When I think about my life with dogs, I can never quite decide who is luckier….them for having me or me for having them.
From their perspective, life is one long joy ride.
Their mornings in the dog park are followed by long naps in the truck waiting for me to get out of school. Then it is back to the dog park for an hour of squirrel chasing. After that, napping resumes.
The end of their day means more dog park socializing, dinner and the long, four-legs-up-in-the-air sleep until the pattern repeats itself the next day.
But I have it good too. My dogs are a constant source of amusement, company and comfort.
And I've been lucky that my dogs have lived long full lives… except for Lily.
I met Lily, a black lab and greyhound mix, one blistering hot day in August about seven years ago.
As I drove along Davis Road, Lily was darting in and out of the vineyards, lost and frightened.
I pulled off the road to see if I could catch her. Normally, when dogs see strangers coming, they bolt in the other direction.
But as soon as I held the door open for her, Lily jumped in and we headed home.
Lily found a shady spot, ate, curled up and went to sleep.
And that was pretty much how every other day in Lily's life went. When she wasn't racing through wide-open spaces with her body close to the ground, she was asleep.
Lily and her pal Fido, an English Springer Spaniel, made a fine pair. They loved the life of leisure.
And nothing gave them as much pleasure as their long swims at the irrigation canal every summer day.
Fido dove in first with Lily in hot pursuit. Lily couldn't match Fido in the water. But when they ran along the levee, Lily left Fido in a cloud of dust.
And that's the way I'll remember Lily…running along the levee taunting Fido with her sudden bursts of speed.
One day toward the end of summer, Lily lost interest. When she was in the park or at the canal, she looked longingly back at the truck telling me she wanted to rest.
She ate less and slept more.
Even Fido couldn't bring Lily around.
Dr. Richard Peckham, who has cared for my dogs since I moved to Lodi, performed every test known to veterinary medicine.
But Lily slowly faded away.
Who can say if it is easier to lose your pets abruptly in an accident or to watch helplessly as they slowly but inevitably die? That is a question I can't answer.
For the first weeks after Lily died, I stayed away from the park. I knew that my concerned dog park friends, who had noticed Lily's steep decline, would be asking about her.
I didn't bring it up with my friends at school either. I just couldn't talk about it.
And for the first time in my life after Lily died, I owned only one dog.
But then, as often happens with matters concerning dogs, Dr. Peckham called me.
"I might have a dog for you," he said.
So on a trial basis, Sparkle Plenty moved in. Only eleven months old, Sparkle is an Australian Shepherd with lots of get up and go.
Not surprisingly, Sparkle made the cut. Now she is a full-fledged member of the house.
And I'm happy to report that she and Fido get along famously. Their thing is wrestling with long, low guttural grunts.
That's not to say that Fido doesn't miss Lily. I know he does. Often when he takes his seat in the back of the truck, I see him look over to Lily's space. Is he, I wonder, expecting her to return?
I can't think of Lily without remembering all my other wonderful dogs that have gone on: Howie, Spot, Russie, LuLu to name but a few.
During the times that I think about them all, I am reminded of the words of Sir Walter Scott, 18th Century poet and dog lover:
"I have often thought of the final cause of dogs' having such short lives for if we suffer so much in losing a dog after an acquaintance of only ten or 12 years, what would it be if they were to live double that time?"
Maybe Scott is right. Although I only knew Lily seven years, I cannot imagine that I could possibly feel her loss more deeply than if I knew her twice the time.
I do know this: I miss Lily more than words can ever express.