Growing up in Illinois, my first was Duke, a golden Cocker Spaniel. I remember him mainly through 35mm slides taken by my dad, me sitting on the front porch with my arm around Duke's neck.
Then there was Tippy, an over-sized beagle. I can still picture Tippy hunting rabbits in the field behind our home. Once on a trail, she'd howl, her head springing up above the soybeans to catch a glimpse of where she was headed.
Married with kids, our first family dog was Rhett, a sable Sheltie. Rhett was a beautiful dog and our only AKC registered pet. He was very smart, having been trained by my wife and daughter. For hours, he'd herd the kids as they played soccer in the backyard, anticipating their moves and heading them off. In the evening before going to bed, you could tell him, "Pick up," and he'd traverse the family room, picking up his toys and putting them into his bed in the corner of the room.
Rhett passed when our son and daughter were in college. A true member of the family, his loss hit us very hard. My wife Carol and I wanted to take time before becoming emotionally attached to another pet, but the waiting lasted less than six months. One weekend when my son was home from college, he scouted out Sheltie breeders in the area and found one less than 20 miles away. That afternoon, 10-week-old Deacon came home with us. He could've been Rhett's twin. With the kids at college, Deacon was raised by Carol and me. He was our dog, but admittedly, Carol did most of the caring for him. The three of us spent a lot of time together over the next eight years as my wife and I transitioned toward retirement.
Retired less than six months, I lost Carol in an auto accident. My life stopped. Carol was the nucleus of our family and my best friend for 35 years. I didn't think I could go on. I didn't want to care for myself, but I had to care for Deacon. My family, my friends, and Deacon kept me moving and looking forward.
Inseparable, Deacon and I lived alone the next two years. If I took a trip, it would be by car with Deacon as my copilot. During this time, we met Claudia. The three of us became friends, and months later, we became a family. Deacon was glad to settle down, but he was getting older, and unfortunately, arthritis was stealing what years he had remaining. Just short of his 13th birthday, his mobility became limited and his pain increased. It was a hard decision, but I had no choice. It was time for him to rest.
Claudia and I wondered if we wanted to grow old with a pet. More importantly, did we have the energy and patience to train a pup? We waited more than a year as we considered what to do, but as I said, I've always had a dog--at my feet, on walks, on vacations. Finally, it was time.
We discussed what breed of dog to get and eventually decided to adopt a rescue, focusing more on size and temperament than on breed. It seemed like the right thing to do. It was hard selecting our pet, knowing that the dogs we didn't choose faced uncertain futures. We ended up adopting ten-week-old Milo, a black Lab/Terrier mix. Her face and floppy ears were adorable. She was high energy, but once we picked her up and looked into those brown eyes, she became ours.
We call her "Our Little Lab." She's a year old now and brightens every day. Still high energy, she keeps us moving and active. Milo loves walks in the woods, fetching balls, and playing tug-of-war with tree roots and branches. She's settled in at 35 pounds--not too big, not too small. At night, she calms down (per the attached picture) and cuddles. I can't imagine a better pet. I'm not sure if we rescued Milo or if she rescued us.
I think of the plight of dogs and cats in rescue shelters every day when I look at Milo. We have our hands full with our little Lab and adopting another pet isn't an option. However, we've decided to dedicate profits from the sale of my books to North Carolina animal shelters. This hasn't been a huge amount of money, but hopefully it's enough for a few more Milos to rescue their new owners.