Have you ever had one of those special animals in your life that you couldn't have lived without? Who taught you more about living and loving than any other worldly creature? These are heart dogs, once-in-a-lifetime treasures that nest in our hearts and stay forever. In a fitting celebration of them this Valentine's Day week,...

kathyeffie1.JPGHave you ever had one of those special animals in your life that you couldn’t have lived without? Who taught you more about living and loving than any other worldly creature? These are heart dogs, once-in-a-lifetime treasures that nest in our hearts and stay forever. In a fitting celebration of them this Valentine’s Day week, The Seattle Times pet blog asked seven local dog people to remember and honor their heart dogs in essays and photos.

Kathy Sdao is an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. She trained dolphins at the University of Hawaii and for the U.S. Navy and was a whale- and walrus-trainer at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium . Since 1998, Kathy has owned Bright Spot Dog Training, which provides behavior-modification services for pet owners. She teaches about a dozen workshops annually, for trainers around the world. Her first book, “Plenty in Life Is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace”, will be released next month. She is pictured above with Effie.

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By Kathy Sdao

The first thing you should know about Effie is that her fur is so soft it will startle you. You’ll be compelled to rub your palms along her sides, slowly, and to press your cheek against her velveteen ear. As you lean in, you’ll catch a whiff of her animal scent, an intoxicating mix of moist earth, turkey meatloaf and fleece beds, and you’ll run the risk of having your face pummeled with her big slick tongue.

The results of DNA testing assert Effie is part Brittany spaniel and part Labrador retriever – a Blab. Or, if you prefer, a Litany. But with her chestnut patches and ticking scattered on a polar-bear-white background, she’d easily blend in with any pack of foxhounds milling about the moor, waiting for the hunt.

The next thing you should know about Effie is that she saved my life.

When husband No. 2 announced to me that monogamy wasn’t really his thing after all, in so similar a way as did husband No. 1 nearly fifteen years earlier that it seemed they had compared notes, I plummeted into a well of despair.

This surprise revelation occurred on Sept. 10, 2001, and so the next morning my anguish magnified a hundredfold as the Twin Towers fell. In the space of twelve hours, previously unimaginable events had devastated my sanguine reliance on a stable marriage and a secure country.

I was a wreck. I tried to swaddle the shards of my shattered heart in a bubble-wrap made up of friends, family and faith. Yet I could not accept the reality that my husband, now living with another woman, was really leaving me.

One winter night at 2 a.m., sleepless in Tacoma yet again, the relentless humiliation and looming loneliness eclipsed any sense of light. Hopeless and so exhausted that breathing seemed too much work, I made a decision to pool all the prescription pills I could find in my house.