"It's just a dog," my colleague said to me nearly 11 years ago as I lamented about how my new puppy was home in her crate more than I wanted. "It's not like it's a baby. It will be fine."
She was the first, but certainly not the last, person to say those words to me over the past decade.
She was right. She was just a dog.
Because she is just a dog, she always forgave me when I was running late, when we couldn't spend as much time together because I had three small babies, when we moved her from the only house she knew.
Because she is just a dog, she loved me at my worst, thought a walk was a gift, and only needed food, a cool place to lay down and a butt rub to have the best day ever.
Because she is just a dog, she never let me down, never held a grudge, never got mad. She was the perfect companion and the perfect friend -- solely because she is just a dog.
Like most couples, my husband and I got our first dog soon after getting married and purchasing a new house. She was a beautiful Shetland sheepdog that looked just like a mini Lassie. She was supposed to be a show dog, so she brought a 'tude along with her pedigree. We named her Napa after the wine region, and she was sweet, but a little aloof.
Because I thought dog number one was lonely, I begged my husband to get a second dog, and eventually I wore him down. I found another breeder and ended up picking the runt of the litter; a scruffy, little sheltie that crawled right into my arms. She had me at the first wet lick on the nose, even though her breath smelled like worms. I brought home Carnie (named after Carneros, another wine region in Sonoma) when she was just 10 and a half weeks old.
Like any good pet mom, I loved both my puppies the same, except one wanted to be loved on her terms, and the other could not get enough attention. Carnie became my shadow, the dog that loves you so much she is constantly under your feet; the one who steals the warm spot when my husband got out of bed; the one who opens the door just after you sat down on the toilet and will nudge your arm until you start to pet her. She is the dog who wraps her paws around my neck as any human would do, just to show me how much she loves me. She is special, as any dog owner would tell you about their own.
It is just this dog, this beautiful creature without a mean bone in her body, who we are saying goodbye to today. And like anyone who has lost a pet, really anyone with a heart, you can imagine how hard it is... not just because of her being a loyal dog, but because of what she represents -- a time, a place, a specific point in our journey through life.
Because it was just a dog that lifted my spirits after my dad died of lung cancer, when I felt alone, when I needed somewhere to transfer my love.
It was just a dog that helped me get through years of dealing with infertility treatments, dealing with my depression over it, dealing with broken hope month after month.
It was just a dog that remained a great pet even when we added three babies to our family in just 16 months. It was just a dog that would steal biscuits from a high chair and lick our daughters' faces clean while they squealed with laughter. It was just a dog that let three kids pull her ears and dress her in hats and use her as a pillow. Three kids that are better people for having her in their lives.
I know most people don't mean harm when they say "it's just a dog." But I have to feel these people are missing out on a lot of beautiful things in life, like just another sunset, just another first snow or just another friend.
Because I know my dog is so much more than just. She has been my companion and the one reliable constant in what has become a full, amazing crazy life.
Because being just a dog was exactly what I needed from her.
And I just lost a piece of my heart.