When I was fifteen, I lost my best friend. His name was Roger. He was a golden retriever that my family had given me for my fifth Christmas. It was Christmas morning in 1978, I remember getting up earlier than usual that day. The smell of Mom’s chocolate chip waffles pulled me out of bed. I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs. I saw my Dad sitting right by this big, red package under the tree and he asked me to come sit next to him. Mom came through the kitchen and sat down right next to Dad and they told me to unwrap the present carefully. As I was pulling the wrapping apart, I felt the box move and heard scratching and yelping noises coming from within. I quickly pulled the ribbon off and opened the box. There was a little golden retriever in it, who stood up and licked my nose the first chance he got. He tumbled over, bringing the box on its side with him, and he climbed on top of me and licked me. My parents asked me what I wanted to name him and I said Roger because Roger Rabbit was my favorite cartoon character at the time.
What I didn’t tell you was that I would be diagnosed with cancer by my sixth birthday in September. I was diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma. My parents were devastated. I didn’t really understand what was going on. My parents only told me to be strong because I was about to endure the toughest battle of my life. I spent a lot of my days in bed after starting my chemotherapy. I spent a lot of my time in the hospital as well. My parents told me that Roger was waiting by the door every night. He wouldn’t budge because he was looking for me. I got to use my wish to have Roger come to the hospital and stay with me during the day. He made all the kids happier. He was so friendly and he wouldn’t leave my side. He slept in the bed with me and refused to move. If there is such a thing as a soulmate, then I’ve met him. Roger understood me and when I was in pain, I could see it in his eyes how much he wanted to make everything better. He would lick my face, put his paw on my lap and then try to lift my arm onto his head. I don’t think I would’ve been able to make it without him.
After several months of chemo, I was given the all-clear to go home. I still went back to the hospital to visit my friends and I would take Roger with me. Roger eventually became a service dog and we would both visit people at the hospital to help cheer them up. We did this for a few years before I got busy with school and Roger enjoyed becoming a lazy house dog. His playfulness never faded. He wanted to make you smile even with his last breath. And he did. He was my rock. He taught me everything I needed to know about compassion and empathy, and for that I will be forever grateful. He was also the reason I started my service dog training company. I also created the Roger Tilden Cancer Foundation that helps pair children with service dogs to help them during their times in hospitals. Roger helped me and my family through the hardest part of our lives, and I want nothing more than to be able to help families the way Roger helped us.