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Ella is a beautiful and intelligent girl who loves meeting new people and running around. In her previous home, Ella and her son would actually jump the 41/2-foot fence to go exploring. She knows commands like “sit” and “paw,” and is very eager to earn more with her family. Ella also sometimes like to play with squeaky toys, but mostly she likes to be around people to whom she can give kisses. 410-833-8848; <a href="http://bmorehumane.org/" target="_blank">bmorehumane.org</a>.
Ella is a beautiful and intelligent girl who loves meeting new people and running around. In her previous home, Ella and her son would actually jump the 41/2-foot fence to go exploring. She knows commands like “sit” and “paw,” and is very eager to earn more with her family. Ella also sometimes like to play with squeaky toys, but mostly she likes to be around people to whom she can give kisses. 410-833-8848; bmorehumane.org. (Courtesy of Baltimore Humane Society, Handout photo)

Last month's storm reminded me of the weekend my wife and I got married at Saints Phillip and James Church near Johns Hopkins University: a lot of snow on the ground, a little panic and a lot of good will despite the circumstances. There were high hopes for the newlyweds and a lot of food and laughter in the face of bad weather. We did not know what the future would bring, but we were optimistic. Children, a single-family house, promotions — it was all possible, and it all looked good back in 1987. The 29 years since have brought us two houses, three children and five dogs. They have brought death, too.

Her mother first, just two years after we were married; my mother 11 years ago, and my father just two years ago. In between, many aunts and uncles, some with roles in our lives and some not. Last month we learned that our old dog is dying, and her time with us is now short — a month or two. We've done this before. Our first dog died when our kids were little; our oldest child's first word, her name: "Ginger." Another dog was with us only two years and died of kidney failure. But Sasha is our family dog, the dog of my children's childhood. We adopted her while on a family vacation. She is the dog my little girls dressed up, the dog my 18 year old cried on after a boyfriend broke her heart, the dog my youngest lay on the floor with the day she left for college last August, the dog I walked when I felt low. When some future credit card company asks a child of mine the security question: "Your favorite childhood pet?" they will answer "Sasha."

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Her coat is now wheat and white, faded from youthful caramel, her retriever's body skinny, lumpy with cancer, milky-eyed. We don't worry about her diet now; whatever she can eat, well that's just fine with us. The weekend of this January's blizzard she sat out on our deck on a small space we had shoveled out for the dogs. A night that seemed fit for neither man nor beast was fit for her; the wind made her white fur fly on clear winter air as she sat outside. I wondered if the cold relieved any pain that the cancer brought or if she just loved the scene; she did not complain.

My wife and I have celebrated all of the big events that we imagined 29 years ago: childbirth, anniversaries, licenses, proms and graduations. Those big days are all now a jumble, one birthday party runs into another; Christmases much the same, the kids just older in each picture. Death marks the years in a different way, death shatters the present and crystallizes the past: the Mother's Day before mom died, that last Christmas Pop was still here, the year that our youngest left for college and the dog died.

The same things that helped us weather child rearing have made death bearable as well: love, family, patience, tears, laughter and the tincture of time. Our dogs have been a constant through these years, amiable and reliable; when the better became worse, the dogs were nonjudgmental. My wife and I will celebrate this anniversary quietly: a weekend away, a nice dinner out. We'll be thankful that things have gone well, that we've been healthy and our kids are now strong young adults. We'll chat about the good times, and we'll talk about the people and dogs that have escorted us on this journey. And while the 29th is not a milestone anniversary, it is indelibly marked for us: the last one with our family dog, the dog that helped us raise our kids, a dog that was a friend to our friends, a generous companion in sickness and in health, in times better and worse. A dog that made our married life so much the richer.

Stephen B. Awalt is an attorney in Towson. His email is sba@kdattorneys.com.

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