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We first met her on a snowy and cold winter’s day in December of 2002. I don’t remember the exact date but I do remember that she was an hour’s drive from us and that the entire ride was filled with the same anticipation as a kid on Christmas morning. It was all my husband could do to keep within the speed limit.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by nine little brown eyed, fuzzy haired black and white faces, all smelling of pee, heads tilted this way and that. One little white head stood up and nearly climbed out of their collective puppy pen to great us. I fell in love immediately but this was not Zoey and despite my heart being tugged, we were on a mission to meet Zoey.

A few weeks prior to our meet and greet with these new little lumps of fur, we had received a picture of all nine of them. My husband immediately spotted Zoey, even with her mousy not yet fully formed dog face and he fell in love. He cropped her face out of that picture, blew it up and sent it to me in an email at work with a caption that read…”This one looks like trouble.” He was doomed. He knew she was the one. So, on that wonderful day thirteen years ago, when we meet these little monsters for the first time, my husband had to find Zoey and hold her first.

No decisions had been made yet about who would get which pup. You see, serious Old English Sheepdog (OES) breeders get their pups temperament tested and evaluated for show and breeding purposes before selling them. Those of us who only want an OES for a pet are ranked pretty low in the pecking order for who gets a puppy and who doesn’t and we rarely get to choose as a result. We get the left over dogs. So, we weren’t yet sure if Zoey would be ours.

That day, the day we met Zoey and her siblings, the pups were still too young to leave their mother anyway. We stayed and visited the pups for a couple of hours. They were about five weeks old. They were a feisty bunch. They were nippers, quick to bite but also ready to play, their pen full of toys and balls. Their mother who’s name was Isabella, lay in the middle of it all, a look of pride and joy on her adoring face.

We completed our mission on that day. We met Zoey. The only problem was, now we were utterly and completely in love with her. She had to be ours but we were still a few weeks away from knowing if she would be. It was excruciating and time moved slower than a snail’s pace. So much so, that a few days later, my husband called the breeder and inquired quite seriously about Zoey. Did they know anything yet? When would they know it? Was there any chance she could be ours?

He received few answers of any comfort during that call and instead he learned that we had yet another hurdle. The breeder’s mother was also in love with Zoey. We were sure then that no matter what, she was ill-fated to be ours. We were crushed. But some time later, and I honestly don’t remember when because it was fourteen years ago, we heard back from the breeder. She decided that Zoey was going to be too much for her mother to handle. She also decided that despite the outcome of the temperament testing, Zoey would be ours. She realized that a loving home was more important for her dogs than anything else and she was entirely certain Zoey would receive that with us.

We were of course over the moon but Zoey had to be at least eight weeks old before leaving her mother and we still had a week and a half to go. To pass the time, we began readying the house. We got a crate. We got new beds, toys, a collar and a leash. We had already settled on her name. Her name would be Zoey which means “life”. A fitting name for an adorable puppy.

Time crept as our excitement grew.

Finally, the day arrived to bring our new baby home. We were beyond thrilled and our hearts swelled with delight at the thought of joy we knew she would bring. When we arrived to pick Zoey up, all nine pups were still there. She would be first to leave the only family she had ever known. There was something bittersweet about the experience. With Zoey in my arms, we walked outside toward the car and Zoey’s mother quietly followed us. We turned to say goodbye to her and to the breeder and Isabella lifted her nose to Zoey. I bent down because it appeared that she wanted to say goodbye. She sniffed Zoey and gently licked her face. She knew Zoey was going away. She knew she would never see her again. She let her daughter go with grace.

In the car, I placed Zoey in a box we had brought filled with blankets and a few toys. We had an hour’s journey home and we wanted her to be comfortable. About twenty minutes into the drive, I looked over at my husband, his face was covered in tears. He had been quietly sobbing for some time. He was full of joy but he was also sad. He was missing our departed boy Bailey. He knew Zoey would fill the hole that Bailey had left behind but he also knew that Bailey could never be replaced. No dog ever is. It was another bittersweet moment.

Today all these years later, it is Zoey’s fourteenth birthday. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed and fourteen is a big number for an Old English Sheepdog. So, today is an important day. It is a day worthy of great celebration. Zoey has lived a long and well loved life. She has offered us great joy and unyielding steadfast friendship. We have been blessed to call her ours.

Today is Zoey’s fourteenth year of life. We don’t know who much more time we have with her so we plan to honor this day and all that remain. Today is another bittersweet day.

Happy birthday to our beautiful, sweet, gentle and ever amazing dearest Zoey!

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