AJ has become beach a dog, though she still just likes looking at the ocean. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I often like animals more than I like people.

Dogs are definitely more honest than two-leggeds. They can readily sniff out a good or bad person. Listen to that bark and watch that tail wag. They know the difference.

Don’t pay regular attention to them and they get standoffish. Come home from a trip and it’s all kisses. Be somewhere without them where there were dogs and they get jealous.

I consider AJ my best friend. It wasn’t always that way. I was reluctant to have her come into my life. When Joy was diagnosed with lung cancer the first thing she did was figure out what would happen to AJ if she died. It was not a conversation I wanted to have with my friend. But if she could have it, then I had to. Of course I would take AJ.

I became AJ’s regular walker that next year as Joy did all she could to prolong her life. Cancer won.

I have had custody of Audrey Jean since August 2012. It was a learning experience for both of us. I had different rules and she was used to being the queen of the house. She won. She sleeps on my bed, sometimes even under the covers. She gets a massage most every morning, if not more often. She knows by going on a bit of a hunger strike she can get canned food. She readily jumps in the Jeep, riding shotgun as we run errands. She sits behind me as I write, at times making it impossible to scoot the chair back. I don’t understand why she lays in the hard gravel; maybe it’s some kind of acupressure.

Last summer she was diagnosed with kidney disease. Special food is helping, but it’s not a condition that will go away.

Today she turns 16.

She’s slowing down. Still, we walk nearly every day. Going to the fresh water lagoon is one of her favorite destinations.

I wonder if she misses chasing the squirrels in Tahoe or hiking in the forest. I know she doesn’t miss the cold and snow, or having to wear a coat.

When I had my first visit with the vet in South Lake Tahoe, California, she said AJ could easily live to 18. I’ve asked her to stick around until I figure out my next move. There has to be a move; the house I’m living in is for sale. It will be another major life decision. She said she’d try to be here for me. What a gift. She is a present to me every day that came out of such sadness.

Happy Birthday, my fur baby and best friend.

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