Robert U. Montgomery

'She Makes Me Smile Every Day'

Ursa

With Ursa (in photo), a stray Lab-mix pup I adopted in 1998, I began to understand that dogs are at their finest and happiest when we treat them as companions instead of just pets. As a consequence, we are better and happier too. I'm not sure how this happened. Call it sudden insight coupled with long-overdue maturity on my part. Certainly Ursa needed no epiphany to consider herself my companion, just as Squeaky and Happy didn't decades before.

What did being a companion mean? Well, it meant she stayed in the house with me and went outside only when I did, or when she wanted to soak up some sun on the deck. We walked together twice a day, every day. She napped by my feet when I read, watched TV, or worked at the computer. She went fishing and camping with me. As I lay in my sleeping bag, she'd often put her head on my chest. When the weather was cool enough to allow her to stay in the car, she went shopping and ran errands with me.

And, yes, I talked to her.

When Ursa died, I mourned as deeply for her as I did when my mother passed away four years earlier. That might seem a crass comparison for those who've never acknowledged a dog to be more than a pet. But those who truly love dogs will understand. The depth of grief is not determined by species, but by the intimacy of the relationship.

In dealing with my grief, I waited too long—nearly a year—to adopt Pippa, the amazing dog this book is mostly about.

I went to the Farmington Pet Adoption Center (FPAC), a no-kill shelter in Missouri, with the intent of finding a pup. None were available. So, I decided to take a chance and adopt a two-year-old black mixed breed. What sold me was her sweet and calm disposition in the wake of all the canine bedlam in the kennels around her.

I'm not sure where in the adoption process I learned this, but Pippa had spent all of her life at the shelter, surviving heartworm infection, as well as two bouts with mange. What that meant, I later realized, was that she never got to be a puppy. Pippa had little or no socialization and had never bonded with anyone. She didn't know how to give or receive affection. Dog toys were a mystery and held absolutely no interest. Any abrupt noise or sudden movement frightened her, sometimes into mindless panic.

By my side, Pippa discovered the outside world and, despite her delayed development, blossomed into an intelligent, playful, loving companion. Incredibly, four years later, she's still learning, evolving, and becoming ever more endearing. Perhaps all dogs are like that when we allow them to be. But Pippa was a blank slate when I first brought her home, having missed the most formative years of a dog's life. Awareness of that has sharpened my focus to note, cherish, and catalogue nearly every step in her remarkable journey.

Also, the love, affection, and devotion she now gives generously to me makes me happy beyond words, as does her infectious enthusiasm for life. As I've told my friends so many times that I'm certain they are tired of hearing it, "She makes me smile every day."

--- Excerpt from Pippa's Journey