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?

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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, The Seattle Times pet blog asked seven local dog people to remember and honor their heart dogs in essays and photos.

Nancy Bartley is a Seattle Times reporter. She lives with a rescue Doberman, Krista, who also loves to hike, and a cat, Sparks.

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By Nancy Bartley

He wanted a Doberman. I was content with a cat.

He fell in love with a leggy, black pup with saucers for paws. I wasn’t so sure about this lumbering youngster who buried my socks among the raspberry plants, presented visitors with offerings from my laundry basket and enthusiastically greeted everyone by putting her paws on their shoulders and licking their faces.

Guess, as my son named the pup, would become a dog who not only stole socks, shoes and underwear, but hearts as well.

Although my son promised to come home from college every weekend to take care of her, within a few weeks he fell in love again. This time the big brown eyes and dark hair belonged to a pre-law student he’d eventually marry.

Guess would become mine, oddball name and all. And I’d be stuck answering the question over and over.

“What’s your dog’s name?”


“Fido? Blackie?”

“No, Guess.”

“I am guessing.”

Guess was a rapidly growing powerhouse who turned somersaults in obedience class when I tried to get her to walk on a leash, who coughed up a rock in the middle of class and loved to sit up in the front seat, one paw resting on my shoulder, as I drove down the road.

Despite the errors of her ways, she rapidly became my best friend, my protector and companion in my empty nest. As a newly divorced woman, I was having a difficult time adjusting to life without my husband, stepchildren or my college-student son.

Guess was less than a year old when she broke her toe while chasing squirrels in the back yard. It seemed like it would be a simple fix. The vet put a cast on her that went from her toe to elbow. She chewed it off. He put it back, gave her a sedative, which required me to put her in a crate so the drunken Dobie wouldn’t hurt herself. She dismantled it once again. Back to the vet we went. Again and again.

She was supposed to wear it for several months, but we were not making progress. We added an Elizabethan collar. She ran into the house, bent it and chewed the cast again.

Gradually, the time passed, and we were closing in on the time when her toe would be healed when once again she chewed up her cast. I became innovative; I slipped her leg into a pantyhose sock, bracing the toe with poly fiber. Then I supported her leg with old running shoe inserts, wrapped it with elastic bandage and duct tape. I put her in her crate, gave her a sedative and went for a 30- minute walk. When I returned the cast was gone. Not a shred was left. That night she began to vomit.

A trip to the emergency vet followed. Some $2,000 later she was her old self. And forever after when someone asked about her name, I said she was Guess, as in “Guess, what the dog ate?”

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