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February 18, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Heart dogs: Nancy Bartley and Guess


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Have you ever had one of those special animals in your life that you couldn't have lived without? Who taught you more about living and loving than any other worldly creature?

These are heart dogs, once-in-a-lifetime treasures that nest in our hearts and stay forever. In a fitting celebration of them this Valentine's Day week, The Seattle Times pet blog asked seven local dog people to remember and honor their heart dogs in essays and photos.

Nancy Bartley is a Seattle Times reporter. She lives with a rescue Doberman, Krista, who also loves to hike, and a cat, Sparks.

•   •   •

By Nancy Bartley

He wanted a Doberman. I was content with a cat.

He fell in love with a leggy, black pup with saucers for paws. I wasn't so sure about this lumbering youngster who buried my socks among the raspberry plants, presented visitors with offerings from my laundry basket and enthusiastically greeted everyone by putting her paws on their shoulders and licking their faces.

Guess, as my son named the pup, would become a dog who not only stole socks, shoes and underwear, but hearts as well.

Although my son promised to come home from college every weekend to take care of her, within a few weeks he fell in love again. This time the big brown eyes and dark hair belonged to a pre-law student he'd eventually marry.

Guess would become mine, oddball name and all. And I'd be stuck answering the question over and over.

"What's your dog's name?''

"Guess.''

"Fido? Blackie?''

"No, Guess.''

"I am guessing.''

Guess was a rapidly growing powerhouse who turned somersaults in obedience class when I tried to get her to walk on a leash, who coughed up a rock in the middle of class and loved to sit up in the front seat, one paw resting on my shoulder, as I drove down the road.

Despite the errors of her ways, she rapidly became my best friend, my protector and companion in my empty nest. As a newly divorced woman, I was having a difficult time adjusting to life without my husband, stepchildren or my college-student son.

Guess was less than a year old when she broke her toe while chasing squirrels in the back yard. It seemed like it would be a simple fix. The vet put a cast on her that went from her toe to elbow. She chewed it off. He put it back, gave her a sedative, which required me to put her in a crate so the drunken Dobie wouldn't hurt herself. She dismantled it once again. Back to the vet we went. Again and again.

She was supposed to wear it for several months, but we were not making progress. We added an Elizabethan collar. She ran into the house, bent it and chewed the cast again.

Gradually, the time passed, and we were closing in on the time when her toe would be healed when once again she chewed up her cast. I became innovative; I slipped her leg into a pantyhose sock, bracing the toe with poly fiber. Then I supported her leg with old running shoe inserts, wrapped it with elastic bandage and duct tape. I put her in her crate, gave her a sedative and went for a 30- minute walk. When I returned the cast was gone. Not a shred was left. That night she began to vomit.

A trip to the emergency vet followed. Some $2,000 later she was her old self. And forever after when someone asked about her name, I said she was Guess, as in "Guess, what the dog ate?''

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Coming home always meant being greeted by Guess at the fence. Photo by Nancy Bartley

Guess loved hiking and pulling me on cross-country skis. She loved water and once leapt into a community swimming pool, requiring me to get in fully clothed to fish her out.
She loved people. On Halloween she willingly sported a pink ballerina costume, quietly sat at the neighbor's door, empty trick-or-treat bag in front of her, while I rang the doorbell and hid.

Slowly my life changed to include more friends.

I found roommates, who never knew they were really brought into the house to be dog-sitters. One roommate, who had lost his son in a traffic accident, found he couldn't take life too seriously when he was chasing a Doberman around the yard trying to retrieve his socks.

The most poignant moment between Guess and I came when one night when I was not feeling well. I have partial complex seizures, and keeping them under control requires rest, something I'm not good at getting.

I was working late at the computer when she began to bark and bat me with her paw. Although I'd tell her to lie down, she persisted in barking and whirling around until I got up. Then she ran downstairs. I expected to let her out, but instead she ran to my bedroom and jumped on the bed and stood looking at me.

"I get it,'' I told her "You want me to go to bed.''

So I did.

Time after time, she somehow knew when I was overly tired and needed rest. She came running with her determined insistence that it was time to go to bed.

Once when an erstwhile suitor was trying to pressure me to sell everything, quit my job and move to Wales to live with him, I was becoming increasingly stressed at his inability to take no for an answer.

Guess sat watching me intently and suddenly got up and barked and whirled around. Thinking she wanted out, I got up, but instead of running to the door, she ran to the living room and then looking at me, lay down.

"Get away from that man,'' her eyes told me. "I get it. Good girl,'' I told her.

My beloved Guess and I had only six years together when she began limping. The vet said I was overly concerned and it was nothing serious. Yet, I knew. Her eyes spoke to me in our shared language. One month later, I had to do the right thing.

With cancer so advanced, it was pushing her heart out of place and there was no hope. With my son and his wife there, we gathered around her as she took her last breath.

What can you give back to a friend who loves unconditionally, who makes you laugh, who protects, who intuits your moods, your needs, who exasperates and yet is just what you need to keep from taking life too seriously?

Guess.

nancyguess3.JPGGuess loved hiking and running on the beach. Photo by Nancy Bartley

More in the series:
Heart dogs: Ranny Green and Abbe

Heart dogs: Alexandra Day and Zubi

Heart dogs: David Frei and Belle

Heart dogs: Marla Williams and Carl

Heart dogs: Steve Duno and Lou

Heart dogs: Kathy Sdao and Effie


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There's no denying that Dobermans can be high maintenance, but what they give back is... MORE
Great article - thank you :) MORE
Your story reminds me very much of mine. My son brought home a very energetic and... MORE

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