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She was just a dog.

One of my least favorite sayings is “it’s just a dog” when people comment on how much we love our pets—be it a dog, cat, lizard, chicken, hamster, etc.

They’re not wrong . . . Harley was “just” a dog.

One random spring morning I asked my mom if I could get a dog of my own. She was working and sick of the phone calls. She said I just had to ask dad. Well, we already had two dogs, so I didn’t have high hopes.

Cue dad. He was just about to lie down to take a nap when I caught him that afternoon. “I don’t care if your mom doesn’t care.”

Of course, as a teenager, I took their differing versions of ask the other parent as a huge YES!

So, my older sister drove me to the local animal control, and we found Harley.

She was just the runt of her litter, just a little skittish, and had just a few days left on her hold before they were out of resources to continue letting her stay there.

She was just what I wanted.

We took her home.

She just fit right in with the other dogs we had. She perfectly completed the Otis, Lexie, and Harley trio.

She was the only one to just sit and listen when I was struggling with weight gain and depression in my late teens. No judgment, just nose rubs and tail wags.

RELATED: Every Girl Needs a Dog

She didn’t love walks, but she lived for just riding shotgun in my convertible when I was in high school . . . and every vehicle I’ve owned since.

She was so afraid of storms that she would just wiggle herself between you and the covers to hide for safety. 

She just loved to put her nose up in the wind and smell the fresh air while sitting on top of my parents’ picnic table.

She just loved getting all the head scratches, chin rubs, and “who’s a good girl”s at my high school and college parties.

She loved to follow my dad when he had a plate full of food because she knew she was going to get just a tiny bite of BBQ.

She just couldn’t help but get in my mom’s way in the kitchen because she always walked too close to the people she loved and trusted.

She always knew just when to sneak off to another room when the grandkids showed up because high volume wasn’t her thing. Well, unless you were getting out the high chair, then she was happy to sit just below and catch all the scraps. 

When I was 19, she just sat there and snuggled me while I ugly cried and prayed my mom’s tumor would be benign on the eve of her biopsy.

She hated my new house when I moved out so she just slept over from time to time and then went back home in the morning. 

She loved a good pile of pillows and/or blankets—more specifically my mom’s when she had just washed her pillowcase.

She wouldn’t sit on the futon with me and my husband when he first came around . . . she’d stare from across the room because she just wasn’t sure about him yet.
 
She loved to stand on the railroad tie in my parents’ backyard just to be a foot taller and keep watch over her neighborhood.

She loved to wake me up just a few minutes before my alarm had to go off after a late night in college.  

She just didn’t care for my husband’s dog, Bailey, and from day one wanted nothing to do with her.

She always loved to rip off the fancy bandanas and bow ties I had picked out just for her.

She was the first one I told when I had just been offered my dream teaching job. I picked her up and squeezed her full of excitement.

She was so loved by my sister’s German Shepard, Lady, but just didn’t care to reciprocate the physical affection Lady eagerly offered.

She sat with me on the stairs after my first big heartbreak and just let me hug her and soak her little neck furs with my tears.

RELATED: I Never Realized How Hard it Would Be to Say Goodbye

Harley made the night before my wedding perfectly nostalgic when she hopped in my childhood bed with me one more time, just like old days. She was so happy I was back, even if it was just for one night.

Harley watched me grow up from just a kid to a 32-year-old married mother of two.

Yesterday, at over 15 years old, Harley just couldn’t stand up.

My poor mom had to call me and tell me that it was my decision but it just might be that time.  

A dog at 15 years old—oh boy, I knew that call was coming but that just doesn’t make it any easier. 

Today I went to my mom’s house, picked Harley up, and carried her to my Jeep for just one more of those backroad drives on Park Road.

I then lay on the hardwood floor of my childhood home, Harley’s head nestled in my neck. As her neck furs once again caught my tears, I said my final goodbye as she just went to sleep.

Harley was just a dog, and when I rescued her 15 years ago that was just what I was looking for on that boring Saturday afternoon. 

Looking back at the last 15 years it seems like a dog was always just what I needed in so many of life’s highs and lows.

I know how lucky I am that I got 15 long years with my Harley girl, but I’ll just never think pets live long enough.  

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Natalie Platzkoester Pavlak

Railroad wife and mother of two under two. I was teaching fourth grade when the pandemic hit and I was forced to switch to e-learning from my home. I started e-learning with a three month old baby on my hip. My first child, first pandemic, first time e-learning, and the first time I decided I could have more than one passion because it no longer felt like teaching was for me. After fifteen years of working with kids in daycare, teaching, camps, coaching sports, etc., my husband and I decided I was going to focus on OUR kids for a while. I now stay home where I can focus on raising our two beautiful girls and show them how possible it is to chase their dreams.

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