Precious was my girl from the first spring day in 1996 when I brought her home from the dog pound until her last day on earth in September 2001. After the unimaginable tragedies of September 11, how could anyone be expected to focus on the pain of losing a beloved dog?

Precious left this world on the afternoon of September 15, 2001, just a few days after that infamous day that shook our world to its very foundations. Everyone felt so much grief over the loss of so many people that no one seemed to be able to identify with my painful loss and I could not blame them.

How could I share with anyone how much Precious had taught me about the gift of love while the entire world was reeling from these monstrous deeds. But animals have the true gift of unconditional love and that was the lesson I learned from Precious.

On September 13, after spending three nights at the VetĎs office, I took Precious home for the last time in one last ditch of hope against hope that she would start to get better. She was much too tired to take the three-block walk home, but by taking slow, baby steps all the way, we were finally able to make it home to her big yard that she loved so much.

Precious climbed into my (or should I say, her) hammock and promptly prepared to take yet another long nap while I sat in a lawn chair by her side. It was a gorgeous Indian Summer day. With the late afternoon sun streaming through the branches of our splendid sheltering silver maple tree, we shared a few final hours together.

Suddenly Precious raised up from her deep sleep and put both paws on my knees and showered me with doggy kisses. Then she laid back down to resume her nap. But within a few more minutes, she again got up, put her paws on my lap and repeated covering my face with kisses. The whole thing had a magical, timeless quality about it.

I remember thinking how could this weak, exhausted little dog who could hardly raise her head get up enough energy to twice hoist herself up onto my lap and cover me with all those kisses? In retrospect I came to know that she was kissing me goodbye.

Two days later I had that terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that the end was very near. Precious had suffered a Grand Mall seizure so violent that we knew that it was time. After she recovered slightly, she went and laid down by the back gate to hide as she had done all through her failing health. I called to her from the gangway and heard myself say "Precious, itís time to go home." She understood.

Truly, dogs understand so much more than we give them credit for. She pulled herself up and came to me and slowly we took the final walk back to the vetís office. She was ready to go and she had accepted it.

Through all the tears I shed and the heartaches I endured with the pain of missing her beautiful presence, I now believe deep in my soul that the physical death of a much-loved animal companion is not the end. I know that we will see them again without the pain of watching them get sick or grow old and without the ache of eventual separation.

Each and every animal who loved us on earth has a place in heaven right by our side. In their pureness of heart they show us what a God-like love really is. Surely if love never dies, then the bond between us and our animals will be even stronger after we leave this earth than it was while they were here teaching us the great truth -- that in the vast configuration of the universe, love is really all there is.

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