This wasnt the Valentine-themed post that I planned to write this month. In fact, this was a post that I was hoping to never write, at least not for a few more years. We lost our beloved dog, Chewy, a few days ago. Im sure many of you can relate to the heartbreak that Im feeling. It is excruciating. We did not realize until it was too late that Chewy had advanced cancer of the spleen and was bleeding internally. He showed no symptoms until the last couple of days. We were thankful to have one last day with him before it was time to end his suffering. But its not those last horrible couple of days that I want to write about. I want to remember the rest of his wonderful life.

Chewy was my once in a lifetime dog. There has never been and will never be another like him. I adopted him from the Anti-Cruelty Society in downtown Chicago nine years ago, just after getting married, but before having any (human) kids. We had two cats at the time, which my husband thought was enough responsibility. But he was out of town. I saw my opportunity and I took it. The shelter had just taken in a litter of Rottweiler mix puppies and I had never seen anything so cute.

Which one of you wants me to be your momma? I asked the adorable bundles of fur.

One furry bundle leaped toward me and I picked him up. It took approximately thirty seconds for me to fall in love with the docile little guy. I promised Chewy right then and there that I would give him the best life possible. When I brought him home the next day, my husbands annoyance with me subsided as he fell in love with Chewy too. About a day later, we noticed a change in Chewys personality. The subdued, quiet dog Id gotten to know at the shelter was suddenly a smart, spunky, stubborn, loud and wild ball of energy.

He must have had a cold, I said to my husband, shrugging.

From day one, Chewy and I were inseparable. It seemed wherever I went, Chewy was right there with me. When I had to leave him behind, I felt like a part of me was missing. We enrolled Chewy in puppy preschool. The first class was such a disaster that I was surprised the instructor didnt ask us to leave. Chewy was completely out of control, jumping up on everyone, biting peoples hands, pulling me around, etc. But, as it turned out, Chewy was extremely intelligent, food-motivated and very easy to train. He ended up winning the award for Most Improved dogprobably because he was so out of control to begin with.

Chewy was a natural guard dog and patrolled our property (when he wasnt sleeping). At times, he was overly protective of me, especially when I had him on the leash. But I always felt safe with Chewy around. I was never scared to be home alone, even living in a not-so-great neighborhood in Chicago. Although Chewy had a fierce, protective side, he also had a gentle, loving, playful side. He and our cat, Chase, became fast friends. Chewy played with, harassed, and pounced on Chase, but never tried to hurt him.

When we found out I was pregnant with our first baby, our family worried that Chewy was not a good dog to have around kids. They couldnt have been more wrong. In fact, I am convinced that Chewy thought my son (and later, my daughter) were his kids. He got up with them for every feeding during the night. He watched over them as they played. He cuddled up next to them during story time. We always reassured Chewy that he was doing such a good job raising the kids.

Over the years, Chewy and my son, especially, became great friends. My son learned to read by reading books to Chewy each night and morning. He learned responsibility by feeding Chewy and helping me take Chewy for walks. He learned that animals have personalities and love their families, just as people do. He saw that love first-hand with Chewy.

Chewy made us laugh every day- no exceptions. At times, he tried to be a lap dog, despite his large size. When the kids played hide-and-seek, he didnt understand what they were doing. He would stand directly across from their hiding spots and bark at them, making it way too easy for the seeker. Chewy frolicked in the snow and would plunge his head into the snow drifts, surfacing with his face covered in white.

Chewy loved playing basketball with my husband, but was only good at defense (biting hands and pant legs as he tried to shoot). Chewy did not understand sledding or sit-ups or push-ups or many other strange things that we humans do for recreation.

Whenever Chewy heard the suitcases come out, sheer panic would set in. He would wine and whimper and sit by the car waiting to jump in. He didnt care where we were going. He just didnt want us to leave him behind. And whenever Chewy and I were separated, he greeted me upon my return as if he hadnt seen me for years, even if Id only run out to the grocery store for a few minutes. Chewys unconditional love and affection was overpowering and contagious. He reminded us to appreciate each other and to not hold grudges.

As our family grew, Chewy took his job as protector more and more seriously. We moved back to Michigan into a house with a huge backyard. We bought the house for us and for the kids, but also because of Chewy. The yard was private and protected from the neighbors It was perfect for him.

Chewy loved chasing the squirrels up trees, running after the occasional deer, and just laying in the sun on our deck. He loved going for walks, especially if there was any chance that he could take a swim. We often took him to a trail near our house where he walked while our kids learned to ride their bikes. Chewy knew the routine about halfway through the 3-mile trail, we stopped off at the secret beach, ignoring the no dogs allowed sign. Chewy wasnt really a dog, we rationalized. Hes more like a person. Chewy bounded across the beach and into the water before circling back and shaking the water all over us.

I have so many great memories with Chewy, but one of our happiest days was when I took him to visit the 80-acre farm that used to be owned by my grandparents. The farm was up for sale and the owner gave us permission to walk the property. Chewy had the time of his life running free across the fields, swimming in the ponds, and digging in the mud. Ive always dreamed of living on a piece of property like that. At least Chewy and I got to experience it for a day!

The last few days without Chewy have felt sad and empty and hollow. He would lay at my feet while I wrote at my computer, hour after hour, day after day. It was enough for him just to be next to me. I felt that way about him too. My feet are cold as I sit and write this post. No Chewy dog to warm them up. I keep looking for him whenever I walk in the door, or see a squirrel outside, or find a tennis ball behind the couch, or wake up in the night. Or, as my son told me yesterday, I have no one to pet.

This is the very last movie of Chewy that we took, shortly before we had to take him to the vet. Our son is reading a picture book to Chewy one last time.

And not to be outdone on the tear-jerker scale, our five year-old daughter made this Valentine for Chewy a couple of weeks before he died.

How can it be possible to love a dog so much? I saw this explanation written in the heartfelt article On Losing a Dog, and it rang true for me:  We hold our dogs so close that parts of ourselves overflow and fall directly onto their furry heads. So when we look at our dogs we see our worst sorrows, our greatest joys and the deepest part of ourselves for which there is no name. The story of our dogs is the story of us.

I think I did see myself in Chewy. The best part of myself. So when he died, a part of me died too. I knew this was the deal when I adopted him so many years ago, but it doesnt make it any easier. Chewy, thank you for choosing us as your family. You were the best and we will never forget you.

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