Elegy for Baxter: 2003 – 2012

Au revoir, Baxter

In the summer of 2003, I agreed to take a young, very scared Great Pyrenees mix as a foster dog in my home. All I knew was that he had been rescued from a very serious abuse case and that at seven months old, the vet treating him had decided it would be kinder to euthanize him as he lived a life of perpetual fear. I was so arrogantly sure I could fix him, that I never considered that I could fail. I went to pick this dog up in a parking lot at a movie theater from a nice lady who had driven him to Nashville from Chattanooga. On arrival, I was greeted by a terrified, drooling, shaking, over-sized puppy who wanted absolutely nothing more than to get away from everyone and go hide somewhere.  Getting him in the car proved challenging as he instantly became one with the pavement and he performed some kind of meld with the concrete to avoid being picked up. We finally got him into my car and I got him home. Once I managed to get him in my house, he shook violently,  peed on himself and tried to get as far away from us as he could. This was not the most auspicious of beginnings. After much debate, he was duly named Baxter.

For the first couple of days, I let Baxter observe us so he could decide for himself what our routine was and learn that the pack and our home was a safe place to be. As time wore on, I spent hours on the floor, petting him, rough housing lightly to get him to play. Always, he laid there absolutely still and stared up at me with sad brown eyes looking as if the weight of the world was on his puppy shoulders. Finally, weeks into the process, I tried to engage him in play and I saw for the first time a spark. He put his mouth on my arm, but very quickly backed off as if he were in trouble. I pressed forward and played more. Outside we went. I will never know what it was that broke through the fog to this poor boy, but something finally clicked and he grasped that it was OK to be a dog and that he was safe. This giant, sad dog who suffered unspeakable abuse morphed instantly into a spinning, smiling, happy dog who was excited to play for the first time. I knew we had a permanent family member as this baby boy was mine and  Baxter and I had a bond.

It took many years for Baxter to get comfortable in the presence of new people, but each month he improved until he finally made peace with the fact that strangers sometimes come to our house. He even learned to let strangers pet him and enjoy it. Baxter was a natural born guardian and he took his job very seriously. Initially, we thought the dog park would be a place where he could play with other dogs, but all he did was run the perimeter to guard EVERYTHING in the park from threats only he could foresee. I believe if we could have provided Baxter with just two sheep to watch over, he would have been the happiest of dogs. Sadly, urban Nashville is not a good place to raise sheep in the back yard, and I’ve never been a fan of livestock in the house.  Baxter somehow made his own peace and he healed himself over time by learning to love us and trust us.  He also became the ambassador dog in our household and it was Baxter who generally made the many fosters dogs that followed him feel welcome in the house as Baxter accepted everyone (with the exception of two dogs who drove him to distraction – Milo and Cooper, you know who you are).  He was a generous soul to all animals and he was wonderful in every way.

It is the saddest of truths that we do not get to keep our dogs forever. We forget as the months and years march by that their time on earth is measured differently than ours, and they feel the spin of the earth much more keenly than we do. The giant dogs with their oversized hearts and boundless love are tragically the ones we keep the shortest time. Baxter was a very big boy and his giant body became increasingly frail over the past year. Still, he seemed happy and enjoyed fits of riotous barking and bouncing play sessions that nearly knocked me off my feet, and so I pushed back the creeping awareness that Baxter was in the bonus time and that his time with us was coming to an end.  Yesterday morning, when I got up to leave for work, I never dreamed that this would be my last day with my baby boy. Had I known, I would have cleared my calendar and I would have spent the entire day telling him how much I loved him, and how wonderful he was. I would have petted his tummy and rubbed his ears and done all those things Baxter loved, but never demanded.  I could not know as I was getting ready for bed that the end was upon us.

Late last night, Baxter became violently ill. We rushed him to the emergency vet who gave us the diagnosis I did not want to hear. Baxter had bloat and even thought we caught it immediately, the prognosis was very poor as this was a repeat of an earlier bloat episode and his esophagus had twisted and was beyond repair. Given his other health issues and the significant likelihood that he would not survive the surgery, we made the agonizing decision to let him go. Dogs give us everything they have. Their hearts are ours to keep or break as we see fit and they love us even at our very worst. The one gift we can give to them is to give them back when their time is at an end and walk that long walk with them, even knowing the loss and the silence that will follow. I had the strength, but only barely, to let my beloved Baxter go when every fiber of my being wanted to try every thing possible to keep him with me. In the end, we did what was right for Baxter and we released him from this world. I do not know how long it will be before I can smile at the mention of his name, but no dog was ever loved more than Baxter. I hope that if there is a heaven, Baxter will be there waiting for us in some patch of shade in a lush green grass with birds singing and his nose in the wind with a huge smile on his face. If he’s not there, then I want to go where he is. I’ll see you on the other side, Baxter.

67 Responses to Elegy for Baxter: 2003 – 2012

  1. amedge1 says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s because of you, however, that he had love and was able to trust at all. Bless you for all you’ve done and my prayers are with you for healing.

  2. Rachael Parker says:

    Because of you his years were filled with love and joy, you can be sure that he will wait eagerly for your arrival at the bridge… RIP Baxter… you were LOVED….

  3. Lisa W says:

    What a wonderful tribute to a beautiful boy. I lost my “heart dog” almost three years ago, and I still miss her terribly. My heart breaks for you, but I wish you joy and peace in knowing how much love you brought to Baxter’s life.

  4. Chelsey says:

    Im so sorry for your loss. I wish I would have had the pleasure meeting your wonderful boy. Your post was very touching, and I know without a doubt your boy was very much loved and cared for. I have 3 rescue girls, and work in animal rescue. Its people like you that give our small organizations in these small rural communities hope. Thank you for that, and may Baxter be running free at the rainbow bridge!

  5. Stephanie says:

    So sorry you lost your beautiful boy. I’m certain you entertained an angel. I hope Baxter finds my Darby and Rupert to play with while they wait for us!

  6. kim says:

    Good bye Baxter I am so Happy you found your forever home and someone as kind as this person gave you a 2nd chance. He sounds like an amazing dog. Thank you for sharing Baxters story. I cant stop crying

  7. Lynda says:

    I am so so sorry for your loss it is very hard to make that decision even when we know it is what is best for them. You know my story with my dear Ellie mae and I am still crying over her and it has been over a year. you are in my thoughts!

    • I know Lynda. It makes it no less awful to bear the loss, but I thank you for thinking of us. Give Stella a kiss from me, and of course, Harley, who is headed here. I had hoped he would meet Baxter and gain some confidence here.

  8. Patti says:

    He is the best looking dog EVER!! So sorry!

  9. P Keeney says:

    I am so very sorry for the loss of Baxter. Thank you for giving him such a loving home in which to grow into himself.RIP Baxter ….

  10. Sue Carlin says:

    Oh no- so very sorry to hear about your dear boy… He had the very best life with you and I am sure you will meet up with him on the other side. What a lucky boy after all… Thank you for saving him-

  11. Lori Levy says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your sweet boy. They give so much, but ask for so little. Thank you for loving him. Watch over your family now sweet boy and rest well.

  12. Pam says:

    I am so sorry that you had to lose Baxter. I, too, lost a beloved rescued dog in September unexpectedly, and I know some of what you are going through. I still have not recovered from losing Blue, but I am trying to draw and paint her and that helps. Blessings to you and Baxter.

  13. Sarah T. from Colorado says:

    You are a beautiful person and what a beautiful story. I am sure Baxter is with you now. Thanks for sharing. I wish you many happy thoughts and big smiles in your mourning. That’s what he would have wanted.

  14. Rachael Richardson says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. My prayers are with you and your family. Your blog is beautiful and Baxter is a beautiful boy.

  15. Sandra Williston says:

    Farewell beautiful big boy! You were much loved and you gave much love back. You brought your family more joy than you can ever imagine. Run and romp in beautiful warm sunlight across lush green meadows with many dog friends over the Rainbow Bridge… until you are once again reunited with your beloved Jean. Baxter, you have lovingly left permanent dog prints on Jean’s heart that she will forever cherish. Bark on dear Barter…. bark on! You will see your brave boy Baxter again Jean… this I am certain. ❤ ❤ ((((((Jean))))))

  16. Jackie says:

    Jean I’m so very sorry for your loss of the wonderful Baxter. I remember reading about his antics when he first came to you. What a wonderful boy. Much love and healing for your broken heart.

    • Hi Jackie, it has been an age. Yes, it does seem like yesterday that Baxter was digging up rose bushes and re-landscaping to his specifications. It is good to hear from you and thanks for the kindness.

  17. My heart aches for you at this very sad time. Baxter knew that even though he had a bad start to life that he had the best forever home with you. You have one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know and Baxter was a lucky dog to have known that special love and bond the two of you shared. My prayers are with you and Baxter will be there waiting for you at the Bridge. We love you Baxter, run free!!!!

  18. Sandra Williston says:

    awwwwww…. pretty boy is entitled to be happy and carefree for sure!!! You gave him the very best life any dog could ever hope for. You have to know that he is smiling down on you!! Take gentle care Jean, this has been a trying day for you. (((((Jean)))))

  19. I am so sorry for your loss. I don’t have any good words to say, but I know Baxter is in Heaven with Basil, and so many others. Baxter will watch over you from afar until it is time to meet him at the Bridge.

    Freddie sends his love, and many slobbery kisses.

  20. Pam says:

    Regarding rescue dogs being so hard to lose~~maybe because they were rescue dogs, we feel like it’s our job to see to it that nothing bad ever happens to them again~~including death. That photo of Baxter surely captures an incredible, lovable guy. How could anyone have ever been mean to him. I’m sure you filled him with enough love and attention to heal him and allow him to welcome the others. And as you said, if they are not in heaven, I want to go where they went.

  21. Karla Jo Williams says:

    Thank you for sharing your story of Baxter. I am so sorry for the huge void he has left in your heart. Sending love and appreciation for all you give to the animal world. Rest in peace Baxter. Your love on earth is legendary.

  22. Cindy Andrews says:

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I know your precious memories of Baxter will bring you peace in the coming days. He was very lucky to have you in his life!

  23. David says:

    Jean, I’ve seen that when you take responsibility for a life your care borders on obsession. There’s no doubt Baxter could not have been more loved. Paws tightly crossed you’ll be together again on the other side of the Bridge.

    – D

    • David, there is very little question anything I do borders on lunacy, but Baxter was a gem and I will miss him. He’s too good for me to see on the other side, of course. 🙂 Chances are, I’ll be southbound seeing as I am a lawyer.

    • David, there is very little question that anything I do borders on lunacy, but Baxter was a gem and I will miss him. He’s too good for me to see on the other side, of course. 🙂 Chances are, I’ll be southbound seeing as I am a lawyer.

  24. Shaun Albright says:

    Jean- My heart breaks for you. Its amazing how these loving beings work their way into our hearts. Frankly I believe that they gives us far more than we give them. I hope that you can find comfort in knowing what a wonderful and loving home that you gave him. I am sure that all you gave and continue to give is/was much admired.
    Molly and I will hold both of you in our hearts.


  25. Tonya says:

    I will forever picture Baxter holding court from his corner of your dining room:) I certainly know what it feels like when a chapter ends, but theres a lot of comfort in knowing he will always hold an important place in your lifebook and will only be a memory away. I am so sorry.Hugs.

  26. Coralie DeWald says:

    What a lovely tribute to an obviously wonderful dog!. I am sitting here with tears, because your words about Baxter were so heart-felt, and so loving that my previous dogs’ memories came to visit me while reading. The memories, even some years later, are really never too far away!
    Baxter gave his heart to you, didn’t he, once he knew that he could love and freely ‘be a dog”?. I do believe in a heaven and a Rainbow Bridge. Baxter will be waiting for you and you can again tell that wonderful dog how much he meant (and means) to you.
    Bless you, too, for giving him the life he so richly deserved, after the horrendous start in life he had. Those of us who love and are loved by these unselfish creatures, are blessed in so many ways! non- animal people will never understand the bonds that exist. I can only pity them.
    Love and hugs and thanks for sharing your story .

    • I have fostered more than 400 dogs now and kept three of them as my own. Baxter is the single most damaged dog I have ever taken on, and in the end, he proved to be the most forgiving of them all. I had nine lovely years with this dog and I count my blessings. Thanks.

  27. Silvia Frizzera says:

    I’m very sorry for your loss… R.I.P. Baxter…

  28. Erin Tims says:

    Oh, Miss Jean! I am just so sorry for the loss of your beautiful boy. It just breaks my heart to know that you have experienced such a tragic and sudden loss of Baxter. I know you said no tears, but I just couldn’t help it reading your beautiful words. I hope you know what a special person we think you are and we thank you every day for Blessing us with our sweet baby girl. I’ve unfortunaltely been down the road of “letting go” three times and it absolutely never gets any easier. We love all of our dogs, but I know that there can be a much more significant bond with some more than others. I know this is true for you and Baxter as it is for us with Barley. That being said, I cannot even imagine the depth of your loss.
    Please know that we will be thinking of you and praying for peace and healing of your heart.

    Much love from our family to yours.

    Love, Erin, Josh & Barley Tims

  29. Jean, I am so very, very, very sorry for your GREAT LOSS!!! Your wonderful boy learned to trust and enjoy life again because he ALWAYS knew he was safe and treasured with you and that you would ALWAYS put his best interests ahead of your own.

    …thinking of you with great compassion
    Suzanne Phillips

  30. I’m thisclose to crying about a dog I never met but already love. What a pretty boy Baxter was. And how lucky he was to find a home so full of heart.

  31. Angela says:

    My heart cries with you!!!! No words. Just know I am thinking of you all. Baxter is with my Drake!

  32. Peace says:

    Beautiful eulogy. So sorry for your loss. Be encouraged, you did a wonderful thing and Baxter was a beautiful doggie.

  33. limberlostpup says:

    Baxter, I hope you got plenty of snow on your side of the Rainbow Bridge this year. If you did, I’m sure you appreciated it!! Paws crossed you and your human family will be back together one day. I’m sure they are thinking of you.

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