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Where good dogs go when its their time
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The beagle had been mine, a gift from the ex, since she was 6-weeks old. I had cried the first time I held her, her soft ears falling over her eyes.

The female Shepherd had been a gift to Lamar's ex-wife. She wasn't supposed to be my dog, but she was. She chose me though and I claimed her as mine.

They both occupied these huge corners of my heart, equally and different at the same time, filling the gaps in life that only dogs can. Both with different personalities, both thinking they were alpha femmes.

Venus, the Shepherd was the true alpha, leading with a quiet gentleness, a loving nature that showed compassion for every creature, big or small that came into her presence.

Pepper - the Evil Beagle as I called her -was the warrior spirit, the sassy, feisty one that had to prove her small size didn't matter in a field of Shepherds seven times her size.

I couldn't remember a time in my 40 years I had not had a dog, but I had never had to make that hard decision that pet owners often have to face. Not until just a few weeks ago that is. And then within a week, I had to decide to let them both go.

Both were 14. Yes, I know - both had had good, full lives. But if I had my way and my wishes, they would live in good health forever.

I had joked Pepper would live forever and was probably going to be running in front of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, sounding the charge with her loud beagle howl.

I foolishly thought Venus would be taking care of my future grandchildren as she did Cole now - keeping her close watch on him when he was sick, waking me if she thought his fever was too high or if he had a nightmare. Venus always knew when something was wrong.

The day before Pepper crossed that Rainbow Bridge, Venus sat by her crate all day. She refused to leave that evil little beagle, her soft sighs trying to sooth Pepper.

The next day, as I held Pep's body as Lamar dug up the earth after we brought her home, Venus sat by my side, her soft brown face brushing mine as I sobbed. Venus never left my side as I sat by Pep's grave, tears still flowing as I wondered how my heart would heal from losing her.

That was on a Tuesday.

The following Saturday, the degenerative myelopathy that had plagued her for a while seemed to have rapidly progressed. We knew it had gotten worse as Lamar had taken to carrying her in and out when she needed to go. But this time, as she fell and just laid down, I knew it was different and getting worse.

The next day, she wouldn't eat, she wouldn't drink. We made her as comfortable as we could.

Every time I would tell her I was going to bed, she would smile at me and wag her tail once, barely seeing me through her cataract covered eyes as if to say "that's fine." But I couldn't leave her. I knew if the situation had been reversed, she wouldn't even think of leaving me. I slept in the recliner with her at my feet until the next morning.

Our new vet had just met us the previous Tuesday with Pepper and had sat with us in the floor as we made that decision, and now was meeting us for another second sad occasion.

"This has been an awful week for y'all," she said quietly, sinking into the floor beside us, taking Venus' paws into her hands.

"I am so sorry."

Days before, Cole had pleaded with her through tears to find an option to save Pepper but she had told him gently there were no options; she was suffering and would not get better. Her eyes had met his with compassion as she explained the unexplainable to his tenderhearted soul that he was losing a dear friend. This morning, her eyes met his again.

"She helped take care of me when I was sick," he told her. "She thought I was her baby."

The vet smiled at Cole's simple statements.

"This has been rough for you, hasn't it?"

Cole nodded, his chin shaking as he tried to not cry.

"But I told Mama this morning, dog is God spelled backwards; Venus and Pep are in Heaven, and they are giving a report about how things are here, who needs help and how much we loved them. They really talk about that - the love. That's the best part of their report."

Pep had been the one who had loved me at my most unlovable, had been my loyal companion, my eager road trip buddy, my late night confidante on many, many mistakes.

Pep, to be a beagle and prone to do as hounds are known to do, was also the best judge of character - never caring for the ex much or a few friends that had proven to be more foe than anything.

Venus was my comforter, my Velcro-dog, sticking tight to me. My mornings began with her following me as soon as my feet hit the floor at 5 a.m., her face nuzzling my lap as I had my coffee, then following me to the bathroom because she feared I would be sucked down the drain of the shower. She stayed either at my feet or behind my chair as I typed my columns, stories and articles over the years.

And like true friends, they both had been reflections of my self. Pepper, the younger, more confidant, rebellious self; Venus, the mother, the nurturer, the protector who wanted everyone to be cared for and loved, the self I became once Cole was born.

"Never again," I said sobbing. "I will love the ones I have left, but no more. I am not giving my heart to something again only to have it leave too soon. It hurts too much and I don't think my heart can bear it."

Cole gently patted my arm.

"Mama ... we both know that's not true. You will," he said softly.

"Because you know the love you had for them was so big but even bigger, was the love they had for you."

And one day, I don't know when, but that love will be greater than this pain.

Sudie Crouch is an award winning humor columnist and author of the recently e-published novel, "The Dahlman Files: A Tony Dahlman Paranormal Mystery."