My fingers move over the silky brow. He had parvo as a pup, and as a result, he has aged beyond his 7 years and much of the fur under my fingertips is gray. He blinks slowly in enjoyment as I run my hand over his shoulder and down his flank. Lying next to him on the floor is one of his favorite balls, somewhat damp from a recent game of fetch. I talk to him in soft tones and he wags his tail, licks his chops and gives me a little grin. I look over at the Christmas tree and remember his first holiday season, the last year I put up a fresh-cut tree. In his puppy exuberance, he gleefully removed all the decorations he could reach with his teeth or wag off with his tail. He tipped the tree over, spilling the water from the basin and soaking the tree-skirt. He tore into his first present, happier to be shredding wrapping paper to bits than playing with the stuffed bear, still half-in the box. I laughed at his antics and he barked back in his puppy voice. During his first year, we attended dog obedience courses. He wasn't too keen on the idea, but he was a trooper. He did well in class and made us both proud. However, when he was done, he let me know promptly by either lying down at the end of his leash, refusing to budge, or by gathering up his leash in his mouth and prancing away. He was always a happy boy, and he made me happy. Through the years there have been rough patches. Once, after we had come home from a wonderful camping trip he was involved in a nasty accident. At first, we didn't know how extensive the injury was because he was covered in mud and only after quickly and carefully rinsing him off did we discover the wound near his shoulder leaving an alarming amount of muscle and tissue exposed. My husband and I rushed him to the emergency vet hospital and my heart nearly broke when we got him just inside the doorway and a look of extreme anguish crossed his face as he bent down, grabbed his leash in his mouth and tried to pull us back through the doors, away from that place. I nearly cried, coaxing him gently to let us get him into the exam room. Then, last year I was diagnosed with cancer, a second time for me, just before the holidays. A month of radiation, was followed by over six months of chemo. When I wanted to back away and run from that place that had become my diagnosis, there were many sweet moments when Tucker would cajole me into his happy, loving world. Such simple persuasion -- that is the wonder and joy of a canine companion. He has been the best role model. Dogs do not ponder the length of their existence here on this planet. They do not bemoan their overall shorter-than-human lifespan. Tucker does not let things he cannot change worry him, much, with the exception of changing my mind to get me to throw him another round of fetch. In the broader view of priorities, he puts his heart on what is life to him -- love, the giving of, and if given, the getting of. And he will always be better at giving. I can only aspire to be as good at it as he is. But it is my honor, to try and try more... So, now, as a carol plays from the radio in the kitchen and I gaze down at Tucker and see the reflection of our Christmas tree's lights in his eyes, I thank the Creator for the gift of Tucker -- his love, the lessons he teaches me, his comfortable friendship. As I caress his face he extends his forearm and lays his paw across my wrist. He sighs contentedly and my heart melts with gratitude for this excellent being.
____________________ Kathy is the local animal news writer for the Examiner.com, as well as contributing stories and articles for other magazines, ezines, and newspapers. She is the author of five published books, including one about her personal experience with cancer. She is an advocate for animal rescue and adoption. _________________________