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I think I first met Mistie about four years ago. A black Labrador retriever, she was a puppy rescued from a shelter in Tennessee about a decade ago.
Mistie and I became buddies then. About two years ago we became closer and spent more time together.
The first best thing for me about having Mistie around was the walks. It was so nice to roam the streets without women calling their children indoors and notifying local authorities. Mistie introduced me to a lot of folks.
I could hook Mistie to her leash, which gave her incredible excitement, and then she would pull me out the front door and through the neighborhood for a while. When she tired, I took over and eased her along.
She sniffed everything. Not a leaf was spared. When she came upon a good scent, her haunches hunkered and she could not be moved along easily.
Serenity ensued as Mistie's toenails clicked the walking rhythm upon the street surface. Our favorite time was the evening, with the moon rising and trees bowing toward us in gentle breezes.
We both enjoyed autumn leaves and cool, crisp winds. Mistie especially enjoyed accumulated snowfall and flakes melting upon her grandiose nose.
Sometimes people or other dogs came along. Mistie never met a living creature she didn't like. No one received more head pats and belly rubs and ear scratches... and butt sniffs.
And no dog kissed their appreciation in return quite like Mistie did. Her tongue always had a knack for slapping you in the nose.
At home there was always the snoring from a corner of the room. Mistie could snore with her eyes open. If human food was nearby, the snoring always appeared a bit closer.
Depending on the time of year, Mistie shed enough hair to make bald people salivate.
You could pet Mistie with your feet, she wouldn't mind. You could talk to her across the room and her ears would perk up and wiggle.
Whenever I arrived at the house, her front legs bounced off the ground. She immediately asserted her attention, telling me how happy she was to see me. That always made me very happy.
Mistie would moo like a cow while wiggling back and forth on the floor, upside-down. Later she'd flop down the other way, appearing like a bearskin rug in the middle of the room.
Then, at potty time, it's not an easy chore making a 100-pound snoring dog rise and visit the back yard. But she would do it for a pig ear, and she would consume that ear in world-record time, not one crumb left behind.
A typical day would be happy Mistie resting in the doorway watching birds and squirrels, her eye following an occasional walker or vehicle, and then...
Mistie was very protective of her home when she needed to be. Apparently the only thing that ever came close to disturbing that solitude was the United States Postal Service.
I still wonder what those postal carriers think. I know that if I let her outside she would just kiss them on the nose and wait for her ear scratching. But they didn't know that.
Mistie enjoyed a full, rich life, especially in her later years, with lots of love from those around her. Her graying chin was just a notable touch of class for the old girl.
When she went to sleep for the final time, I cried like a baby. And I was almost mad at myself, wondering why a grown human, a sensible man working at a newspaper, would allow such emotion over a dog.
I thought about all the neighbors who stopped by the week prior to wish Mistie well. I thought about all the neighborhood kids that saw this giant house pet and reacted by running up and hugging her.
Mistie wasn't that kind of pet that wore sweaters and Halloween costumes. She wasn't glamorous nor well-groomed. She was big and occasionally overweight and sometimes dirty and sometimes stinky. Sometimes very stinky.
She consumed food like a Hoover vacuum and filled the bottoms of my socks with short black hairs.
Yet I'll see the corner where she liked to sleep, or the empty dog dish, or the moon rising over a gently-swaying tree in the neighborhood, and I immediately feel sad again.
What in the world made this pooch cause such emotion?
When I grew up, we didn't have pets. I was the youngest of five siblings; if anything, I was the family pet.
In my adult life I dealt with the loss of family members and friends. None of them hit me quite the same way this dog did in terms of emotion.
But then, none of them walked with me on a daily basis, especially in the late evenings. None of them were willing to eat what I didn't want that was still on my plate. Not one of them ever let me pass gas and then blame it on them.
I couldn't sing constantly in a silly voice to anyone else. No one else would bring back the tennis ball. No one else would defend the front door with a flourish when I asked who was there.
Not one of them could consistently bring me pure happiness on a daily basis, especially on days I really needed it. None of them sat on the porch with me and allowed me to gather my thoughts and find my inner peace while rubbing their neck where the collar nagged.
A dog is indeed man's best friend, and in just two years Mistie became the best friend I could've ever asked for.
When you think about it, back to the old days of your best friends growing up, weren't some of them stinky, too? And it wasn't so bad, right?
I guess it's not so bad that I still feel a little sad when things remind me of Mistie. Eventually, the thought of Mistie herself brings complete happiness. When you look at it that way, it's like she's still here, which is great.
In time there will likely be another close friend of the four-legged loyal variety. If so, I'll credit Mistie for introducing me to that friend, too.
Until such time, I'll continue to smile at the thought of angels rubbing Mistie's belly and scratching her constantly-itchy ears, all singing an ode to Tinky Pooch.