Dogs and Grief: How One Man Remembers His Wife By Caring for Her Dogs

On her deathbed, Marc Rubin's wife begged him to never allow her three dogs to be separated.


Too often, we hear heartbreaking stories of dogs dumped at high-kill animal shelters after their owners die – and spouses who start dating almost immediately after the passing of a longtime partner.

Well, here’s an antidote: The heartwarming story of Marc Rubin. It’s been two years since his beloved wife, artist Polly Faxon, passed away after a six-month battle with cancer. But Marc remains steadfastly devoted to Polly’s memory, and to her three-pack of adopted, rescued dogs. We were moved to learn of this widower’s endless love, and we think you will be too.

Dogster: We’re so very sorry for your loss. Please tell us about Polly’s love for dogs – she was a big believer in rescue and adoption, right?

Polly loved dogs more than anyone I had ever known. She always had dogs, dogs of all kinds, dozens of breeds her entire life. She always rescued them, either from the streets, or from shelters. Always. Through the course of her life, she had dozens of dogs, as well as other pets. With a huge, enormous smile, she often spoke of a dog she had through most of her childhood, a Chihuahua named Damnit. She had many rescue stories, going all the way back to her earliest childhood. When Polly was 12, she found a large turtle by a pond that was barely alive. Some young boys had put firecrackers inside the turtle’s shell, and when the firecrackers exploded, the turtle’s shell was ripped off completely. Polly happened upon this just after it happened, saw the boys running away in the distance. She rescued the turtle, nursed it back to health over the course of a year, and then released it back into the pond where she originally found it.

How many dogs did she have when she passed away? Are the dogs all still alive? What are their names, breeds, and ages?

Polly had three dogs when she passed away; there were four, but one of them — Manatee, a Golden Retriever/yellow Labrador mix — had passed away a month before Polly began to get sick, which was only six months before she passed away. The three surviving dogs are still with me, healthy and well-adjusted, now very bonded to me. All three dogs are nine years old now: Cosmo, a yellow Labrador retriever; Kasmir (pronounced Cashmere), Cocker Spaniel; and GoGo, a Skye terrier. Everyone that meets Cosmo wants to take him home with them. He is a lover. Kasmir is the intellectual one; I bring him his slippers and paper when he wants to relax in the evening. GoGo is the lively circus dog, a real carnival barker — and you should see him dance!

It must have given Polly a lot of courage and comfort to know that you would take care of her beloved dogs. When did she first start to discuss this with you, and how did she broach the topic?

Polly went into a near coma-like state the night before she passed away, so was unable to speak any longer on that final day. But the last thing she said to me the night before, just before she went into that state, and while she was still able to speak, was to ask me to make sure I would take very good care of the dogs, and to never allow them to be separated, or to give any of them away under any circumstances. These were not pressing concerns for her necessarily, because she knew how much I loved and appreciated the dogs too. But she wanted me to promise her that they would always be with me no matter what (as one never knows what circumstances one might find themselves in, particularly after the death of a spouse).

What did you tell her to reassure her about the dogs?

All I had to say was, “Of course I will,” and Polly knew I meant it. She knew how much I loved them, and had seen me take such good care of them after she had become ill.

Was it very hard for you to care for the dogs immediately after her death? Did friends and family help you with them in the beginning?

After Polly passed away, everything was difficult for me to do. However, having the immediate responsibility of caring for the dogs kept me focused every day — the dogs and I were a stranded family that took care of each other. They got me through some terribly painful days and nights, and I did the same for them. We were there for each other.

Polly and I left Hoboken, New Jersey, in early 2005, after having lived there together since 1994. We moved to Hamilton Square, a suburban area halfway between Princeton and Trenton, where we had just purchased our first house. Polly had lived in Manhattan for years before I met her, and I had lived in Hoboken, both of us worked in Manhattan — we were both used to thriving on city life. Polly had always wanted to have a house, though, with a fenced-in backyard for the dogs, and I am so glad, in hindsight, that I was able to fulfill that dream for her in what wound up to be the last five years of her life.

After we moved to Hamilton Square, we both were now very far away from any family we had left at the time, and our friends were all the way in Hoboken and New York, not nearby. When we made the decision to leave the city and move to the house, we also realized that this was going to be a very different experience for us, and after all the years of hustle and bustle, we decided that we were going to cocoon and spend all of our time together — just Polly, me, and the dogs. So when she passed away, we’d only been out here for five years, and didn’t really know anyone intimately. We had many friends where we worked in our respective jobs, but we kept things otherwise private in those last five years. So there weren’t really any friends to help with the dogs either, in the beginning. Now, two years later after Polly’s passing, I’ve developed many close friendships.

Did the dogs do anything to indicate that they missed their Mom?

I’d like to first note that of the three dogs, Polly had the closest relationship with little GoGo. He is a true clown, but with lots of debonair charm and instinctual talent, and has the unbounding energy it takes to prove it to you. Amongst other things, I am a musician, and often when I would play one of my instruments in the living room, Polly would start dancing around, and GoGo would go up on his hind legs and put up his front legs for Polly to grab a hold of — and the two of them would dance, and dance, and dance around the room. I could barely contain myself in order to keep playing sometimes. At other times, when there was something danceable coming from the television or stereo, and Polly was in the mood, the two of them would start again, and dance around the room. It was both funny and endearing when the music was something sexy, and Polly would draw that little dog-man closer to her and dance a tango. I even got a little jealous. He was a much better dancer than I was.

Well, for a few days after Polly passed, the dogs did not want to eat as much as they usually do, and hung around the front door a lot as well, all three of them; from time to time, they would get up and sniff around that closed front door too. GoGo especially did this. I was not able to sleep in our bedroom after Polly died. I slept on the couch in the living room, and kept the door to our bedroom closed. I just couldn’t go in there anymore, that was where Polly passed away, and that was our room. That’s just the way I am, I suppose. So now, the dogs would all sleep around the couch, to be near me. During the day, though, I would often see GoGo lying down in front of that bedroom door. He still does that on occasion even now, two years later. And I still sleep on the living room couch. … Whenever I have gone into our bedroom since Polly’s passing, the dogs have come in with me, all three of them, and we pay our respects together. GoGo immediately slips underneath the bed, which is where he always liked to be, underneath where his dance partner slept.

How does the dogs’ presence continue to comfort you?

The dogs’ presence has comforted me so much since Polly’s death. They show me so much love, as they always did, and I take very good care of them. We are almost always together, I spend most of my time with them, and we have bonded together forever.

Have you and the dogs developed any new rituals together?

We watch a heck of a lot of television together, mostly news channels and movies, but some great programs on PBS, HBO, and Showtime too. Like Polly, they love all the same things I do. And they don’t like it when someone interrupts their concentration, as when the mailman comes — disturbed, they all start barking incessantly. They really don’t like it when their television viewing experience is interrupted.

Also, I made up a song that I often sing to them while I am preparing their food. They gather around at my feet listening, wagging their tails. I guess this new job function might resemble that of a singing waiter. The only downside to that is, of course, I have to clean up the tips they leave.

Kasmir has come a long way, and is incredibly happy, and unafraid. You see, Polly found him at a shelter in New York City when he was just a puppy; he was just over six months old when she adopted him. Polly was told at the shelter that Kasmir was taken away from an abusive owner, a man who kicked and beat poor little Kasmir from the time he was born. So when Polly first brought him home, he was very wary of coming near me, and so would not allow me near him. Over the years, that changed, but still he would never let me pet him for more than a fraction of a second without running away to a protective corner. All of that changed since Polly’s passing. Kasmir now vigorously wags his tail whenever I speak to him or call him, and he has been sleeping right next to me, just beyond the head of the couch, ever since Polly left us. Even better, Kasmir now allows me to pet him for much longer periods of time, although he is still not quite the “touchy-feely” type that the other two dogs are. But boy, does he wag that tail! He certainly is one happy, peppy puppy now.

Looking back, can you imagine getting through this terrible loss without the dogs?

After everything that has happened, I don’t believe I would have made it through entirely in one piece without Cosmo, Kasmir, and GoGo. Those three little heroes saved me.

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