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Hounded By Grief Over A Canine Companion

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Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh is a writer, mom and dog-lover currently living in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

He has been trouble.

From the first second he stepped out of my car and ran far, far away to the recent whole chicken episode in the backyard. From the tunnels he dug under our fences to the path he swam to freedom when we lived on Chesapeake Bay. From the squirrels he treed and dismembered to the skunk that sprayed up his nose.

He has been a difficult Hound.

He has had fleas, ticks and worms, weeping eyes and seeping cysts. His first surgery cost more than my first car. Despite his slender frame, he has fought every dog he has ever come upon unleashed. Though he is neither strategic nor wise, Hound holds his own in these scuffs because he fights like a weasel: He bites hard and never lets go.

But he kept me company when I lived alone in Seattle and has barked off more predators than I care to count, including the thieves who broke in and stole tools while I slept. If Hound could have opened the French doors, I'd still have that nail gun, and he probably would have used it on the intruders himself.

Before bed, I always say, "Good boy, Hound. Good boy." Based on his history, he can have absolutely no idea what these words mean.

He's run away in swamps, forests and subdivisions. He's chased every motorcycle, no matter how far from our home it blazed. I imagined one day that's how he would go, a flash of brown and white loping away with my heart.

Instead Hound died of cancer. Not from a snakebite, a car accident or chocolate.

I found him at the top of the stairs. I put my head to his chest, unsure whether I heard his heart beating or mine. He was still warm when I carried him to the car, still soft as the vet laid him on the doggie stretcher and pronounced him gone. I have bid farewell to grandparents, neighbors and classmates, but I did not cry for them like I did for my Hound. He was my first dog, the great canine love of my life.

We shared only a decade, but I can hardly remember life before. I have imagined him into it all. We are children together: I'm climbing a tree with Hound nipping at my heels. He is barking at my first boyfriend and waiting at the back door when I tiptoe in after curfew. Hound is eating pizza in my college dorm. He nibbles on my bouquet as I prepare to walk down the aisle.

I am torn between being glad he's at peace and hoping he haunts me, not unlike a dog version of Patrick Swayze in Ghost. Dogs love us like we wish we could love others; they are faithful where we are feckless. For as long as they are able, they endure.

So today I'm wearing sweat pants, crying over chew toys and wondering about the future. I'm looking for my next big leap, a jump Hound knew we could no longer make together, but something I suspect he did not want me to miss.

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