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Recalling Dog Days of Old

Inside my journal, an old, overexposed, black and white    photograph of five beautiful dogs, all lounging in the grass and looking up at the camera, acts as a bookmark. Every time I look at the picture, I’m so thankful that my longtime girlfriends and I decided to pause our hike that day for the quick family photo.

In the snapshot, Kirby, my Catahoula-mutt; Kara, Shannon’s German Shepard; Cami and Pero, Shelly’s two Italian Spinone’s; and Alex, Brenda’s Corgi all lay and stay, waiting for the “free dog” cue. That was over 15 years ago, a long dog’s life; all five have since passed on. We still speak of them like they’ll come running out of the woods at any moment.

When I study this dark photo, I don’t just see the sparkling brown eyes and goofy expressions and wagging tails of the dogs we adored.

The picture reminds me of everything: the cool little house along the river where Shelly raised a family and our dogs once explored, the veterinary hospital where we all worked. I think of boyfriends we’d rather forget - Steve and Rob and Lester and... you get my drift.

Our dogs got us through college and kids, jobs and tragedies. Kirby, Kara, Cami, Pero, and Alex led us through one era of our lives. For ten years or more, they were by our sides, looking out our car windows, sitting on our feet - quiet, nonjudgmental, eternally optimistic and joyful.

Last week when Maureen (Mo for short), one of my best friends from Montana, stopped to visit my parents and me in Indianapolis, I was reminded of the precious cycle of dogs in our lives. As always, Mo’s giant terrier-mix, Adeline, was stationed on her bed in the back seat. Mo and Adeline have road-tripped countless miles together over the last 13 years.

I remember the day Mo read in the paper that an Irish Wolfhound-looking mutt was up for adoption at a Montana humane society. 

“She’s so calm and quiet and sweet,” Mo told me after a trip to the pound.

The stray’s leg was in a cast from being hit by a car. Mo decided to adopt the dog, and I went with her. On the car ride home, she decided to name the beautiful, wirey-coated girl, Adeline, after her grandmother.

A few hours later when Adeline’s heavy sedatives wore off (we didn’t even know she was on drugs until Mo called back to ask), Mo realized that raising Addie was going to be a much bigger project than she first imagined.

A 70-lb. terrier can really change your life - in more ways than one. It would take a book to tell the endless antics of “Miss Line.”

In the beginning, my dog, Kirby, was a mentor to Adeline. Like many dogs, Kirby  started off as a wild one, killing raccoons and possum and groundhogs on a daily basis for the first five years of his life. Kirby eventually matured into a true gentleman, but made it a point to kill a few rodents each month, just to prove he still had the knack.

Kirby’s and Addie’s lives overlapped by two years - they were the best of friends.

Kirby passed away at the age of eleven.

Dogs with their too short but oh, so sweet lives, come and go from our lives.

Last week, Mo and I just happened to be together in Indianapolis when it became obvious that Adeline was tired. The old girl was ready to move on.

Mo and I picked Adeline up from the humane society together, and we put her to sleep together.

There are no words to describe heartbreak.

My girlfriends and I see our lives in dog years: the years of Kirby, the years of Kara, the years of Alex, the years of Adeline...

A good dog is a guide, walking us through one phase of life to the next. And they keep us looking down the trail, wondering what’s around the next corner. Where would we be without them?

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