Anyone who has taken my obedience classes will remember Dempsey as my well-behaved and sweet demo dog. I used to joke about how he was less than blazingly intelligent, but never has a dog had a bigger heart. He took great pleasure in learning obedience, agility, parlor tricks, pet therapy, flyball and carting. Frankly, he enjoyed anything at all, as long as he was included. His greatest vice was his need to be near me.
Although it wasn't his favorite thing, he indulged me by doing a little modeling. If anybody in the Florida area remembers a Thanksgiving-time Publix supermarket commercial on television with a boxer who frightens the Pilgrim salt and pepper shakers, that was Dempsey. He understudied for a Budweiser commercial, and he was photographed for a Purina dog chow bag. Although they didn't use his photo, the male model made my day by assuring me that my dog kissed better than his girlfriend!
Dempsey was an easy dog to live with. He loved nothing more than tramping through the woods on morning hikes, snuggling close on the bed, bucking and bouncing with a stuffed animal in his mouth, and playing with his dog buddies. My Scottie, Toasty, was his inseparable friend, and it hit Dempsey hard when Toasty died.
Boxers are often described as stubborn dogs, yet Dempsey was a very sensitive dog who wasn't especially bright. He had a hard time learning new tasks, and if he was confused, he'd shut down - simply sitting there, looking vacant. I suppose that might look "stubborn" to a casual observer. Once he learned a task, he was very pleased with himself and very happy to comply. He simply wasn't a quick-thinker or instant-learner. He was living proof that the best pets are often not the dogs with the sharpest minds but the ones with the biggest hearts. No dog surpassed him in that department.
Unlike his namesake, Dempsey was not bellicose or scrappy. Given his coloration and temperament, the name Twinkie would have fit him far better! He was the dog that I'd use to diffuse dog-aggression in clients' dogs or draw out shy puppies in puppy class. Although people who didn't know him sometimes thought his expression in photos looked stern, those who knew him best always saw him as pensive and emotionally sensitive.
Dempsey had more than his share of physical ailments over the years, including boxer (corneal) ulcers, various tumors, gingival hyperplasia, Lyme disease, hip dysplasia, spondylosis, and Cushing's disease. Ultimately, as with many boxers, it was cancer that ended his life. He was a happy dog until the day he died.
Ironically, I had never intended to share my life with a boxer, and certainly not with Dempsey. I stopped into an animal shelter while driving past one day, and he was a painfully thin, little, adolescent dog looking very worried in his kennel run. I figured that it wouldn't be too hard to teach him some manners and find him a home, so I left my name at the desk in the event that no one claimed him.
He came with no history, as he'd been picked up as a stray, and I made no effort to temperament test him before signing the adoption form. A relative asked me if I was sure he wasn't a pit bull, and my neighbor ominously warned me that Dempsey would eat my Scottie as soon as he got stronger. But that Scottie fell head over heels for Dempsey, and I did as well. Keeping him was the best decision I've ever made.
Dempsey was my first boxer, and he was genuinely the most gentle, good-natured dog I will ever know. Although he has forever hooked me on boxers as a breed, Dempsey was a very special, one-of-a-kind dog. I miss him dearly.
See more photos in Dempsey's photo album.
Many thanks to the Town of Oyster Bay Animal Shelter for allowing this special dog into my life. Even greater thanks to my own veterinarian, Dr. Mark Meadow, veterinary ophthalmologist, Dr. David Covitz, and the other veterinarians over the years who helped to keep this hard-luck dog alive and healthy. Thanks, too, to the very kind folks on the Cushing's-Pets forum who offered support and information when my old guy was diagnosed.
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