She was running toward us, as best as she could.
Her large ears flopped with each hurried step, briefly covering her eyes and obscuring her view, and her oversized paws twice failed to keep her from sliding on the hardwood floors.
The cheerful puppy recovered, unfazed by the betrayal of her own form. After all, there were new friends to meet on the other side of the kitchen, and it was important not to get sidelined by distractions.
As she neared, we could see that her eyes were bright, her disposition friendly. She was full of exuberance and excited to greet us.
My husband, Gary, picked up the 8-week-old puppy, using both hands. She was already 15 pounds. He rubbed his fingers behind her black ears. I was petting the top of that giant head, looking into her eyes, being licked by her, and falling in love.
That was the day we met Bela, our Great Dane.
Great Danes have a life expectancy of six to nine years. Bela is four months shy of turning 12. Each day with our old girl has always been a gift, but more so in these later years as she cheats those statistics.
Each day has certainly been an adventure, too. You can never have a bad day with a dog. You either have a good day or an incredulous day.
As one example of the latter, Gary left the kitchen for a minute once when she was about 9 months old. When he walked back in the room, he noticed that the aluminum foil serving as a makeshift lid for the FryDaddy on the counter had been moved, and that the level of the oil was suspiciously low.
Bela had been sitting very properly on the kitchen floor, patiently watching him try to make sense of our family’s new mystery. Gary then glanced over at her just as her giant tongue was loudly going back into her mouth. To his horror, he quickly realized where the oil had gone.
“Give her lots of water and let it run its course,” the doc advised us during a frantic phone call. That was our first hard lesson in the counter-surfing ability of her breed.
Though we Dane-proofed the house as best as we could — storing casseroles, cakes and cookies on top of the fridge — we couldn’t prevent all nonsense.
Over the years, she’s devoured 5 pounds of raw potatoes, eaten a dozen just-baked lemon muffins, chewed up more than one good pair of dress shoes, inhaled a large bowl of M&Ms (cue another frantic call to the vet), torn my favorite ball cap into bits, and recently ate an entire loaf of bread.
Today, she’s still in wonderful spirits, though arthritis is laying claim to her bones.
I can’t wait to come home each day and see her. Now at 115 pounds, more than three-feet tall and four-feet long (excluding the tail), she still enthusiastically greets me at the door and manages to wrap her body around me. Sometimes, when I look into those happy eyes, I see her excitedly bounding toward me on that first day, and I rub those ears and head and tell her she is the most beautiful dog in the world. I’m still in love with her.
I could write a book about our adventures together, but sharing just a bit about our adored Dane will do for now.
More importantly, I want to hear your stories.
For the first issue of Salt magazine in 2016, pets will be taking center stage, and we want to know the funniest, sweetest or most heart-felt moment you’ve experienced with your beloved animal, whether it’s a cat, dog, horse or rabbit. We also want to see photos of your furry friend.
Email your story and photo to me at firstname.lastname@example.org by Dec. 2. Keep the word limit to less than 250. Include your name and the town in which you live. All entries will be considered for publication.
Bela has a way of always needing to take a bathroom break just five minutes before one of our TV programs ends, and we jokingly say, “Here comes ‘Annoying,’” as she makes her way in to see us.
Whatever nicknames, titles or descriptions we give our animals, though, they will always be known to us by the most important one: family.
Lora Abernathy is the editor of Salt magazine, a Civitas Media publication. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @AbernathyLora.