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My Turn: Cool weather elicits warm memories of faithful dog

Alice Laby displays a Koren Reyes portrait of

Alice Laby displays a Koren Reyes portrait of herself and Jami on her desk. The portrait was taken in February 2011. Credit: Alice Laby

She came alive in the cold weather after suffering through the summer heat. You’d feel that way too if you had a triple coat of black fur like my dog Jami did.

Jami was a Labrador retriever, a breed known for its loyalty, love of swimming and large appetite. Jami didn’t like to swim, but she was certainly loyal, not in a protective way, but in a I’ll-go-anywhere — even on trains and planes — with-you way.

She was born on June 3, 2006, in Santa Rosa, California. Jami’s purpose in life, if she made the grade, was to be a service dog for Canine Companions, assisting people with physical disabilities, veterans with PTSD or folks who are hearing impaired.

Jami boarded an airplane when she was 8 weeks old — destination Canine Companions’ Long Island headquarters in Farmingdale. I was an approved puppy raiser and brought her home, knowing I would return her for advanced training when she was 18 months.

My goal was to have her familiar with and unafraid of a diverse map of locales — neighborhood walks, library visits, handicapped group meetings, trips to New York City on the Long Island Rail Road. Jami adapted so beautifully to each new situation because as much as she liked other dogs, she loved people more.

Jami had a mild medical condition so she didn’t make the grade as a service puppy. At 18 months, she was truly my dog.

We trained together as a therapy team. Soon we were visiting a nursing home in Rockville Centre. Laughter could be heard from the residents when Jami, her tail wagging, walked into their rooms.

We volunteered at a "Read to the Dog" library program in Little Neck, Queens. The children would sit in a circle on the floor and read to Jami. They each gave Jami a special treat.

She loved being out and about in the world.

When a chill was in the air and I turned the pages of the calendar to November and then December, Jami and I looked forward to the warmth of indoors, after a day at the nursing home or library, or walks with family in Merrick, Queens and Brooklyn.

Home to Jami meant the aroma of my chicken soup, or my guy Rob’s delicious meatballs simmering on the stove.

Our favorite time of day was evening, when Jami would curl up on her rug or on her blanket on our bed, safe and sound and warm, no matter what weather was coming our way.

Jami loved this time of year, when the weather turned cooler. She died this past February. She was my faithful companion for more than 14 years.

Alice Laby,

Valley Stream

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for My Turn are original works (of up to 600 words) by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com. Include name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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