Maddie and familyRushing back into the house to grab my lifeline to the world, my cell phone, I’d have only a minute to spare before my listing appointment when I came face-to-face with a large yellow puddle on the white living room carpet. Cowering in the corner was the guilty party. The damn dog was once again testing my patience.

In 2001, I went against my better judgment and purchased my son, Tim, the best present ever – a pound puppy. For the next 14 years, I had a love/hate relationship with this creature whose erratic behavior left me questioning if she was high on drugs.

Having had pets before, I knew, in the beginning, Maddie would be a lot of work. There’d be early morning potty breaks long before the sun showed her face, chewed up shoes, and uncontrollable energy, but for some strange reason, the electric current that flowed through this creature’s body was just as highly charged at 14 years as it was at one. Her excessive barking and need for attention never diminished, and I became exhausted.

We all know a pet adds a lot to a family, but what I didn’t know was Maddie was part of a divine conspiracy to teach me the true meaning of love far beyond what I was raised to understand. After Tim left in 2006, the next nine years slowly licked away the stillness a childless house brings. No more did the revolving door twirl with the comings and goings of my kids and their friends. No more feeding an army but a Lean Cuisine for one. And, no more wondering what time my babies would tiptoe in late at night for that last kiss of the day, for they were off exploring their lives, and I was in a world by myself.

One evening, as I readied for bed, I had a revelation: I wasn’t alone at all. There, by my bedside, lay Maddie, just as she did every night.

Because I was so consumed with my life and my obligation to her, I never stopped to think what this dog had always done for me. Besides howling at strangers, letting them know she was in charge, and I was protected, Maddie quietly comforted me in my lonely moments. With her head on my lap as I watched TV, her body next to my desk while I worked in my office, and the look on her happy face each time I walked through the door, she quietly said, “I’m here. I love you.”

Last month, Maddie was called home. One minute she was her crazy self, barking at the gardener, the next she was not. Rushing to the vet, we discovered an organ had burst in her abdomen. Making the painful decision to put her down, I sat in a private room tearfully saying my goodbyes. I do believe she sensed my angst over the difficult decision, because before the vet came in, she put her head on my lap, looked into my eyes, then slipped away on her own, peacefully, taking away my final responsibility.

It’s always been easy for me to love things I understood, but what that precious dog taught me was the true spiritual connection we develop when we love something just for who they are, despite their annoyances and any preconceived expectations.

The house is now painfully quiet, but I’m forever grateful for a divine conspiracy in the shape of a dog that came into my life. I’m a better person, and all because she loved me.