Thursday, March 31, 2011

Anatomy of Friendship

A sign of a great friendship is doing nothing with your friend and having the most incredible time of your life. As I reflect upon my years with Erin, seemingly doing nothing was some of the best days we shared; those times were filled with smiles and happiness. There is no monetary amount that I'd choose over an afternoon of sitting under a massive oak tree while she stares upward scanning the branches for any movement from squirrels or other furry critters. Shaking with anticipation, toothy smile exposed, repeatedly chasing the squirrels back where they came from: the happiness she received from those outings was priceless to both of us and remembering those times brings me great joy. While many folks would discount it as dog-lovers nonsense, to me it was a magical time involving two best friends.

It seems the simpler the pleasures the more bliss is gained from the experience. I'm sure everyone has those fantastic memories of walking along the beach, reading poetry together, or cooking a meal side by side; those are the times that emerge from the memory banks instead of a fancy meal at an expensive restaurant or that dream vacation. Enjoying each other’s company without any pretense, the simple act of being together is what makes it so special and that's what comes through from my recollection of time with Erin. Paw in hand we accomplished much, saw some amazing sights across many countries and while I recall those times fondly, it's the quiet times in nature or away from others which stand out.

Lounging on the couch watching television with a snoring Erin upon my lap, idling the day away fishing while she keeps me company, or lazily romping through the woods for no particular reason are fond memories of times when life seemed perfect. Warmth and affection were drawn from those occasions when there was little effort involved, just two creatures that cared about each other. Friendship and love will shine through in any setting or circumstance if it's from the heart and that was always evident in my relationship with Erin. She was well socialized and spent much time around other dogs and people but time amongst ourselves was most memorable; bonds are forged with one on one time and I insisted on plenty with my girl.

Our time together was special and unique but I approached our friendship differently than the majority of dog-human relationships. Most folks fit the dog into their life as time arose and the canine is an afterthought but Erin was my priority, everything else in my life revolved around her. Seeing me drive up the driveway she would dash inside to greet me at the door while I couldn't wait to get home from work to be with her, we loved spending time with each other and the activity or lack of one was of no importance. I honesty believe we could watch paint dry and have the most fun. I'm proud of my friendship with her, it was founded on trust, respect, and loyalty; everyone should be so lucky to have such a friend. RIP Erin!!

"Dogs never lie about love." ~Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson



Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dogs go to Heaven

With Erin's passing came many questions about her mortality, her final destination and whether there is any chance we'll be reunited in some form or another. It's everyone's hope and desire that their beloved animal continues on in another realm, when the heart ceases to beat any longer then a transformation takes place thus a reunion remains a possibility down the road. Erin's final resting place is of the utmost importance to me, it would be all too tragic to know that death is the final chapter and a lifetime of bringing happiness to others is rewarded with exclusion from paradise.

I'm going to maintain faith based upon my religious beliefs that Erin and pets will be in heaven. I've read several books and visited many web sites that pertain to the issue of animals in heaven and both sides of the issue clearly state their arguments with biblical passages or bias opinions; in the end it comes down to your faith and what is held dearly. I cling to the belief that God will ensure heaven is going to be a magical place, that everything will be provided for, and beloved pets will be allowed to enter through the pearly gates via his compassion and grace. Christ's death was for humanity's sin, it garnered redemption for all creation that was brought down by our sins and that creation surely includes household pets.

"I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness. If it takes my dog being there in Heaven, I believe he'll be there. " ~Rev. Billy Graham

Do animals have souls? That is the question which is mostly debated when the issue of animals in heaven arises, there is no clear definitive answer and surely the question will continue to be disputed. Erin expressed a wide range of emotion, possessed the ability to convey her feelings, and uplifted the spirits of so many over the years thus she clearly has a soul. To have life is to have soul.  Pope John Paul II declared in a public audiencein 1990 that "also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren". The Pope went on to say that, "animals have the breath of life and were given it by God. In this respect, mancreated by the hand of God is identical with all living creatures."

Can animals be redeemed? I place animals in the same category as young children and believe they're judged in a different light as neither have free will or the mental capability to make decision. Pets are not fallen and thus do not have the option of seeking redemption as humans must do, some religious scholars state that animals are redeemed through our actions and gain access to heaven via that route. There is no way that an animal who was placed upon Earth for the greater good of mankind will be eradicated upon death, these creatures made of flesh and blood mean the world to us and a compassionate God will ensure we are reunited in his kingdom. Pets teach humans about love, compassion, friendship, forgiveness, and a thousand other lessons along the way and those contributions to the betterment of manship will not be forgiven.

Erin certainly taught me so much over the years, touched many hearts as a therapy dog, and was a beloved friend to all she met, guess God needed a beautiful loving dog to sit next to his throne. She will be waiting for my arrival whenever that day occurs and it will be a glorious reunion but til that day comes, I'll  forever hold her in my heart. RIP Erin!!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Beacon in the Storm

Life is full of stress, challenges, upheavals, and pitfalls; it's part of the human experience and the last 12 years of my existence have been no different in that aspect. The aforementioned human experiences create tension thus we all need someone to befriend us in these times and I'm so thankful Erin filled that role. As the world unfolded around me, she was there through it all to prop me up, lend a floppy ear, or provide a shoulder to cry on, there's no telling the direction of my life without her steadfast friendship and love. There have been many friends and family who rendered support but the only constant during this timeframe has been Erin, she has been the sun as others rotated in my orbit.

Deaths of family members and friends, numerous relocation's within the USA and Europe, changing employment situations, friendship fallouts, romance problems, tense college courses, household and vehicle issues, financial worries, and health woes were softened with Erin as my fur-angel. There are a million other daily events that cause one's blood pressure to rise but thankfully she was there nearly every day during the course of her life, if nothing else her physical presence provided assurance in the face of adversity. She was there regardless of my disposition to console me as only a true friend can and I'm very thankful I had her to lean upon.

Nana was the matriarch of the family, loved and revered by all, and her passing was personally devastating for me. We were kindred spirits and I was arguably her favorite grandkid while the mutual love between her and Erin was a joy to witness thus her death cut deep. Sobbing at the funeral home then going home to find my happy girl waiting at the door for me is permanently etched in my mind, later she laid in my lap where she melted into my chest as I cried into her soft luxurious coat. She would look up to make eye contact and those gentle soulful orbs seemed to say " Don't cry Daddy, everything will be alright." To be in my company was all she desired but Erin was the rock whom I relied upon so many times.

A bursting pipe under the sink not only flooded the kitchen and ruined the flooring but it created tremendous stress and chaos in my life; needless to say I was highly irate and angry with the state of affairs but Erin helped defuse the situation. Despite my foul mood and emotional distress, she wandered over, nudged my hand with her snout and then laid her head in my lap where those ears were gently massaged and so it seems all my worries disappeared . With my focus upon her instead of the disaster in the kitchen, I was able to put things in perspective and realize that the world isn't coming to an end and tomorrow will be better.

Highly attuned she knew when to approach and never did her presence fail to lighten the tension, she possessed a healing power that always eased my burden. Time after time in a variety of circumstances she was my beacon in the storm and I was always guided safely into port. She was a special girl with a remarkable talent of making people feel better and that included me. RIP Erin!!

"Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really." ~Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

For Another Day

Seems like yesterday when we met
That fateful day I'll never forget
A liver and white bundle of fur
You caused my heart to stir

You filled the emptiness in my heart
I vowed we would never be apart
Much more than a dog to me
With you I longed for eternity

Together we saw the world
United our adventures unfurled
From Holland to Greece we saw it all
Passports filled we had a ball

Therapy dog for years and years
Your presence ceased the flow of tears
Stage performer and church attendee
You earned an advanced doggie degree

Everyone said you were the best
My pride was hard to suppress
Faults in you couldn't be found
Oh how I worship thy sacred ground

Inseperable to the very end
One could never ask for a better friend
Through thick and thin you were there
A fur angel from above I declare

I would give all for another day
Time moved swiftly without delay
With a blink of the bleary eye
I uttered a tearful goodbye

Dedicated to Erin, my beloved friend and fur angel

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Growing Pains

It's often believed that my relationship with Erin was perfect or so it appeared on the outside. While we had a beautiful love and friendship, there hasn't always been smooth sailing between us as all relationships have growing pains or stretches when things aren't as desired. In retrospect, I made many mistakes as a first-time dog owner but luckily she was a forgiving dog and thus was able to overcome my inexperience while never losing faith in me. It seems our beginning was taken from "Marley and Me" but as with that well-known story, a rocky start blossomed into a beautiful love.

The early days were often filled with periods of frustration, angst, and doubt as Erin's rambunctious and lack of discipline overwhelmed me. I questioned myself, her, and our relationship while the increasing stress created cracks in the foundation of our friendship but neither one of us showed any signs of quitting. I couldn't understand why she didn't obey my commands, owning a puppy was supposed to be easy; unrealistically she was expected to be perfect from day one and that was unfair to both of us. Eventually I realized  it was my my fault and not the dog as is usually the case in pet/human relationships thus our bond was altered forever. The blame was shifted upon myself for any deficiencies while I vowed to improve the situation and circumstances for her; relocation to a house with spacious backyard, structured obedience courses, and socialization sessions with fellow dogs and humans soon followed.

The art of obedience was mastered with little struggle while Erin drew praise from the instructors for her competency at an early age, I was beyond proud of her and it was about that timeframe when I realized we had something special forming. Often we would practice for hours until the various commands became second nature to us, we practiced over and over til it was engrained in our brains and oh yeah, the doggie treats she received for doing it correctly were a perk for her. Over the years, Erin would complete numerous obedience courses, AKC Canine Good Citizen test, and the exams required to become a certified therapy dog . Our bond improved greatly as she gained discipline and could thus be let off-leash in public areas to socialize, fetch balls, and chase squirrels as desired; nothing like independence to help a friendship blossom.

I regret my mistakes during the Erin years and if given the chance I'd right the wrongs but would that affect our future together, maybe those struggles brought us closer together and helped form the close bond we had until the very end. In prayer, I often ask for forgiveness from Erin and God for any act which they deem as unwarranted, hopefully they know I always had her best interests at heart but as a human fell short of the mark. Erin you were a great friend and I'll never have another like you!! RIP my beloved!!!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Comforting the Afflicted

The therapy dog vest is slipped over Erin's head, dangling straps are buckled and pulled tight before a leisurely walk around the facility so an untimely accident doesn't occur inside. One final brushing of the flowing coat is performed to ensure she looks presentable to the awaiting audience and in this instance the audience happens to be patients of all ages in many degrees of physical and emotional health. Heads turn, people point, and a few come over to greet us as the lobby is entered; seeing a dog in the role of comforter puts folks at ease and is a most welcome sight. Erin always seemed to know the importance of the moment, she appears to prance across the floor like a show-dog walking around the ring. "Look at me, I'm here to do good things" she proclaims through her strut and beaming smile.

Entering a patients room was always unnerving, one never knew what to expect from the folks inside or the gravity of the situation. Usually the reaction upon seeing Erin was one of happiness, they would call her over to the bed where a hand was extended to stroke her head, feel the wet nose, or make contact as desired. When a patient was limited physically but wished to see or feel the dog, the bed railing was lowered  as she stood upon her rear legs to lean over for an intimate encounter. With myself propping up her mid-section, a leg was stretched outward so her paw could be held and caressed; she never minded the attention and she returned the favor with loving glances and a broad grin. On a few occasions as the situation dictated, Erin was hoisted into the patients bed where she would lay her head upon their laps, gazing lovingly upwards or at their side she sat where both parties were able to devote their full attention to the other. Elderly and terminal  patients told stories of past dogs thus they were transported to happier times when age and illness were not an issue, they were obviously happy to be in the presence of a loving dog.

Family members and friends of patients often had their sadness lifted as they encountered Erin in hallways or she entered a room where they were huddled around the bed. It was so touching to watch the grieving forget their sorrows for awhile and turn their attention towards the dog who came to bring some joy to their life's. They would lavish attention upon her and tell family stories while fighting back tears, during these intimate times I was thanked repeatedly for sharing Erin; she was too special to not be shared!! I often thought the visitors were comforted just as much as the ailing and from the positive reactions I'm sure that's true. Children would plop down on the cold hard floor beside her, they found it so fascinating that a dog was allowed inside with sick people while a constant topic of discussion was her vest adorned with identification tags and awards. They liked to read her id tags, hold the leash, and ask questions like "is she your dog?", or "does this dog live here?" The kids appeared to be unaware of the grave situation and just wanted to be friends with the dog, which was okay with Erin.

Hospices, nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities were visited in a 6 year plus span where many hearts were touched and spirits were lifted by Erin's presence. No one was immune to her charm as doctors, nurses, and staff members enjoyed the visitations and it was not uncommon to see her being loved on by someone wearing scrubs. She could be seen around the nurses station begging for whatever food was lying around but having to settle for love and attention but she was content with that. Families allowed us into their lifes, privy information was discussed openly, emotions ran deep and we were present when loved ones passed away; it was an honor to be allowed into such private moments. The visits brought great joy and comfort to those hurting and for a short time their smiles told the world they're doing alright. I'm so proud of Erin for her work as a therapy dog, she made a big difference while amongst us and she will be missed by many. RIP Erin!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Dog is the Best Medicine

It's been proven in multiple studies that owning a dog has many health benefits in regards to both physical and mental aspects of the owner's life. The benefits include lowering blood pressure and stress while increasing happiness plus the act of exercising the fur-kid decreases cholesterol, the risk of heart disease and other cardio ailments. Also, it's been verified that humans recover quicker from serious injuries and illnesses when a dog is part of the household and I truly believe I'm walking prove of the studies. With Erin in my life, there were very few health issues over the span of nearly 12 years and if something did arise, the presence of my beloved friend helped me recover in no time but things have changed for the worse.

There has been a significant decline in my well-being since Erin's departure with 4 trips to the emergency room, numerous cat scans, a MRI and an upcoming surgery as proof of this. Maybe it's a coincidence that these ailments have overwhelmed me after her passing but it's doubtful as I truly believe in the healing therapeutic powers of having a loving animal in the household. An active dog at my side ensured constant movement which kept the mind and body in motion but now a sedentary existence has washed over me and it seems my body is saying "If you aren't going to use, then I'm going to break down." In addition, there is the deterioration in my mental status which is mainly due to the grief and depression of losing my beloved angel, it's a loss which I believe I'll never completely get over but life gets easier as time goes by.

There is little doubt that my life with Erin was much better than my so-called life now. Owning a dog stimulated me physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially while improving every area of my life hence the reverse upon her passing; presently there is not a part of my life that I'm satisfied with. Yes, the studies are correct as I reflect upon my life before, during, and after Erin; the years with her were the happiest and the period when I had the least physical and mental issues. A dog is one of life's great pleasures, they bring love and happiness to their owners and are a major benefit health-wise and one day in the future I'll acquire another but til then I'll plan on more health woes.

“No animal I know of can consistently be more of a friend and companion than a dog.”
~ Stanley Leinwoll 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ambassador of Love

The words broke the eerie silence, startling birds into flight. It didn't take long to figure out the meaning behind the words being shouted at an elevated decibel as Erin and I strolled by. "Kjeni Kjeni Kjeni" was shouted by one youngster, then another, then another and before long a dozen plus children were out in the street following us as we tried to view our new surroundings. Newly arrived in Kosovo, our first dog walk produced a Piped-Piper result as the mob shadowed every move and most trailed us back to our sparse apartment. Peeking out the window curtains onto the street below, remnants of Erin's fan club were spotted loitering on the dusty crater-filled street, no doubt hoping for another look at the liver/white dog that appeared out of nowhere. "Kjeni"; Albanian for dog was heard constantly during my time living amongst the population and in retrospect the only word I remember from those memorable times.

It quickly became clear that while the youngsters enjoyed being near Erin, touching her was another issue and no one wanted to push their luck by making physical contact with the menacing beast. When I believed the trust of the children had been gained it was time to demonstrate the correct way to approach and pet a strange dog but most declined the offer despite my persistent urging. With her in a sitting position, one brave soul made a quick swipe along the back much to the delight of his friends while Erin smilingly looked up at me as to say "What's the matter with these silly kids?" Since the oldest boy survived the petting, an adorable girl leaned over to stroke the back of her head then forced the hand of a young boy onto the same spot and they both giggled while repeating the motion. These siblings would become loyal friends whom were often found outside waiting for us to go on a stroll or they would appear at the school grounds for leash-free romps.

The children of Urosevac bonded with Erin while some absolutely loved her and it was endearing to watch them interact albeit some never overcame their fear to touch her while others gained enough confidence to hug her neck, sneak a kiss or hold the leash on walks. For most children, Erin was the first dog to teach them that love can be found on four feet as the majority of local dogs were feral, roamed in huge packs, had vicious tendencies and occasionally attacked humans regardless of size. I'm extremely proud of the friendships formed between the youngsters with my girl, she certainly helped them overcome their anxiety while acts of affection became the daily norm, and it was a win-win situation for all involved. To express my thanks for befriending my fur-kid, cokes and candy were often purchased to be enjoyed as we meandered down the street and for the record; no one ever refused the goodies. Everywhere Erin went in life she touched hearts while making a positive impact upon the people around her and Kosovo was no exception, she was one amazing dog!!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Stage Performer

"Would you be interested in allowing your dog onstage in a play?" That was the question presented to me before morning service at a major Savannah Church and one which didn't involve much arm-twisting on their part. "The Miracle Worker" search for an "obedient hunting dog” had been unsuccessful until they heard of a church-attending dog named Erin. The premise of the play along with the dog's role was briefly explained and the drama department director was to be called if there was further interest on my part. A call was placed the following morning and while this offer produced both excitement and angst, this was an opportunity that couldn't be passed over. We discussed Erin's therapy dog service, obedience training, friendly demeanor, etc. and mutually decided she would be perfect for the role of Belle.

The following weekend she took part in her first rehearsal with her fellow co-stars and they treated their four-legged actress with the utmost respect and affection. It was called rehearsal but for Erin it was a chance to receive as much attention as possible while eating delicious food and sneak quick naps whenever possible. The cast and crew loved the non-human roaming around; children and adults alike continually doted on her while taking turns walking her around the auditorium. She often wandered off-leash exploring every inch that was made available to her while in pursuit was a gaggle of kids longing for a hug or a kiss on the cheek. Over the next several weeks, she got together with fellow cast mates to walk through their three scenes together and they all expressed confidence in her ability.

I walked Erin backstage as the auditorium overflowed with hundreds of paying customers while beaming lights, sound checks, set changes, racks of costumes and props told me it was show time. Amongst the crowd were family members and loyal friends who had come out to support us during this once in a lifetime event so reluctantly Erin was handed over to a teenage actor who would be her backstage guardian and I joined them at a table near the stage. When her first scene came, she was led onto the stage by two youngsters holding the leash and they hit their mark where the scene unfolded around her. The crowd buzzed upon seeing a beautiful dog onstage and you could hear murmurs at nearby tables. She did very well and lived to the hype of her co-stars but I could tell she was searching for me in the crowd; it stressed me out to think of her missing me. At the intermission, I went backstage to comfort her and decided to remain with her for the rest of the evening and at her side I remained for the following performances.

Erin’s scenes went very well including a pivotal scene where a young Helen Keller tries to teach Belle (Erin) sign language, it was so awesome to see just the two of them onstage with the spotlight shining upon them. Helen was sitting down with Belle’s paw in her hand instructing her in the art of signing while Belle looked lovingly into her eyes. During Erin’s scenes, I was hiding in the shadows watching as a proud father and loyal friend but otherwise we were backstage or hanging with the child performers in the church nursery. A standing ovation took place after each performance with Erin joining her human co-stars in soaking up the love of the audience; it was a special time for her. After the audience took their seats the cast lined up outside the door for a meet and greet with the spectators who streamed by to pay their respects to whomever they desired. So many people stopped to give Erin a compliment, a pet on the head, while praising me for raising a wonderful dog; it was a wonderful experience for us in every aspect.

It was bittersweet when the production ended as we made so many friends and shared in many laughs along the way. She had an incredible time, touched many hearts and I’ve never been prouder of her than at that moment; as always she never disappointed me. Everything she attempted was achieved with the highest results and her stint as a stage performer was no different, despite my worrying as a concerned father she was amazing every night and gave me many more great memories. After Erin’s passing I received a letter of condolences from the drama department director on behalf of the entire cast and crew, it meant alot to know she was still in their hearts years after the production but that says so much about my angel; she was very special. RIP Erin!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bark Magazine tribute to Erin

The following is a tribute piece I penned shortly after Erin's passing. It was submitted to Bark Magazine and after several revisions it was ready for publication. I'm proud of the tribute as it touches upon her remarkable life and the impact she had on others. Hope you enjoy reading about my beloved friend!!

Paw Prints
Erin's Journey

I didn’t know much about raising a puppy, but my eagerness to learn was undeniable. I wanted to raise a true companion, and to give the pup all the experiences the world had to offer. My furry pal would go everywhere with me but first I had to find just the right dog.

When I went to look at a litter of Springer Spaniel puppies, Erin cried out to me. All of the puppies were yelping and yearning for my attention, but I kept noticing one little bundle of liver and white fur. She went home with me that day, and what a heavenly match it proved to be.

The first few years of Erin’s life were typical of any dog’s life: playing fetch, wrestling with canine pals, lounging in the sun and, of course, chasing squirrels. What wasn’t quite typical, however, was Erin’s calm center and ability to touch hearts.

An opportunity to work in Germany came my way and since I refused to leave her behind, Erin was onboard that flight. Our lives would change forever, and living in Europe was a dream come true. For 18 months, Erin was my constant companion and she sniffed her way across a dozen countries.

She took an Amsterdam canal boat tour, frolicked in the Swiss Alps, walked the footsteps of Alexander the Great in Greece, strolled the Heidelberg Christmas market, and wandered the World War I battlefields of Verdun, France. If dogs carried passports, hers would have needed extra pages.

Erin gained access to luxury hotels, restaurants, cafes and department stores, bowling alleys, supermarkets, trains, buses, cable cars ... she took full advantage of the access granted to dogs in Europe. If a dog was permitted indoors, Erin could be found by my side.

During her European tour, Erin melted hearts everywhere she went. Whether it was a street performer in Amsterdam, French hotel innkeeper, Croatian border guard or the multitude of American soldiers in Kosovo, they all gravitated toward her and wanted to be her friend.

When my job ended, so did Erin’s adventures in Western Europe. There would be no more chasing deer in the Black Forest, munching on pancakes in an Austrian café or investigating the many Rhine River vineyards. But that turned out to be just fine, because the best was yet to come.

Back in the United States, we returned to our hometown of Savannah, Ga. Erin was 5-years-old when I realized she would make a wonderful therapy dog. Obedient and possessed of an extraordinarily even temperament, friendly demeanor and a loving, comforting nature, Erin had all the traits of a successful service animal. The certification tests posed little challenge and Erin’s stint as a therapy dog was underway.

Hospice work was Erin’s first job. She visited the terminally ill, adults and children alike. She brought countless smiles to the suffering, comforted grieving family members as they cried, and at times was even present when patients passed away. At these times, she provided a welcome distraction to all present.

Over the years, Erin’s visits meant so much to the patients and their families. They may have been physically afflicted or depressed, but she raised their spirits, touched their hearts and gave them a moment of happiness in even the worst situations. She did her job as a therapy dog incredibly well.

Children absolutely loved Erin and the feeling was mutual. She was always available for a hug and helped them learn the gentle way to approach a dog. Kids enjoyed rubbing her long drooping ears and petting her large freckled feet. Erin never minded this attention and always responded with a broad smile, big tail-wag and kisses of her own.

Erin had an uncanny ability to disarm most people who encountered her. Gazing into her soulful, gentle eyes, even people who might not be that comfortable with dogs fell in love. Rare was the person who did not feel a connection and a tug on the heart strings.

Among those swayed by her charm were leaders of a major Savannah church, who permitted Erin to join the congregation for the morning service. She'd lie on the floor beside my feet, and often took a nap. The folks who went to church with Erin didn’t mind. They knew she had already earned her angel wings and thus could skip the sermon.

Erin’s church duties expanded with time as she became a door greeter, and she even had a short stint working with the children’s worship program. It soon became apparent, however, that the kids were more interested in the lovable dog than the lesson plans, so that was it for the children’s program. But that was okay, because the next phase of Erin’s career as dog ambassador was about to begin.

The drama department approached me with the idea of letting her appear on stage in a production of The Miracle Worker. They had heard about Erin through the grapevine, contacted me and arranged an audition. She won the role of Belle, the Keller family dog, and this was very exciting for her.

I had some concerns about how she would do, but she did exactly what was required in her three scenes, and the play was a success. After each performance, when the cast lined up to greet the audience, Erin was right there alongside her costars. Hundreds of people filed by to pet her or pay a compliment. It was a proud moment for Erin and myself.

On August 16, my longtime companion and faithful friend, Erin, passed away from complications of diabetes after a brave fight. Many friends and family gathered around me, and my Facebook page was covered with wishes for comfort. The outpouring of love and affection was amazing!

So many people loved and cared for Erin, but what was really extraordinary was how much she loved everyone. She never met a stranger, everybody was a friend, and that’s what really separated her from the pack. In Erin’s wake are many hearts with her paw print upon them. She touched and moved people until her last moments on earth as the cremation personnel remarked upon her beauty and sweet soul.

Savannah’s Historic District just isn’t the same without Erin. She could be spotted having a cold bowl of water at Gallery Espresso, napping on the well-worn heart pine floor at E. Shaver bookstore, dining on an occasional snack at Zunzi’s and checking out the tourists and SCAD students at Parker’s Market. She loved to lounge near her human friends hoping for an occasional biscuit or kind word.

I'm still struggling to come to terms with Erin being gone, but I’m so proud of Erin’s achievements—world traveler, therapy dog, church attendee and stage performer—but I take the most pride in what kind of dog she was inside. It’s hard to imagine a living creature with more affection, loyalty, and passion for life than Erin.

Erin was my best friend for nearly 12 years, and her passing is a devastating loss. The pain and sorrow are often beyond belief but someday I'll find a puppy and my angel dog Erin will be alongside, reminding me of the way to train the youngster. She was an inspiration to so many and will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, my beloved Erin!!