Blackie Bear, a black lab with enough chow mixed in to make his tongue spotted, came to live with us back in 1997.
Our niece Samantha, who was in kindergarten at the time, found him wandering around Sumiton School and she somehow convinced her mom to bring the dog home.
He was still a puppy then, and it was obvious he'd been abandoned because he was as thin as a hobo's dog.
He had paws almost as big as my hand, so I knew that with a few of Jilda's biscuits he would be a big dog. The last time he was at the vet's office he weighed just slightly less than Jilda.
Samantha told us when she brought him over to show him off that he was looking for a home.
We wrongly assumed that home would be at Samantha's house, but as it turns out, he never left our house because he'd found his home.
We had several older dogs at the time but Blackie was a kind and gentle spirit and found his place in the pack.
He was a bit of a loner at first and whenever we walked, he would never walk on the trail with us. He preferred walking through the thickest brambles and briar patches he could find.
He would disappear for hours only to return in the evening covered in mud and pond scum from swimming in the strip pits and creeks down behind the barn. I spent many afternoons hosing him down in the back yard while he grunted and groaned with obvious pleasure.
One afternoon in January several years ago, when the mercury was in the 20s, he ambled up from his swimming excursion with ice crystals on his coat.
As the older dogs passed on, Blackie moved up in the family hierarchy until he became Jilda's number one dog.
He took that role seriously. When she walked, he walked. When she fixed dinner, he lay on the cool tile in the middle of the kitchen floor supervising.
This part of his guard duty paid huge dividends because she often “accidentally” dropped a piece of cheese, a small piece of chicken or steak.
A few years ago, his health began to fail. His joints stiffened and his heart grew weak, but he was a trooper. The heat this summer took its toll on him and he found it harder to breathe when he went outside to walk with us.
This year when Jilda began treatments for her immune system issue, he remained faithfully by her side. When one of the other dogs came near her to be petted, Blackie stood between them and did his low growl which let the other dogs know to keep away.
This week, Jilda ran out of steam and decided to lie down on the couch to rest for a while. Blackie came up and nudged her hand. Jilda petted and hugged him and he walked off.
A short time later, our other dogs began acting a little strangely and Jilda got up to investigate. I was on the screened porch writing when I heard her calling for Blackie. I could hear concern in her voice so I went out too.
We walked to the barn and back through the hollow. We searched the front and back yards.
Jilda's voice turned from concern, to panic, to a pleading sadness that broke my heart. I walked out to the edge of the back yard where we pile brush to burn every now and then, and when I walked to the back side, Blackie had crawled under some of the brush and died.
He was still warm when I found him. We both cried as if we'd lost a child.
I dug his grave with a pick and shovel and laid him to rest in a place of honor next to our other dogs. I placed a peace stone I'd made at the head of his grave.
Our house has been a melancholy place this week. I know there are people who might say we are silly to weep over a dog, but I don't know of anyone who could have had a better friend.
I am thankful he chose our home all those years ago.