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Judith Frizlen: Faithful companion will be sorely missed

Picture a beautiful, sunny and pleasantly warm day in June. I was sitting on the front porch reading when the family car pulled in the driveway. The door opened and up the stairs bounded our new pet. I stood to greet her and she jumped up and licked my face.

“She’s so big,” I commented. “And energetic,” I added. The dog twisted her body and wagged her tail. My family explained that her nickname at the SPCA was “roto-rooter.” The image of a large motorized corkscrew was fitting.

She was a 6-month-old, 60-pound rescue dog with tattoos to prove it. We had a cat already, so were glad that our dog had passed the compatibility test. Once in her new home, the compatibility disappeared. After attempting to desensitize her, we gave up and focused on the many skills she needed to learn in order to live in our home and neighborhood.

The animals worked it out. The cat remained on the second floor where she had food, litter and plenty of room to roam and cozy spots to cuddle up and sleep, and the dog took dominion of the first floor and backyard.

The children named her Felice because she was happy to join our family, as evidenced by the constant tail wagging and torso rotating. She was beautiful, strong and had a lot to learn, but so did I. Felice was my first dog. I led the training brigade since I was the most disturbed by chewed pillows and batches of cookies disappearing from the kitchen counter.

We got to work and shored up the fence. We remembered to close doors and gates behind us and not to leave out any food anywhere! We practiced walking her, but when she proved strong and willful enough to pull me wherever she wanted to go, we hired a trainer. She showed me how to walk Felice on a leash until I learned the art. Felice responded to consistency and clear commands.

While she learned, she grew to weigh over 100 pounds. People on the street would comment on her beauty or cross the street because of her size. Her bark was deep and she took the job of protecting me seriously, so any dog passing by would elicit a baritone bark. I enjoyed our daily walks before dinner in all kinds of weather.

Our children grew up and moved out of the house. My husband and I sat with the dog evenings; she beamed at us with big brown eyes and wagged her tail when we looked her way. She was loyal and unconditionally loving.

When Felice got sick, we made her food. When she became incontinent, we washed her bed and cleaned the floor. When she had trouble walking, we slowed down and shortened our walks. When she stopped eating and drinking and slept all day in the shade of the pine tree, we called Lap of Love veterinary services.

During her last week, visitors came to say goodbye, while we watched and celebrated her graceful acceptance. When the vet came to our home to put her to sleep, it was a beautiful day, much like the one when she first arrived. Felice lay down in the grass; we all gathered around while she slowly and peacefully took her last breath. Afterward we cried, reminisced and cried some more.

Thanks, Felice for teaching me to take a daily walk (a practice I will continue), to understand why people love their dogs so much and to let go. I will never forget her. Now there is another animal that’s happy. The cat is coming downstairs again to sit with me while I read in the evening.