“Runako Jayvyn, Swahili for handsome light-spirited one, went by many names. Rocco for short, we often lovingly called him Roo. Rescued at 8 weeks old from a small family-run shelter in Stockton California that saved him from death row for being an “ugly puppy” in a high-traffic county pound, Rocco was my first dog. I was 18 years old and had absolutely no idea how much he would impact the rest of my life, only how much I loved him. He taught me to live in the moment and to appreciate how beautiful the world is, to always stop and smell the flowers, and to take a moment to soak up the sun. He opened my heart to love in ways I didn’t know existed, teaching me to love unconditionally and without restraint. He taught me to laugh often, always making everyone around him smile no matter what kind of day they had.
When my anxiety would become paralyzing, sensing my elevated heart rate, he would put his nose in my hand before I was even aware I was getting upset. In that moment, he redirected my attention back to the present, to his smiling face and wagging tail. It instantly calmed me down, reminded me to breathe, and reminded me I am not my anxiety.
Without any training he would eventually become my service dog, supporting me through anxiety attacks and 14 surgeries. Rocco gave me more strength than I knew I was ever capable of having; strength to get out of bed on bad lupus days and to push through recovery pain surgery after surgery. But the most important thing he gave me, was happiness. Nothing stopped him from being happy, not rain or snow, not osteosarcoma at age 11, or losing his left hind leg, not chemotherapy, absolutely nothing. His happiness was contagious and it kept me motivated to endure whatever life threw our way. He was my constant. We survived so much triumph and tragedy together yet he never let me give up and never gave up on me. I love who he helped me become and am endlessly thankful that he will forever be with me, in my heart, mind, and soul, and in the ways that I view the world.”