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Tammy Swift, Published December 28 2013

Swift: Little dog serves big role, especially during transition

People who are not animal lovers will not get this.

They will grouse that it is ridiculous to get all emotional about a “dumb animal.” They will snort that we project human emotions and gifts onto dogs and cats that they really don’t possess. They will complain that all animals belong outside – only to be acknowledged when convenient.

I completely respect their opinions. Everyone has a different experience with animals, and I get why not everyone feels the same about them that I do.

But in my own, singular, humble experience, I will say this: In some ways, my life has been saved by a dog.

Anyone who follows my column knows that 2013 has been a difficult one. It has been a year of loss, bewilderment and pain. In many ways, all that made me feel safe and comfortable and OK in the world has been taken away. It has forced me to reassess who I am, what I want out of life and why I’m even here.

In the long run, I know we grow more from painful experiences than easy ones. When I look at the grand scheme of my life, it will all click into place and make perfect sense. As one clever woman once told me, “When God closes one door, he opens another … but it can be hell in the hallway.”

But in the meantime, I’ve had a little companion to guide me through that hallway. When I bought Kita in 2005, it was one of the first open acts of defiance in my marriage. My husband didn’t want us to have another dog, but I hated that the one pooch we did have was “his” dog.

So when I saw her, I had to have her. She looked like an impossibly tiny black bear and, even at her very young age, she exhibited a surprising intelligence and intensity. Behind those alert brown eyes, she seemed to have a soul as old as the ocean.

At first, our relationship was rocky. She irritated everyone with her high-pitched yap. She cried all night in her kennel. (This happened for several weeks, until I finally caved. To this day, she still sleeps tucked behind my knees.) She seemed completely unimpressed by the ludicrous concept of house-training.

One day, I called a friend and lamented that I wanted to give her away. She was impossible to train, I whined. My carpet was ruined. Thankfully, my friend talked me down from the ledge. And after that fateful conversation, Kita seemed to magically “get” the whole housetraining thing. To this day, when Kita needs to go outside, she doesn’t scratch on the door or ring a bell. Instead, she marches up to me and looks me right in the eye. And I know exactly what she needs.

Now that it’s just the two of us, she knows exactly what I need. She patiently adjusted to three different moves last summer, including a one-week stay in a hotel room (which terrified her so much that she tried to “dig” her way out by the door). She lost weight and became clingy. At one point, my mother remarked that she seemed so sad – as if she had absorbed all my confusion and angst.

And yet she found a way to give me exactly what I needed. She bounced on her hind legs with joy when I came home from work. She followed me from room to room. She patiently endured it when I dressed her in obnoxious tutus and tiny Santa beards to cheer myself up. When I was at my lowest, she literally licked tears off my face.

This tiny, delicately built dog has proven to be my rock. Her 8-pound frame seems to hold the heart of the bravest lion and the most loving mother.

In short, Kita exemplifies the reason why people write books and poems and tributes to their pets. She is a living, breathing (and sometimes yapping) example of unconditional love. Her attachment to me has never wavered, not for a second. It’s the kind of pure, trusting, unflickering connection that any devoted dog owner will immediately understand.

And that, my friends, is why I love my dog. That’s why, when I took my holiday picture this year, she wore a ridiculous red sweater (of course!) and was prominently featured on my lap.

She is, you see, my family.

Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety. Readers can reach her at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.