Six and a half years ago, Precious came to live with me. She is a black Labrador Retriever that my brother and his family rescued from a shelter. After a year of being part of their family, a cross-country move made it impossible for them to keep her, so she came to live with me. That was May 2004.

Though I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment, I thought I was up for an energetic Lab because I lived just a couple of blocks from the Monon Trail, a busy Indianapolis greenway, where bicyclists, joggers, and dog walkers abound. I romantically pictured Precious and I logging many miles happily walking the trail, but on the first day I took her out, she got so excited at the sight of another dog that she took off running and pulled me down on the ground. In front of everyone.

I quickly jumped up, shook off concerned citizens, and promptly headed home. We had a lot of work to do before we could walk on the Monon again.

Precious lived with me in two different apartments, enduring long leash walks on paved sidewalks just to do her business. When she had opportunities to visit my parents’ farm and run off-leash in their big yard, she was in heaven. She chased cats, barked bravely from the car at the cows but wouldn’t go near them in person, and always found her way out to the barn where there was all kinds of stuff to sniff and eat that was actually off limits.

When we finally moved to our first house, Precious’ inner watch dog emerged. With three entrances and windows on all sides, she spent the first few nights in her new home pacing and finding a way to watch all the doors at the same time. Eventually, she began sleeping next to my bed, but if ever there was an overnight guest, she would sleep in the hallway between the two bedrooms and between us and the doors to outside. She was extremely protective.

When Precious came to me, she was already house broken and never even tried getting on the furniture. She did like to eat things, though. Occasionally, I would come home to find something missing, or a pile of vomit containing something I never knew was missing. She snatched eggs and apples, ate most of a blanket once, and consumed the first few chapters of Genesis out of a leather-covered Bible. Her most memorable meal was a pair of gardening gloves, which I didn’t even know were missing until they showed up in one of the piles.

Speaking of eating, Precious’ one joy in life is food. She loves food of all kinds: dog food, of course, but also any scrap of anything that might fall from the counter while I am cooking. I started out never feeding her people food, but eventually those pitiful eyes secured pieces of toast or chunks of muffin directly from the table. It was a horrible habit that led to all kinds of begging, but it made her so wonderfully happy. Her favorite snack was popcorn. Though she was glad to eat from my hand or from the floor, the whole experience was improved for her when she could catch it flying through the air with her teeth.

Through the years, I always resisted being one of “those” people who slept with their dog. For one thing, Precious is a big shedder, and the thought of handfuls of black hair in my bed gave me the heebie jeebies. For another thing, she is a dog.

As Precious grew older, however, she got bolder about jumping up onto the bed. First, she started doing it when I wasn’t home. Then, one night during a thunderstorm (which she hates), she jumped right on the bed and curled into the blankets like she owned the place. I was too tired to fight with her, so I just curled up and went back to sleep myself. What a mistake.

Over the past couple of years, Precious and I have gone back and forth over whether she gets to sleep in my bed or not. I bought her her own bed to put right next to mine, but she was no dummy. It’s a lot colder down there at night. Slowly, I have come to realize that I am one of “those” people.

I am one of those people in the world that let a dog really get into my heart.

That’s why this evening, I am consumed by a great sadness as I spend my last evening with Precious. I’ve known something was wrong with Precious for a few weeks now. It started when she began to eat her dinner slowly. And eventually, she wouldn’t eat at all. A couple of trips to the vet indicated an infection, and after a few days on an antibiotic, she seemed to be perking up. But there have been many dips, too. And over the past few days she has refused to eat anything. When I visited a new vet today, a quick examination revealed the worst.

I don’t know how I am possibly going to walk her into that vet clinic again tomorrow knowing what awaits her. I don’t know how I am going to come home and not find her waiting at the door for me. I don’t know how I am going to gather up all her blankets and bones, bag up all the old dog food and medicines, and vacuum up all the dog hair. I don’t know how I am going to sleep at night without Precious on watch.

But I do know that tonight I am going to lay on the floor with Precious. I am going to pet her and sing to her and tell her what a good dog she has been. And I am going to be so thankful that Jesus gave me a dog like Precious to fill a little empty spot in my heart.