Lost & Found: Roxie’s Road to Service

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

8 min read

Roxie Shelter to Service hero image

“We’re all in the business of second chances,” said Carly Braun, former K9s For Warriors veterinary technician.

“When the Warriors get here, they’re shaky and nervous — even detoxing sometimes. Usually, the person we see on that day is not the one we see on graduation day, and the same thing goes for the dogs.”

“We’re all in the business of second chances,” said Carly Braun, former K9s For Warriors veterinary technician.

 

“When the Warriors get here, they’re shaky and nervous — even detoxing sometimes. Usually, the person we see on that day is not the one we see on graduation day, and the same thing goes for the dogs.”

 

For Roxie, a skittish stray found with three BB gun pellets lodged in her face and abdomen, K9s For Warriors was a second chance.

A Skittish Stray

In July of 2019, the K9s For Warriors procurement team traveled to Clayton County Animal Control near Atlanta, Georgia, searching for viable Service Dog candidates for the program.

 

Upon arrival, they were introduced to a relatively small German shepherd mix, weighing in at 44 pounds. Her coat was brown and brittle, and her name was Roxie. The shelter staff told the procurement team that she had been picked up off the streets near a local apartment complex. She had no medical records or past owners who had come forward to claim her.

 

Roxie was proven to be heartworm negative, and during the on-site temperament test performed by the procurement team, she was deemed calm and non aggressive around people or other dogs. She didn’t mind sharing her food or toys.

 

Despite a rough exterior, the procurement team saw potential. They signed the transfer of ownership papers and crossed state lines with Roxie, traveling back to the K9s For Warriors headquarters in Ponte Vedra, Florida.

Intake & Medical

Each dog that arrives at K9s For Warriors enters quarantine and undergoes an extensive medical examination at intake to ensure the animal is healthy.

 

“We do a full blood panel, which includes tickborne diseases,” said Braun. “We also do a fecal test.”

 

Roxie’s tests returned some worrisome results.

 

She tested positive for coccidia, a parasite that can cause diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal distress, and vomiting in dogs. Most dogs pick up coccidia from swallowing infected soil or substances containing dog feces.

 

Roxie was prescribed an oral medication, but the technicians were told this would not keep her from training.

 

“Her blood work also came back with the tickborne bacterial disease Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever,” said Braun.

 

RMSF typically leads to poor appetite, muscle and joint pain, and various gastrointestinal discomfort and malfunction, and it’s typically found in animals in mountainous regions.

 

“We usually don’t have it on bloodwork here in Florida,” she said. “We have no idea where Roxie came from.”

 

Miraculously, this too would not keep Roxie from training.

Shelter to Service Dog

Aside from the normal blood and fecal test, Roxie also underwent the typical sedated hip radiograph required of all K9s For Warriors dogs to assess hip coverage and the likelihood of future hip dysplasia.

 

Roxie’s x-rays returned something a little out of the norm.

 

“The vet reached out and said that her hip bone had broken in such a way that signified blunt force trauma,” said Braun.

 

According to the local veterinarians, her x-rays showed her left femur was slightly shorter than the right, indicating a previous fracture, but there was no atrophy on both hindlimbs.

 

It was likely that she had been hit by a car as a stray dog, but her injuries had healed on their own, almost perfectly aligned.

 

This was practically a miracle, according to the doctors.

 

After overcoming the countless medical hurdles placed in her path, veterinarians and technicians cleared Roxie for training. She began work with K9s For Warriors trainers, starting with foundational behaviors, including basic obedience and manners.

X-ray Indicates previous fracture to left femur
BB visible beneath Roxie's skin

A Difficult Dog

“I remember she was very spunky,” said Konner Sawicki, former K9 trainer. “She was honestly a bit of a difficult dog.”

 

Despite her vibrant personality, Sawicki said Roxie was skittish when people attempted to touch or handle her.

 

“I’m assuming because she had BBs in her face, she might not have trusted people,” he said. “She had one BB in her muzzle, which you could visibly see, and she had another in her ear. You could feel it.”

 

Before K9s For Warriors, Roxie had learned to fend for herself.

I'm assuming because she had BBs in her face, she might not have trusted people.

She had one in her muzzle, and she had another in her ear.

“I think she was kind of independent, and she had a negative association with people,” said Sawicki.

 

At first, she struggled to make connections with the K9s For Warriors staff.

 

“She’s not going to want to work with people if, in her mind, people are ‘bad,’” Sawicki said. “Considering her history, if she sees people in a negative light, it’s going to be difficult to have a relationship with her.”

 

The trainers kept trying, spending countless hours earning Roxie’s trust, exploring her likes and dislikes.

 

For Roxie, the kennel was an entirely new world. She’d spent her days roaming the streets, looking for her next meal, and now, she received her food at exactly the same time every single day, with enrichment and playtime built in to mentally and physically stimulate her.

 

“Adjusting to everything at K9s For Warriors is also tough, because it’s a huge environment change. Her whole world changed. She just entered training, and she’s in a new kennel, so that’s a huge adjustment,” said Sawicki.

 

He remembers watching Roxie finally learning to trust people again after her tumultuous past.

 

“Throughout the trainer switches, she saw that everyone she came into contact with at K9s For Warriors was loving,” he said.

 

Shelter to Service Dog

For Roxie, it looked like it would be a happy ending — until the veterinary technicians noticed something a bit concerning during their continued observations.

 

Because K9s For Warriors procures the majority of its dogs from rescue shelters, most of the animals are not spayed or neutered prior to arrival upon campus. Braun remembers initially believing Roxie to be in estrus, or in heat, shortly after arriving from the Georgia shelter.

 

The veterinary technicians were to carefully observe and let her complete her cycle before taking her to be spayed.

 

When Roxie’s cycle continued for longer than to be believed ‘normal,’ they were concerned. It was time to get the local veterinarian involved.

 

“They did a relatively invasive test,” remembers Braun. “They had to swab, and Roxie was so good for it. I think she knew something was wrong, and she just wanted help.”

 

Test results came back displaying cancer — a transmissible venereal tumor.

Shelter to Service Dog

Remaining Resilient

“They gave her injectable treatments,” said Braun. “The doctors were very transparent. She would rest, but she was still eligible for the program.”

 

The trainers took it slow and easy with Roxie, limiting her from running in the yards and minimizing her exercise to leash walks.

 

Braun remembers Roxie’s feisty and tenacious nature fondly.

 

“She would have a crummy day the next day after the treatment, but then she’d be yodeling in her kennel the day after that,” said Braun.

 

Each Tuesday morning, Braun and Roxie would load up the vans and head to the clinic. On September 25, 2019, she graduated from chemotherapy treatments, and she was cleared to resume normal training.

 

She hit the ground running with her team of trainers, finally with a clean bill of health.

Once she mastered the fundamentals, she started tackling more difficult environments with ease, working sessions in busy grocery stores and shopping centers.

 

On a trip to the bustling streets of St. Augustine, her trainer remembers the normally calm and collected Roxie startled while relaxing near the waterfront.

 

“The only issue was when rifles were fired at the Castillo,” her trainer said. “She got whiny and a little trembly, but she recovered eventually.”

K9s For Warriors training notes

Roxie’s reaction only makes sense for a dog found with multiple BBs lodged in her face and abdomen.

 

Her trainers showed her patience and care, working through her anxieties.

 

“I felt like I had an atypical relationship with her in that I felt sort of obligated to be her mom based on everything she’d been through,” said Braun.

Shelter to Service Dog

In February of 2020, Roxie was paired with her Warrior, an Air Force and Coast Guard veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

Braun remembers watching the graduation ceremony.

 

“Seeing her find her person was extremely emotional,” Braun said. “He’s kind of shy and keeps to himself. She’s sassy and outgoing — a fireball. He is not that,” she said.

 

Just a few months later, Braun would see Roxie again — through a video screen. She transferred to the Warrior Operations team at K9s For Warriors, providing wraparound support and services to veterans before and after they train on campus. By luck of the draw, she was linked with Roxie’s Warrior.

 

“He told me that she saved his life. He said he couldn’t imagine a different dog,” she said.

 

For Roxie’s Warrior, she was a lifeline.

The Perfect Pair

“I think she really allowed him to get out of his shell and bubble. Lovingly, I say that she’s needy. I think that’s worked for him because I think it’s nice to be needed, especially when you feel like no one needs you.”

 

After years of reclusion and isolation in his home, Roxie was encouraging her veteran to live his life again.

 

While K9s For Warriors Service Dogs are not trained as medical alert dogs, Roxie even appeared to develop a sort of sixth sense, alerting her Warrior when one of his seizures was transpiring.

 

Since returning home from training on-campus, Roxie has experienced a lifetime of new things with her Warrior. After what appears to be her first interaction with snow, she is officially a fan, according to her veteran.

For Roxie and many other shelter dogs, K9s For Warriors is an opportunity for a fresh start.

 

“We get them from the shelters, and they have hair loss and a brittle coat, and ear infections,” said Braun. “Looking at that dull, hairless dog, no one would pick that dog in a shelter. We pick that ugly duckling and make him a Service Dog.”

Roxie’s Intake Date
July 11, 2019

Roxie’s Chemo Graduation Date
September 25, 2019

Roxie’s Rescue Shelter
Clayton County Animal Control

Roxie’s Class Graduation Date
February 21, 2020

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