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WAYNESVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) – These days, local western North Carolina stories are quickly spreading across the country via the internet, and you never know who they might touch and inspire. A special delivery from a Maryland man reminds us of the big hearts in a world that is shrinking.
Five hundred miles away, artist Jason Swain saw our News 13 story of the December death of Roxy, the PTSD service dog.
The pit bull, who had become a social media darling, died a few months after being diagnosed with cancer.
“I read the story you made and I have a thing for service dogs,” explained Swain.
After seeing our story and getting a creative spark, he started painting a portrait of Roxy.
Swain has painted many vets and heroic pets with eye-catching details. Once he’s done, he’ll pass it on to loved ones as a gesture of appreciation.
One of his first pieces captured the Australian soldier Darren Smith and his bomb detection dog Herbie. Both were killed in an IED explosion in Afghanistan.
Roxy was the newest topic in dire circumstances.
“It’s really amazing that he has this ability and actually uses it for good reason,” said Justin Tucker, an Army veteran and Roxy’s owner.
“So I was like, ‘You know what? It’s worth having them delivered in person,'” Swain said just before he went to give Tucker the portrait.
They agreed to meet at Waynesville Skate Park, where Tucker often trains his service dog, Reaper.
For veterans like him, a dog can be both a friend and a lifesaver.
“I wanted to have a service dog myself,” he said.
While his mind is now focused on training Reaper – a Belgian Shepherd – Tucker is still grieving for Roxy.
“Wherever we go, Roxy is always with me. It’s hard to accept that she’s gone, ”Tucker said.
“Roxy crossed the Rainbow Bridge on December 18th,” he said.
“It’s hard. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard,” Tucker said. “Roxy was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
In 2018 she was the winner in the Service Dog category at the American Humane Hero Dog Awards. More importantly, she helped Justin through difficult times.
“I probably wouldn’t be alive today without Roxy, unfortunately with PTSD and battle-related injuries,” he said.
There has been a lot of support and, yes, art since the dog died. Earlier this month, Tampa-based DJ Artistic Designs sent him a canvas in memory of Roxy.
Now it was time to see the result of what Swain had created. He worked on Roxy’s painting for three weeks and kept Tucker up to date by notifying him on social media.
“I’m nervous, I’m nervous to see how it goes,” Tucker said, watching Swain pull up in his truck after hundreds of miles on the road.
“Hi buddy, nice to meet you,” said Swain. “Thank you for your service.”
The portrait was covered in paper, which Tucker pulled back in excitement.
“Whoa!” he exclaimed.
It was almost like reuniting with a dear friend.
When they first unpacked the piece, it was upside down. That seems ironic since the loss of Roxy turned Justin’s world upside down.
Suddenly things looked right again.
“Oh wow! That’s great,” Tucker said, taking it all in.
“I paint a lot of service dogs and I saw your story and I thought you know what, this is a worthy trip,” explained Swain.
“You have Roxy’s brindle in there!” Tucker pointed this out.
“It was fun to paint,” Swain told him.
“I’m shaking, that’s so great, sir,” said Tucker.
“Just to see my buddy one more time; see Roxy again. Although it might appear in a picture, it’s there forever, ”added Tucker.
The oil painting is based on a photo taken just two months before her death.
“Roxy was going downhill and this is one of her last good moments,” Tucker recalled.
The process of grieving is different for everyone. A gift from a stranger gives Tucker an image of love, loyalty, and legacy.
“I want her to be remembered for all the good things she has done for her breed,” said Tucker. “It’s there forever and I will never forget Roxy.”
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