I had hoped for one more week with him, but he was ready sooner. My brave protector and friend, my precious boy. I will miss my him more than I can describe (but bear with me while I try).

From the first time my neighbor’s beautiful, out of control foster dog came barreling towards me with a big grin on his face, to his last breath this evening at home, he’s loved unconditionally, and made me feel safe. Sometimes maybe overly safe, as evidenced by more than one very freaked out pizza delivery guy and the window sill he would chew on when he couldn’t get to whoever was at the door. There have been epic messes (like the time he pulled all the dirty dishes out of the sink, all the trash out of the can, spread all that throughout the house and then methodically peed on the mess while I was at work, a week after I adopted him) and incredible gentleness (sharing his favorite things – his swimming pool and front door guard duty – with my nephew and my goddaughter). He never let the neighborhood cats forget he was watching for them, and never once failed except towards the very end, to get up and dance around my legs when I got home.

He was always happiest when he was with me (and vice versa), and then when we moved to a new house and I adopted more dogs, he was so happy in a bigger pack too. Even in the larger pack though (all of whom I love so much), I always knew he and I had something special, something separate. We have walked miles and miles together, just him and I, and then all the pack together as more joined us. We’ve walked together in every kind of weather, in the sunshine and in surprise thunderstorms and in the snow and under the stars – my hand will feel so empty without his leash held in it. My front door will look so vulnerable without him at his post. The squirrels will definitely not miss him, but the back yard will seem unfamiliar without him lying out there with his packmates just waiting for those filthy rodents to dare lay one paw on the fence.

I’ll miss the dumb stuff like surprise wet toilet seats (the jerk was a sloppy drinker and loved toilet water like fine wine) and the wookie-sized hair balls that filled the vacuum cleaner weekly (German shepherds only shed once a year they say, for 365 days). Mostly though I’ll miss his teeny soft kisses when he said hi, the way he’d lean the top of his head into my chest (a “Stryker hug”), the way he’d follow me from room to room even when it hurt so much to walk, the way we used to play so much fetch that there was a permanent path where no grass could grow. I’ll miss his excitement the first time I’d fill his kiddie pool in the spring, his larger than life enthusiasm for any new experience, the way he loved to dive face first into the snow when we got “a big one” and there were drifts to play in…..and the feeling of being completely safe with him by my side.

In his lifetime with me he has eaten horrifying trash and innumerable pairs of underwear and somehow not died, chewed through something like $400 worth of very nice shoes, torn apart throw pillows and furniture, peed in a cereal bowl that he managed to not break while pulling it out of the sink (a proud moment for him I’m sure), peed on a stranger sitting on the ground in a dog park (the one time I pretended he was not my dog), gutted every squeaky toy he got his mouth around, and fearlessly barked at any living thing that dared to come within eyeshot of the house. He has jumped fences to bravely pursue his feline foes, escaped the yard and survived dodging rush hour traffic only to be apprehended by kind strangers a mile away and a terrifying hour later (for me it was terrifying, he seemed to have had a blast), defended the back yard against cats and squirrels and pigeons, kissed babies, dug holes in the lawn faster than I could fill them back up. He has taken long sprawling naps on the furniture, swum in lakes and canals and one public fountain, ecstatically gulped down the wind with his head out the car window on every ride we ever took, made friends with everyone he met (with the exception of pizza delivery guys and the mailman), explored the mountains and the city, played fetch in the finest of off-leash parks, guarded the front door faithfully even to his last hours when he needed my help getting there, and has fallen asleep by my side at the end of each excellent day for the past 2,541 days.

I don’t know his story from his life before. What I do know is that whatever road brought him, God carried him straight to me because He knew we needed eachother. And while I (for serious y’all) do not recommend an untrained ultra smart adult working dog for a beginning dog owner (what the heck was I thinking??), he and I learned together (sometimes the hard way) what it means to be a team, how to trust and understand eachother. From me he also learned to sit, stay (mostly) and what it felt like to be loved and spoiled to the last drop of life. From him I learned that every experience is exciting, each moment is best when given your sole focus, and that sometimes God’s very best and kindest gifts to us will pee on the dishes, and that’s okay. From the time he let me lay my head on his side for our first ever selfie, right up to the end when he let me know he was ready to go, that the pain was too much and he hated the indignity of needing help on the stairs and with getting out of bed and even with just standing up and walking – we’ve had a once in a lifetime bond that has just been my favorite.

Because he has always seen and mirrored my emotions, and I wanted him to be happy to the last moment, today was a good day with only a little crying (and lots of hugs, kisses, steak, naps in the sunshine, fresh pool water and really really good meds). There is a giant, hairball and slobber coated hole in my heart today, but I gave my friend the last and most important thing I could – I let him go when he was ready.

Stryker “The Gentle Badass” Johnson, my sidekick, guardian and best buddy from 9/9/2009 – 8/22/2016