After 12 years of putting a dog at the top of my Christmas list my dreams came true at the end of eighth grade.

Since then, Rocky and I have grown up and grown closer. He and I share an apartment all our own, and the occasional piece of human food because he’s mastered puppy dog eyes and I’m only human.

Being Rocky’s trainer and best friend has taught me a lot, beyond the obvious patience and responsibility my parents drilled into me when he was a puppy.

Every day he shows me how grateful he is for the simplest of things: time outside, a warm bed and two meals a day. He enjoys all the toys and special treats I give him, but would be just as happy with me and the basics. I look at him and wonder why I used to need so much to feel whole.

Rocky’s helped me let go of the small stuff that shouldn’t cloud my day. I could be annoyed or stressed out, but as soon as I walk through the door and see him so excited to see me, I instantly forget what was upsetting me. He reminds me that something as insignificant as rude motorists or delayed shipments shouldn’t affect me as much as it sometimes does.

Rocky is never scared to go somewhere new. He is so excited when he gets to walk new hiking trails and smell foreign places from my car window. He lives his life with nostrils wide open. He breathes in each place he experiences and leaves a piece of himself, and his bladder, everywhere he goes. He is so grateful for new experiences. I am motivated to provide him, and myself, with as many as possible.

As Rocky settles into seniorhood, he is still full of the alertness, happiness and genuine love everyone feels when they meet him. He isn’t letting age keep him from jumping in snow or comforting me when I’m not feeling well. When he meets strangers on our daily walks, and yes, he makes a lot of friends, they always ask his age and are shocked when I say 10. There’s this stigma that, the older we get, the less we live. Rocky defies that assumption and I hope to defy it, too.

My dog affects people. He carries kindness in his eyes and everyone feels it. He is a window for me to connect with others who see him and feel inclined to tell me about their pets, still living or not. He provides comfort to those going through hardships, no matter who they are or where we are. It seems his purpose is to make people happy and he’s very skilled at it.

Having him has helped me see how rushed I am most of the time. He’s forced me slow down and get to know the people I pass while going about my day. I’m grateful for that.

Rocky’s shown me that people, like dogs, are inherently good. However, we are both products of our environments and those who raise us. We shift and mold to mimic what we know. This has helped me give others a break.

My dog’s amazing health and demeanor is the product of hard work and time, yes, but also of love. Rocky reflects the love, attention and dedication I put into raising him. In a sense, I am a mother, and I couldn’t be prouder of all my son has helped me see.

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