A Houston family adopted a black Labrador three years ago, knowing he had terminal cancer. The Roberts family gave Duke the best three years a dog could have. And they made his final day a dog's dream. There were lots of hamburgers, a trip to the park and a photographer.
I couldn't do what the family did, the photographer part.
Before Smitty, there was a girl named Badger. She depended upon me. That had never happened before. I didn't know that it was going to be so much work - or that it was going to be so great.
I was a rat. I had an affair, Michelle found out, and moved out while I was at work. I came home in a snowstorm to a dark house. I opened the door and saw two shiny eyes looking up at me.
Michelle couldn't have a dog in her new place, so Badger was all mine for the next 14 years.
We made two road trips to Michigan, visited Durango together, La Veta, Centennial, Wyo., and while the studio was under construction, we drove away on the noisiest days and went all over the place.
We were an inseparable team, just like Smitty and me.
I hung artwork at her eye level, which wasn't very high. She was a small standard red dachshund.
A dog will get into your heart like nothing else. I am made up of two-thirds humbug, but my dachshunds found the other third and wouldn't let go.
Duke was on three legs and ran around like he had five.
The Robertses knew that the time had come to say good-bye, so they chose a day and asked family friend Robyn Arouty, a photographer who specializes in animal portraits, to document Duke's final day.
Could you do that?
I have a beautiful little 8-by-8 Shutterfly book of Smitty, and I know someday I will be very happy to have it. I also know that I will disintegrate for a few moments every time I open it.
The Robertses did something else I couldn't do. They wrote a beautiful reminiscence in the voice of Duke calling it "I Died Today."
All of this made its way to the Internet and it turned into a forum for others to share their stories, just like I am doing right now.
My little friend is on the floor next to me. We rise and shine - in the dark. It's 5 a.m., we've both had a walk, a bathroom and a breakfast.
I have told Smitty's story before. I am his third owner. I almost lost him when his back went out. He had emergency surgery that same day. I would avoid ASPCA Pet Insurance if I were you.
His recovery took over a month. No walks, no stairs. We camped in the living room. I read. He slept and wobbled to his water dish.
We enable each other. I was supposed to go to Europe on an art tour that was all paid for. I had my bags packed and a pet sitter lined up. I was going to be gone more than a week.
I had breakfast and looked over at Smitty and said (something like), "Oh, crap, I can't do this."
I know, I know. I chose a dachshund over Paris. And he didn't know the difference. Or maybe he did.
Jennifer knows she will always be second around here, no matter what, and she understands because she has Charley.
My dear friend has eaten through three seat belts and there have been some other moments, but he is always in my heart. Always.
"And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," Duke.
Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.