Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shots Rang Out

Kapow!! Kapow!! I was startled out of sleep and immediately bolted upright as the shots rang out below my window in the wee hours of the snowy winter morning. The rifle fire shattered the peaceful setting and put Erin on edge as she looked to me for reassurance; "It's okay...Daddy is here." While calming her down frantically I was donning my boots and jacket for a dash into the biting frigid air, shoving a flashlight into my pocket I raced to the door while my companion was close on my heels. She could not be allowed outdoors at this moment for there was a grave threat to her lurking in the darkness so I nudged her back inside while offering some final comforting words then I walked into an eerily surreal situation. Somewhere on the snow covered streets of this Kosovo town were a group of police officers with a sole purpose of shooting and killing the feral dogs that harassed the population and roamed without limitations

Turning on the flashlight to avoid making myself a target the beam was scanned in all directions as I wandered down the pothole laden street. The layer of snow blanketing everything crunched under my feet as the search continued for what I was unsure of though it would be obvious when spotted then the bright red splatter of blood stood out against the purity of snow. There were no bodies and the shooters had disappeared but the damage was evident; pools of blood and crimson streaks leading up the road told me the dogs were hit but not mortally wounded and with the posse in hot pursuit they had scampered away in distress and physical agony. There was nary a sound as I strolled down the street alone in my thoughts; the locals were used to this barbaric act thus lay sound asleep but I wanted to witness it firsthand as this was rarely seen by outsiders. It was sombering to look upon the blood soaked snow as a few minutes earlier the methodical shootings of the dogs had taken place while Erin slept nestled against my chest.

This practice was brought to my attention by the locals who befriended myself and Erin upon our arrival in Kosovo; used as a means to control the population of feral canines who roam in large packs, they often harass adults and attack children when given the opportunity. After surveying the scene I walked the short distance to my apartment where Erin was awaiting anxiously; at the door she remained a statue in anticipation of my return. Inside the doorway I collapsed on the floor beside her in a spontaneous moment of bliss; I was so thankful to embrace her again and to let her know how much I loved her while she doted upon me in kind. The sun rose to shed light upon the land and together we strolled out to see if last night was a bad dream; the blood running the length of the road and into an adjacent neighborhood confirmed that my wee hour walk was indeed very real.

Erin sniffed at the blood doused patches of snow and pavement with curiosity and increased interest; I wonder what her thoughts were as she inhaled the lifeline of fellow canines while glancing upwards at me with those raised eyebrows as if to question what took place here. The locals were going about their normal routine despite the added coloration to the snow and this indifference included people clearly walking through red stained snow; there was no veering around it whatsoever. Folks paid " The American and his dog" little attention as they passed by and when the coast was clear I snapped a few pics as I knew this photo opportunity would never present itself again and it certainly didn't.
There were other evenings when rifle fire broke the silence of the night but never again did our street become a dog kill zone and for that I'm very thankful.

There would be other memorable situations over the course of nine months in Kososvo as Erin drew passionate spirited responses from many folks and while the majority were loving and positive, a few were in a negative nature as they believed all dogs were to be feared, abused, and eliminated. That said we had a great time with amazing people in a war-torn land and I look forward to bringing more stories of love and heartbreak...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Coffee Shop Girl

Erin patiently waiting at door

From an early age Erin was actively socialized and being molded into the special dog whom would eventually be canine ambassador to the world. Enrolled in numerous obedience courses at the tender age of six month; they were all passed with relative ease thus I felt comfortable enough to venture out in public places with an adolescent dog attached to my side. The Gallery Espresso in downtown historic Savannah was discovered on a leisurely stroll and it became a regular haunt for over a decade after being informed the establishment allowed obedient dogs inside if they remained leashed at all times. Erin quickly became a common sight on the premise and the friendly staff took a special interest in her; she loved the attention heaped upon her whether from an employee, customer, or a fellow canine. There was little doubt when another dog wandered inside with its owner as my outstretched arm felt afire by the overly excited kid at the other end of the leash; with unlimited endurance and the instinct to socialize we had to say hello to all four-legged friends.

This independent coffee shop was the first establishment to welcome Erin with open arms thus was most beneficial to the early development of her social and obedience skills. Much credit is given to the bustling environment as it accelerated her tolerance of large crowds, undisciplined children pawing her, and loud abrupt noises; all of which she mastered on the way to being a certified therapy dog. The owner and employees became part of our extended family and along the way they shared in her many achievements and milestones, wacky adventures, and expressed concern when a medical issue arose. Newspaper clippings featuring Erin and her therapy dog bookmark somehow became attached to the fridge for all to see; that made me very proud and happy. She showed up to brighten the life's of the employees and customers alike and the feeling was quite mutual as that beaming grin told everyone she was a girl who came to socialize and maybe gain a few dog biscuits in the process :) In jest it was said she was the Gallery Espresso's mascot and that was probably true as no other creature had such admirers or a profound effect upon the establishment as a whole.

 Making Friends

Over the years many dogs trod indoors upon Erin's turf but most never returned after their initial appearance; they would bark or whimper, leap upon the couches, counter surf, or perform other undesirable behaviors. Whenever a dog acted unruly the owner (Judy) and I would exchange glances as if to say "that animal must go" meanwhile I was glowing inside with pride as my girl lay near my feet napping or patiently waiting for attention or food from a soft-hearted tourist. Erin attended many art exhibits on the property; she was invited as her social reputation was beyond pristine and in truth, she usually behaved better than most humans including myself. We scoped out the hanging pieces of art while taking advantage of the free wine and platters of food, when nobody was looking I'd toss her chunks of cheese or a variety of meats that disappeared in an instance; we were the live action version of Scooby and Shaggy. There were always friends at these gatherings and none were surprised to see Erin whom ventured where other dogs only dreamt of; the mental image of her knocking over a table of food thankfully never occurred and everyone went home fat and happy.

 The weather in Savannah could be judged by whether Erin and I were sitting indoors or outside with a group of friends who made the Gallery Espresso a second home. In decent weather conditions we would all sit together near the doorway where we attempted to solve the world's problems through political discussions while Erin greeted the hordes of tourists with her million dollar smile and an enthusiastic tail wag. The hearts of so many were won after gazing into her eyes; these visitors would pet her while speaking of their dog left behind in a kennel, etc...Erin was content being a surrogate dog if that meant lots of loving for her. Over the years many regular customers became friends to us, they showed much concern when we didn't make an appearance for awhile and it was very worrisome when a visit to vet was the primary reason since they had witnessed her grow from a youngster to a senior citizen.

In Loving Memory

The morning following Erin's passing I went to The Gallery Espresso but for the first time I had a heavy heart walking through the doorway; my happiness was replaced with sorrow and grief. Wearing dark shades and in obvious emotional distress I stumbled to the counter. "Where's Erin?" inquired Judy. Unable to speak I shook my head as if everything was a bad dream. "She's gone" is all I could manage in reply. "She's gone" I reiterated and then it hit home for the staff whom came around for a tearful embrace. What a somber scene it was as the events of the medical nightmare were retold; Erin visited less than 48 hours before thus it was a shock that she was now deceased. It was my desire to inform Judy and her staff before anyone else since they had been so good to her and made us most welcome for almost a decade; from the cradle to the grave sums up the relationship very nicely. In one final gesture the staff prominently displayed the tribute article to Erin in the Savannah newspaper; it was hung for all who entered to see and it was touching in many ways. These days every hint of her physical existence is gone but not in the hearts of those she touched and those numbers are many. For myself, the visits aren't as frequent without Erin but I still make appearances to say hello to our friends and friends they'll always remain... RIP Erin!!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Men Cry Too

Results from numerous studies reveal that men cry more often at the death of their beloved pet than almost all other events in their respective life's including deaths of family members, close friends, and the birth of their children. Certainly I can be included in those studies as I unapologetically shed many tears upon the passing of Erin. To mourn and shed a tear over the passing of a long-time friend is to acknowledge the value and enrichment the animal brought into the relationship, they ask for little in return but give unconditional love and friendship until their last breath.  As a male I feel there is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about as we grieve the loss of a beloved pal. The bond between a man and animal can run very deep and is not easily untangled upon death, many emotions can complicate the process so it's more common for men to cry than in past years when it was deemed as a sign of weakness or not a masculine trait.

Humans are often responsible for every aspect of a pet's life from the litter to the grave hence death is a difficult pill to swallow; every past decision regarding the animal's welfare is dissected and analyzed in every way possible. On a personal level, from the day Erin was taken from her mother's side to the moment she stopped breathing it was my decisions that shaped her life and influenced her health hence the amount of years upon this earth and that's the crux of it all... a dog's life and fate lie solely in the hands of their human friend. From dog food to social playmates to which veterinarian is frequented every option is scrutinized to determine if more time could be spent among the living and we all feel guilty that our beloved pets were let down in some fashion. Everything was sacrificed in hopes of giving Erin the life that few other dogs have experienced and while I'm content for the most part; many tears have been released in thinking that her lifespan was shortened due to a poor decision I made.

In the wake of Erin's passing more men than I'm able to recall have confessed their own stories of sorrow and tears upon the death of a pet, it's certainly not a sign of weakness and I actually regard it as a honorable trait; to connect with and to remember such creatures with tears is the ultimate tribute. It seems a million tears have flowed since my own decent into hell began and while I expect to show an outward form of loss for the remainder of my days it's obvious the frequency of tearful sessions are lessening as the days go by. In the beginning it was impossible to get through a day without several mournful wailing periods and no doubt many folks were alarmed at the sight of me appearing in public with blood-shot eyes, moisture laden cheeks, and a stream of tears but it didn't matter as nothing did but to mourn and survive the ordeal. Those times of sobbing uncontrollably are certainly dwindling as the pain is being replaced with memories of love and friendship but I have no qualms of sobbing if needed and I absolutely refuse to allow anyone else to dictate when and how I can grieve.

If you spot me shedding a few tears don't be alarmed as I'm remembering the greatest friend one would ever have....

Tears are words the heart can't express

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Healing a Child's Heart

Sporting her therapy dog vest, colorful bandanna and a beaming smile Erin leapt from the backseat upon arrival at our destination, a retreat center located on the banks of the Savannah River. We've traveled to participate in a weekend grief camp for children from the ages of 6-17, the invitation to provide comfort to youngsters dealing with the death of a parent or sibling was eagerly accepted. Personally there was nothing more rewarding than watching the face of a youngster light up upon seeing Erin so there was no hesitation when asked if we'd be interested in spending some time with a group of children in various stages of grief. Arriving ahead of schedule she was allowed to explore the surroundings outside the wooded complex, underneath a canopy of majestic trees she ran from one trunk to another peering upward for signs of squirrels to harass but spotting nothing of interest, we made our way towards the complex.

Laughter mixed with jovial shrieks could be heard coming from behind a series of buildings so we headed in that direction, children divided into groups based upon their ages were under the supervision of camp counselors. After a round of introductions with the staff and what was expected of us, Erin and I wandered into the middle of a swarm of children whom were involved in every outdoor activity imaginable including swimming, basketball, kickball, and other hijinks’ that kids do when gathered together. Many kids rushed over to greet the dog crashing the party while others were having too much fun to even notice us but that was quite alright as this was their weekend to unwind and heal as desired. As we made our way around the edge of the pool to meet those stretching outward to pet Erin, an impromptu game of splash the dog took place; a handful of boys decided to splash water into her face which quickly drew the wrath of counselors who saw the entire scene unfold. It was certainly uncalled for but that goes with the territory and it was quickly forgotten by all involved.

Continuing to stroll about, stopping to engage in conversation as needed. Erin received much attention in the form of hugs, strokes, and compliments and her rapid tail wag told everyone that it was okay with her. However not every child was outgoing and gregarious as some were sitting alone mired in their own thoughts; I made sure we visited as many of these youngsters as possible in the allotted time. Sometimes it was obvious when a youngster was walled off from the world but if they showed the least bit of interest in Erin then usually I could get them to open up and forget about their troubles for a few minutes which was my ultimate goal. Not trained in grief counseling the details of death were avoided at all costs thus I concentrated on bringing a ray of happiness into their life; to witness a smile while bonding with Erin made everything worthwhile as whatever tragedy had befallen them was a distant memory for the time being. Children were fascinated by the vest adorned with various patches proclaiming "I'm friendly pet me" or "Therapy dog at work" and the younger inquisitive crowd couldn't resist asking "Why does your dog have a driver’s license?" as they examined the picture id validating her as a certified therapy dog; it was so cute to witness despite seeing it repeatedly over and over.

Erin and I were invited to join in on a therapeutic session where the grieving youngsters were asked to draw a picture of their deceased loved one as fondly remembered; on the plush carpeting the elementary school-age kids laid with their sketch paper. crayons and magic markers. Plopped down amongst the children was my fur kid who proved to be a major source of comfort during this difficult time, she stretched out near them as they lavished attention upon her while working on their assignment. Seems every child present connected with Erin in some manner which concluded with the presentation of the pictures and a few words being spoken about the artwork.

Sketch of a father as a fireman, mother's cooking dinner and many other scenarios were shown to the room often with much sadness and hesitation; I could only imagine the sorrow weighing them down at this difficult time. As the children spoke it was common to see Erin’s paw or floppy ear being caressed for support, the words were occasionally mingled with tears and vividly I recall one little girl who drew a picture of her baby brother with wings. Sobbing she said he was an angel now and all the while her free hand continually stroked Erin's side; the child drew much comfort and strength from my own angel. We participated in several other group sessions designed to soothe the aches where from a corner of the room I witnessed her continually lift the spirits of those around her; as a proud father and friend I heaped much praise and love upon her.

Outdoors we continued to spend quality time with the grieving as the situation dictated; Erin melted many hearts with those soulful eyes, calming center, and friendly demeanor. It's no secret that many kids are unable to communicate with parents or authority figures but therapy dogs are an effective tool because they don’t judge and many children felt comfortable enough to divulge personal information or let down their guard to shed some tears with Erin. Letting the child hold a portion of the leash empowers them, often they smile when I say "Erin trusts you" and while I pretend to be looking away, they engage in a round of dog/kid therapy with secrets being revealed that no one else is privy to. She focuses her concentration upon whoever is speaking while I sit nearby for reassurance but occasionally her gaze will turn towards me thus she's told "Daddy's here" thus she relaxes and continues to pour love from her untainted heart.

It was so rewarding on many levels as we got the chance to bond with many great kids, often opening up to Erin they revealed emotions and thoughts that could be told to no one else. To draw forth smiles was our aim and that goal was surely achieved but we also gained the trust of several despondent kids who needed a friend and found one in the form of Erin. A glimmer of hope could be seen as these grieving kids and dog bonded in a special way and their trust in us was justified as their words are forever sealed in the heart of Erin. For two more years we visited Grief Camp where a group of new children saddled with personal issues came to heal in their own way and there's no doubt Erin helped mend the ache in their hearts.  I'm unbelievably proud of Erin and her ability to touch the life of a grieving child; she possessed a gift to soothe the ache and she did it well.

God bless my Angel in Fur and the suffering children!!!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Understanding Grief

Grief is not universal. Not all deaths are equal, not all deaths carry the same weight across the spectrum. Often people believe they can relate to someone else's grief when in fact hey have no idea to the depth of sorrow and pain. While I appreciate all words of sympathy from whoever offers it up, most people have never had a relationship with a living soul as deep as the one I enjoyed with Erin and that stems from myself making her the center of the universe for nearly 12 years. How can the average person who kept a dog tethered to a tree in the backyard while offering that creature the bare necessities of life expect to understand what I felt when my angel passed away? His dog is a second thought while every decision I made for over a decade including employment opportunities and social events were done in the best interest of Erin. He shed a few tears, buried it in the back yard, and then replaced the dog the following day, that connection and bond is entirely different than the one I built to incredible heights.

It's difficult to relate when you haven't been immersed in such a relationship yourself and while I can envision the pain there's no way I'd understand the sorrow felt by a woman who lost her husband after a long marriage. I haven't been in her position and experienced 50 years of true love so how can I expect to truly fathom the heartwrenching agony and loneliness she feels upon his death. A father losing his child to cancer is totally foreign to those of us who have been spared the horrific journey and final outcome, we imagine the emotions as the child takes his final breath but in reality we have no clue. For someone to fully comprehend they must trod the same path, experience the peaks and valleys of that bond and only then will they be able to say they understand what lies in the heart and mind. The road one travels is specific to their situation and not easily understood by outsiders, unique emotions ensure the journey will be completed in isolation for the most part and while words can temporarily soothe the pain, the sufferer must find a way through the maze alone.

Everyone attach's a different value to life, some treat every death as a catastrophe event while others view every departure as insignificant and for them life resumes with little fanfare. Either way is acceptable as one must do what it takes to survive the recovery phase while putting themselves in the best position to continue on the path called life. We have no right to judge others afflicted with grief and no one should assume they can grasp the emotions I feel in the wake of Erin's death; to suffer a loss of the utmost degree is really unexplainable and it must be experienced first hand. The deaths of family and friends in the past were met with tears and a brief mourning period before resuming life but this has been different for many reasons; to lose a best friend, soul mate and outlet to the world in an instant is difficult to say the least. One must suffer physical, emotional, and mental breakdowns for an extended period in order to fathom what has beset me; the passing of Erin has been an unbelievable loss and no one will truly know what resides in my heart. My grief is an individual battle that can only be conquered by myself but that's not to say I must travel down the path alone so please come along if you wish... RIP Erin!!

Grief is itself a medicine. ~William Cowper, Charity

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

For Prosperity's Sake

It all started with a leather journal handcrafted in Italy, embossed with the crest of a lion it reminded me of days living in Europe with Erin. Such heraldic symbols were often in view flapping above castles, manors, etc thus the crest was very appealing and representative of our time residing abroad. Filled with gold-edged paper it was purchased shortly after relocating to America, I wanted to begin documenting the many amazing times we had across Europe so this would be the first step towards fulfilment of that goal. I realized to share the experience with such an amazing creature as Erin was rare and unique in many ways hence the fresh thoughts must be transferred from mind to paper as quickly as possible. Memory fades and facts becomes blurred over time so what is often recalled is not necessary the most accurate picture but something akin to a jigsaw puzzle missing several pieces and that's what I desperately wished to avoid.

Scrap pieces of paper and coffee shop napkins adorned with my chicken scratch were accumulated, organized, edited, and finally the most memorable times were entered into the soft leather journal which often accompanied us on our daily jaunts. While Erin stalked squirrels or socialized with tourists in Savannah's historic district I was jotting down a sentence here and there until the memory was ready to be recorded in the journal for prosperity's sake, then the process began again in earnest. Page by page the journal filled up with stories of travel and adventure, photos were inserted to visually enhance the tales and then select family members were given the keepsake to read as desired. Photos, brochures, maps, receipts etc were used to fill in the gaps especially when trying to remember the name of a hotel, restaurant or some obscure town where cows outnumber the citizens. Many travel related items were kept for no clear reason but they would serve a great purpose down the road as the journal and scrapbook came to life. .

Written in the 2003/2004 timeframe when Erin was a young spirited girl and my memories of Europe were vivid, those words jotted upon coffee-stained napkins would later serve as the blueprint upon which this blog is based. Over the years additional entries pertaining to significant events in her life were documented and I'm so very thankful that I had the vision to realize our friendship was worth recording for many reasons. Her passing would not happen for many years later and never did I believe the journal to be anything more than a personal account of our greatest days together but it has turned out to be a cherished treasure that has sparked an interest in her remarkable life amongst us. To open the journal is to rewind to a happier time in life when days where filled with love, friendship, and laughter and while the human mind will continue to erode with age the pages will always hold many precious memories.

A special pocket-sized journal was purchased shortly after Erin's passing and despite my sorrow I felt obligated to record every detail that my mind could bring forth. The aim was to document the period from the onset of her sickness through our final moments together but the act of putting those final 36 hours onto paper proved to be too difficult and painful a subject so on to other writing projects I ventured albeit the journal still sits upon the dining table waiting for me to complete my task. I believe that my written words hold a purpose that are beyond my understanding but they're meant for a larger audience than myself as Erin's story is too fascinating to not be shared with the masses. Many many years from now I'll have access to several journals filled with stories of love, friendship, and adventure; those pages will hold the most sacred memories with the best friend one could ever ask for....Hope you enjoy reading about her as much as I enjoy talking about her, thanks to all who share in Erin's life!!

Friday, June 3, 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 selected for publication. I'm proud of the story 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 guards 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!!