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My weekend was…difficult, to put it lightly. I had one of those life-altering changes to make, a decision I did not come to easily or quickly, but pondered and weighed. It was one of those decisions you make when you’re in an unhealthy relationship with someone you love with your whole heart, the kind that you know you cannot come out of easily, but still must be act upon. And no, for those of you who may be worrying, I did not break up with Joe. I decided after volunteering my photography services for almost a year, that it was time for me to leave my local shelter and move on.

While I’m not sure where my journey will take me, leaving something you love is always difficult. It’s a universal yet strangely personal feeling, we can all empathize but for some reason it makes us feel oddly alone. That’s where I found myself last night. Joe was already asleep, and I couldn’t help but toss and turn. I got up and went downstairs to try and edit some photos from a recent shoot, but my mind wasn’t in it. I found myself sitting on the couch, staring into the darkness and feeling sorry for myself when heavy, clunky footsteps met my ears.

Panzer is navigating the steps more carefully these days, but we try our best not to let it get to us. He’s good about knowing his own limits, except when it comes to tennis balls, of course. While the sound of his steps is changing day by day, I know it anywhere. He pulled me out of myself, and I turned and saw him slowly making his way down the steps. With the purpose only a dog has, he walked right over to the couch, put one paw up, then the other and drug his back legs behind him. He promptly curled into a ball and sat there, staring at me. I smiled and pet his soft fur and thought to myself that there’s a kind of loyalty you can only find in a rescued dog. I continued to brood for a bit before I decided to try and take a melatonin and get some sleep. I stood up, and Panzer followed. Like I do every night, I grabbed his collar gently to steady him on our way back up the steps (up is harder on him than down), and we made our way upstairs together. When we got there, I lifted him onto the bed and crawled in.

But Panzer and Shelby didn’t take their normal spots on the bed. Instead, they both shimmied into the space between Joe and myself, as one, army crawling forward. It seemed an impossibly small space for one hundred fifty pounds of German shepherd. It was like they were casting a spell to fit there or defying the laws of physics. When they were as close as they could be, they simultaneously licked my nose, just once, then sighed deeply and put their heads on my chest, so with one hand I could pet them both.

I watched the two in the dark, barely able to see anything but Panzer’s glowing eyes and the tan outline of Shelby’s ears and all my self-pity melted into a feeling of helpless, guilty joy. The emotion pummeled me like a wave crashing against a rock, and tears started fresh down my cheeks. I pet them and thought to myself that the simple love of a dog is the world’s greatest gift, the most confusing miracle. How can it be that I’m worthy of this kind of unconditional adoration, despite all the mistakes I’ve made? How can these two display such quiet comfort to a soul in need when there have been times that they’ve been in need, and I’ve failed to notice? Why did God create for man such a deserving creature?

As I drifted to sleep with their breathing as my metronome, I thought to myself that a dog’s mind is the place we should all strive to be. As the Thanksgiving season approaches, I have to say – I’m thankful for my dogs, immensely grateful for their light and their life and their love, however fleeting it may be.