Over the years when I would have one of those days, no matter what the mood, no matter what the time of day or night, one person was always there, waiting for me.
The family dog we had growing up was a girl named Misty. She was a mixed breed. A mix of a whole lotta nothing. My friend Dan called her a keyhole pet. I thought that was a compliment until he told me my dog looked like someone pulled her through a keyhole.
Like the toy, Woody, in “Toy Story,” I grew close to Misty. But as I got to high school, we didn’t play as much and that dog seemed to live forever, finally passing away while I was in college.
I had a few other dogs over the years, but they were a passing fad, mostly to keep the kids entertained for a few months. But you realize sometimes raising children and a dog or two is a little overwhelming.
Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we found good homes for the dogs before we got attached.
Then, Shiloh comes along. A purebred, yellow lab who was saved from a puppy mill by a friend of mine. But his family of humans and animals was growing and the dog had to go. The shelter closest to their house was not a place for an older dog to go. So Yellow Dog entered our home.
I understood why Shiloh could not be around elderly or pregnant women. She was always underfoot.
After almost falling down the stairs because of her, Shiloh was told, “Don’t go upstairs.” She listened.
I have no idea what happened the first 11 years of this dog’s life, but someone trained her well. One command and she never did it again.
But she was still always underfoot. You sleep, she sleeps. You eat, she eats. You cook, she eats. You throw food away, she eats again.
We couldn’t find the paperwork that followed her around, but the dog was somewhere between 14 and 17 and could still leap through a screen door at the sound of thunder and lightning.
Shiloh also never bit. Bark? Yes. Bite? Never.
She loved when the pre-school kids would go on their daily walks. No matter how hard they tugged at her ears, tail or skin, she acted like they were giving her a gentle rub of the belly.
Shiloh’s favorite holiday was Halloween. The kids wanted to pet and play with Shiloh more than they wanted yet another bite-sized candy. And Shiloh obliged as usual, letting them grab, tug, pull and pet her. She was so exhausted by the end of Halloween night it would be the only night she fell asleep before me.
Eventually, Shiloh hurt her hip and would collapse from time to time. Her veterinarian knew surgery would be too much for her to handle and gave her medicine that helped the hip. We let her sleep on the new couch. The new couch was much better on the hip than her favorite bed, the floor curled up next to one of her owners.
Before I turned off the light, I looked at the girl and smiled. I realized how proud I was of the dog for the smiles she put on the faces of so many others.
Then one day I heard Shiloh fighting with something or someone. It was a noise I had never heard. She was having a seizure. And another, and another. She probably had around 12 by the time I got her to the vet. Two employees came out and lifted that large dog like she was a peacock feather and the good doctor knew what was happening. After a shot, she calmed down.
But this was it. Probably kidney failure. It was time to make a decision. Despite the fact a doctor is a medical expert, veterinarians are also experts in giving you time with your animal. The doctor gave me just enough time to say goodbye to her. When the doctor came back in the room, we both nodded to each other. No words had to be said. He knew what my wishes were.
I never thought I’d write a column about Shiloh, but it’s not her life that inspired me to write. It’s her death.
It’s the empty look in the eyes of the children as they walk by the house waiting for Shiloh to come out and to tug her ear.
Each day as I make the walk to the front door, I am expecting the dog. I know the dog has been gone, but if that dog came to the door, I would not be shocked. I can’t make it in the front door without looking both ways. I can’t leave without giving the door an extra tug to make sure she doesn’t get out.
Out of the corner of my eye, I think I see her in the backyard or coming into the kitchen when the fridge door opens.
My daughter put a photo of Shiloh on my cellphone as her contact photo years ago and it remains today. I can’t bring myself to change the picture.
And I can’t bring myself to get a new dog.
For this one hasn’t left.
John Anderson is the regional editor. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.