We freely give our hearts to them knowing from the outset that the relationship will be brief. We bring them home to satisfy our need for companionship only to discover that they have entered into the secret places in our hearts and our lives are better for the intrusion. We learn how to love them. We open our wallets and give them everything from biscuits to acupuncture. The one thing we have no idea how to do is say ‘good bye.\’

Miss Katie was a Golden Retriever who came into my life through the back door and stayed to help me when lovers broke my heart, when I was diagnosed with cancer and when I changed professions. Along the way we walked hundreds of miles, chased countless squirrels, saved one wounded bird and made new friends. Katie had a job. She was my muse, sitting quietly beside me as I wrote my first two books.

She had crooked back legs and matching crooked teeth. She was red with an errant white chest. To others she was an odd looking Golden except for that signature skull formation. To me, she was the most beautiful girl in the world. I thought her imperfections made her special. She was smart, loyal to a fault and we would happily have died for each other.

I often wondered how I would live without her. Just as Life brought her to me when she was three months old, thirteen and a half years later it called her Home. I was with her when she died, touching what I could of her body as she lay in an oxygen chamber no longer able to breathe on her own. She left her body peacefully and quietly, a dignified girl to the end. I, on the other hand, fell apart. Sounds of grief came from within my Soul and I had no control over them or when they came. My physicians and friends were worried by the depth of my seemingly uncontrollable grief.

I began doing volunteer work with Golden Retriever Rescue in Los Angeles. This was one of the ways I chose to honor Katie. I had a plan. After a year, I would adopt a Great Dane. No more Golden Retrievers and certainly no red ones, it would be too painful.

Golden Retriever Rescue has an adoption fair once a month. The second time I came to help, I was early. I went over to the first dog to arrive and thought I would team up with him and see if I could get him adopted. He fell to the ground at that first touch and began writhing in delight. He made the loudest moaning sounds I\’d ever heard. He made me laugh out loud…something I hadn\’t done in 7 ½ weeks.

He had been found starving to death on the street. The shelter called the Rescue people with the hope they would go against the odds and adopt him. This poor boy was so weak from hunger he could not stand and could barely walk. His rear end was simply a bag of bones held together with skin. He\’s old and has ground down most of his teeth. He just wasn\’t a golden anyone would want to adopt. He was marked for death in 3 days.

Golden Retriever Rescue took him and he had one month with a foster mom before we met. This angelic woman got him to swim every day and built up his strength. When I touched him, I knew. I wasn\’t going to \’work the crowd\’ for this boy. He was mine. In him I saw the Spirit of God. In fact, that\’s what I call him, ‘Spirit.\’

He is gaining weight and strength every day. He is also messy and hysterically funny. Wanna walk bare foot in my home? Better watch for dog cookie shards in the carpet. And don\’t slip on the river of water in the kitchen near his bowl! Looking for a Golden Retriever puppy? I got you covered: I\’ll make one from the hair Spirit so generously sheds each day.

This old boy has saved and enriched my life well beyond my ability to express in words. He has also taught me that age doesn\’t matter. It\’s the quality of the time you have with anyone you love that matters not the length. That\’s a big lesson for a little guy who was down to 47 pounds!

If you have recently lost a treasured animal companion, my heart goes out to you. I hope in time you will consider taking in one of the thousands of animals left alone and abandoned each day. Someone asked me if Spirit replaced Katie. I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I could barely speak. They are different and unique beings. No one will ever replace Katie. And surely no dog will ever make me laugh as much as Spirit.

Every relationship we have teaches and enriches us. The fact they are unique is what makes being alive such a beautiful journey. I am ever comforted by the words Rod Carew said at his 18 year old daughter\’s funeral: “I will never be angry with God for taking Michele. I will spend the rest of my life being grateful for the time we had her.” Me too, Rod. Me too.

By the way, Spirit is a red Golden who looks like he was pulled right out of Katie\’s gene pool. What\’s that old saying? Oh yes, ‘Humans make plans and God just laughs.\’ I guess that Great Dane is on hold for now.

Regina Leeds is a professional organizer, author and speaker. Her first book “The Zen of Organizing” earned her the title ‘The Zen Organizer.\’ “The Idiot\’s Guide to Decluttering” will be out in May, 2007 and “One Year to an Organized Life” makes its debut in January, 2008. The Zen Organizer can be reached at zenorg1@aol.com