him have one last calm day at home. It was an awful day, everyone in the family sobbed most of the day. That night I kept on waking up and would ask Rocco to come over to me so I could pet him.
All of the girls got to say goodbye to Rocco and feed him treats throughout the day. Tyler watched a movie with Rocco, lied on the floor with him most of the time, and was with him non stop. Honey who has spent 11 years of her life with Rocco got to be with him too. After he was gone, she knew. She didn’t look for him, or act nervous or stressed. Her ears did not perk up anymore when I would call his name. Honey knew he was gone. We found Rocco’s puppy pictures, watched all his YouTube videos, and sobbed. And sobbed.
We had a vet come to our home and put him down in our home. Before she came Tyler took the bite sleeve and had Rocco have some fun before he passed away. Rocco was such a strong dog–I can’t believe with all that internal bleeding that he was still so excited to see a bite sleeve.
Putting down Rocco was a very sad experience. We both held him and told him what a good job he had done and that he was such a good boy. He was very calm because he was in his home and not stressed. Such an awful thing couldn’t have gone more perfectly and peacefully.
Do dogs get to go to heaven? I don’t know. But how could something that means so much to someone not? I won’t stress about it–my girls tell me he is there.
This is what I wrote about Rocco’s life on the day he died:
Our Rocco passed away this morning, he had cancer.
Rocco was born as “Pard” on October 10, 2004 in the Czech Republic. He was given to us as a Christmas gift that year. Tyler and I lived in Boston and Tyler worked for a protection dog company. When Tyler was in town he would ride on Tyler’s lap as he drove to and from work. Rocco and Tyler have been best friends for 11 years and 3 months. I will always be thankful to Rocco for being the best companion to a man who likes dogs a lot more than humans. They practiced protection training together, went to the movies together, drove with Tyler across the country and down to Costa Rica. They spent a lot of time hiking, snowshoeing, and hanging out together.
While we lived in Boston most of the time Tyler was traveling to deliver protection dogs around the world. Which left me alone with no family nearby, pregnant with my first child, and dirt poor. We lived in the cheapest place we could find and Rocco would keep me company. The heat was constantly going out because the landlord couldn’t keep on on the bill. So I would wear as many layers of clothes as I could, my winter coat, and have Rocco cuddle with me. When I had enough money to go buy pregnancy fast food cravings Rocco would accompany me always. One time my car broke down on the way home from the laundromat, and I did not have enough money to fix the $25 dollar problem. It was dark, cold, and we were stuck in not the best part of town. I remember Rocco walking with me home while I was scared and sad that I had to leave the car at the shop till I had enough money. Rocco kept me safe and watched out for me during those years being alone most of the time. Throughout the past 10 years with kids when Tyler is traveling he always made me feel less worried and looked after.
Rocco was the first “person” for all four of our girls to meet when they made it home from the hospital. His ears would perk up, he would come over to sniff them, and give them a gift of a nice big kiss. Our newborns were always loved and protected by our Rocco. Rocco worked hard protecting our home, being our friend, and Honey’s little brother. We were a lucky family to have him in our lives and we are going to miss him every single day.
Good job big boy, you took such good care of your best friend & your family.
Tyler wrote this a couple of days later for his newsletter:
If you’ve been on my newsletter list for any period of time you know that on Tuesdays I typically send out a newsletter (usually with a funny story from my life) and let you know about promotions on items we have for sale.
This one will be different.
I lost my dog this past week.
It was one of the most difficult things I’ve been through in some time.
It was last Wednesday and I debated whether or not to even write anything about it or talk about it with anyone.
I came to realize, though, that I haven’t allowed myself to develop a very good ability to talk about things that challenge me.
But in the written word I’m capable. In the written word I can say things that I would never say out loud. And I need that.
So while this newsletter is going out to over 26,000 people around the world, some of whom I know very well and others who I’ll never meet, I’m doing this solely for me. If not one person reads this that’s fine.
I need a way to express my grief and I need to tell this.
And I do hope that what I’ve learned and gained from this will benefit others.
I got my Rottweiler, Rocco, over 11 years ago.
At the time I was working at a protection dog company in Boston. It was December of 2004 that I picked him up off the plane at JFK airport in New York. He had flown in from the Czech Republic. He was imported as a new puppy for a client.
For some reason that client backed out. My boss, at the time, knew how much I liked Rottweilers and asked me if I’d like to keep him for a Christmas bonus.
I didn’t even have to think. He came home with me that day.
He came to work with me every day. I traveled a lot during those years and he grew bigger, stronger, and grew in his training as a protection dog.
While I was traveling the world delivering protection dogs he was at home making sure my wife was safe.
We left Boston a year later and moved to Utah. His trip in the car made him quite the world traveler, having been born in Czech Republic, flown from Germany to the United States, and now covered 2,000 miles of freeway across this large country. He would later travel to many more states and even a half dozen other countries.
When he was young I house trained him using my tether method. In other words, I kept him on a leash and with me for months in order to supervise him.
Whether from that or his love for me I don’t know but he spent the next 11 years never far from my side. Whatever room I was in, he wanted to be there. If I moved he would awaken from a dead sleep just to follow me.
Never in a needy way. Never begging for attention.
Just wanting to be with me.
In his training he was a dynamo. As a protection dog he was powerful, fearless, and strong. Thankfully he never had to fend off a real attacker but he was always ready to challenge any foe. Even on his last day.
When we moved as a family to Costa Rica Rocco was my companion the entire time. Our van suffered deep claw marks around the windows because of him.
At borders and while I would go into stores to grab things on the trip people in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica would inevitably approach the van. You don’t see a lot of Dodge vans in those countries. He wasn’t having it. Anyone who approached would be met with his fierceness and his claw marks were forever inscribed into the van. Even the corrupt police officers pulling me over for a bribe would quickly leave when I would roll down the window and put them face to face with 95 lbs of ‘leave my dad alone Rottweiler’.
He loved me. He loved my family. And there was nothing that he wanted to do more than his job of keeping us safe.
We moved back to the states after a time and this time he flew up.
And for the past three years since we’ve been back I’ve seen a slow decline. He was getting older and I knew it.
I don’t see too many Rottweilers have much quality of life after 8. He was in great shape, though. Just a step slower. A little bit more winded on our hikes in the canyon.
Last Tuesday I woke up and noticed his eye was red. He had a sty in that eye about 6 months ago. I had treated it and it went away. I figured he was just having another type of flare up.
But better safe than sorry.
In to the vet we went. I was expecting to leave with an ointment or cream and we’d go back to life as usual.
But it wasn’t the case.
The vet was dismayed to tell me that this wasn’t just a flare up. He was bleeding internally into his eye. And, worse, he was bleeding internally into his abdomen.
If I did nothing he’d likely collapse in a few days.
I’m 35 years old. Not old, not young. But old enough to have experienced grief and loss, right?
I suppose I’ve been lucky. Thus far I’ve led a life rather untouched by death or tragedy.
My grandfather on my father’s side died before I was born. I never knew him. His wife, my grandmother, had passed a few years previously. While sad, there wasn’t much grief. She was ready to go. I loved and love my grandma. But it was a different type of grief. Almost happy for her while missing her presence.
But aside from grandma and a friend or two over the years who have passed I’ve never lost someone close to me.
This was my first real taste with strong grief.
I hesitate to say this but I’ve never cried more in my life.
The vet said to take him home to spend one more day, but the humane thing to do would be to put him down the following day.
Everything was pain.
Every moment, every meal, every thought was a realization that this was the last this, the last that, the last what-have-you. It was a lot to bear and my tears were joined all day by my wife and oldest daughter especially.
I did nothing but sit with him, watch TV, and talk to him. As last days go, I’m so grateful I got that one with him. He didn’t seem to be feeling pain. Just a tired old man ready to pass.
The next morning was hard. We had called a vet to come to the house. I couldn’t bear taking him to a sterile, cold veterinarian’s office. I wanted him to pass at home.
He had his last breakfast, still happy to eat.
And then I realized that he needed to leave doing something he loved. Right before the veterinarian came I put on my bite sleeve and let him get in one more good bite. Body riddled with cancer, ready to die, the old man was just as happy to do his job as he’d always been.
Since he passed things have become somewhat easier.
I went hiking with my new puppy on Saturday and amidst the solitude and beauty of the Utah outdoors I was taken back to the same hike that I’d done with Rocco on so many occasions. All the emotion and grief came flooding back. But in a beautiful way.
Nearly a week has passed. The fact that no one is following me around anymore hurts me a lot.
But I knew that I needed to get good from this.
And I can find that in spades.
Rocco was a once in a lifetime dog. I never took that guy for granted. I always knew how special he was.
I almost feel guilty in saying some of these things.
I recently had a friend lose a wife to cancer. Another friend lose her mom. Was it really okay for me to feel such grief for a dog?
I’ve realized that the pain I’ve felt doesn’t detract from what others feel for passed loved ones.
It’s okay for me to go through this.
And I should go through this. He was not human. But, I can say this without any hyperbole or error in speech, he was the best friend I’ve ever had. Not feeling this pain would be the real tragedy.
But I can’t explain the gratitude I now feel for having such an amazing friend for over 11 years. Nearly a third of my life has been spent, day in and day out, with a magnificent creature who would have laid his life on the line for me without a second’s hesitation.
There is enormous poetry in that.
So I will mourn him today. I will mourn him tomorrow. I will talk about him a year from now. And when I’m an old man someday I’ll still be talking about that amazing Rottweiler we had when you kids were little.
God put me on this earth with one in-born talent. I get to help dogs. I get to do it every day of my life and that talent cares for my wife and children.
But God was smart enough to realize that I could not do so without being helped by dogs.
Please don’t laugh at me when I say that I am a better man for having known this dog for 11 years.
You are on my newsletter list because you’re a dog owner or have been a dog owner.
My hope is that you will be able to feel the same wonderful feelings and gratitude for your best friend that I feel for my dog.
Through my grief there is gratitude. There is love. There is compassion. For me there is something so sacred about the bond we get to create with our dogs and I’m happy to know about it.
I’ll finish now. I’ve been fine today but writing this I’m again bawling like a baby. But I feel a weight lifted being able to tell this story and knowing that a few of you will read it and share a moment of thankfulness for your current and past dogs makes me feel good.
Thanks for indulging me.
Now go give your dog a big kiss.
We were so thankful to all the texts, messages, treats dropped off to our family. Some people don’t get what dogs can be to people. Some people do. I was also especially grateful to artist Christopher Creek who after Rocco’s passing, painted this picture of Rocco. It now hangs over our kitchen table where we can say hi to him every morning.
Last video of Rocco here
Videos of Abby & Rocco and Rocco working below: