“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.” —Author unknown

On April 9, 2014, I had to say goodbye to my priceless service dog Maddie. She was loved by 99% of those who met her. For every one person that I may have made happy, Maddie made at least 1,000 more people happy.

Our story began 12 years ago when I rescued her at the age of 17 months.

Maddie came to me sight unseen. A Vizsla rescue organization in Utah put her on a plane and flew her out to me in Kansas City, Mo. Her dog crate was placed in my wheelchair van, and I drove 40 miles from the airport to my house with her gently whining. I talked softly to her and reached back every so often to stick a couple of my fingers through her carrier. As soon as we reached home, her alpha side took over and she searched the house and yard as if she was the boss. Of course, we all know she was the boss!

From that day forward, I wasn’t the one rescuing her. Instead, she began almost immediately to rescue me. Her innate ability to protect me was unbelievable. She protected me not from others, but from my own illnesses or accidents. There is no space here to tell of all the ways she assisted me when I fell, or to recount the many nights she laid on top of me to help me through the severe muscle spasms that often rack my body. To say she was God’s special gift to me is not a boastful claim. It is a fact.

Training her was so easy. She could learn anything within a couple of minutes. I even broke the service-dog rule of not letting anyone pet her while she was working by having a fellow employee pet her while I dropped something. Maddie, of course, at first didn’t want to pick up the item while receiving attention. However, the petting stopped when she did not perform the task. After only two times of this, she learned that even if she was being petted she still had to help me if the need was there.

Last month I presented a poem by Mother Teresa called “Life.” I closed my presentation with another quote from her: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” Maddie did this with every person she met.

To each of you who have loved and still love your precious pets or service dogs, I wish you the joy of having their love. I hope that you will be able to look back, as I do now, knowing your heart will always belong to them, as they give theirs to you.