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My Turn: Topping my list of man's best friends

Bailey, a miniature schnauzer, takes his favorite spot

Bailey, a miniature schnauzer, takes his favorite spot on the center console of Joel Reitman's vehicle during a trip to Williamsburg, Va., late summer 2012. Credit: Handout

'The dog's gotta go," said the doctor in the gray suit. I was almost 11 and Pogo sat lovingly next to my bed, his deep black eyes looking upward.

Here, in Lakewood, N.J., the doctor put his stethoscope back into his black satchel, as I cried inside. Pogo had come to me two weeks before. My father and I named him after his favorite comic strip, Walt Kelly's "Pogo Possum." The cartoon strip was a satire; Pogo was no satire, he was real. Now, it was confirmed, I was allergic to dog hair. Pogo left and I was devastated.

Pogo was the first dog in my life. Somehow, I slowly outgrew my allergic condition, and came to know many dogs. Some ran free, others preferred to hang out with their human friends.

Some hunted, and others just cuddled on the couch. Each had its own personality. About eight years ago my wife, Anne, and I were adopted by a lovable little professor-like mini schnauzer. Bailey was a year old when he moved into our Peconic house. For the next seven years, this salt-and-pepper ball of fur managed to draw us close to him.

Bailey's personality is of an independent sort; aloof. That trait, however, never seemed to stop him from wanting to be with his people, Anne and me. Bailey isn't the cuddling, sit-on-the-sofa kind of dog. He loves going for walks with Anne, down Indian Neck Lane. On the walks, Bailey often pulls and tugs, taking in every smell.

Going to the beach is one of Bailey's favorite trips. As the car starts to head south toward Peconic Bay, Bailey expresses his delight by talking to us with whines, and murmurs. Near the beach, Bailey stands on the car's console, staring ahead -- on the lookout for the sandy beach. Once there, he romps off-leash and explores every blade of beach grass and clam shell. He keeps Anne in sight, until it's time to go home, when he races down the beach toward the car.

As much as Bailey loves the beach, I think his favorite activity is riding in the car. He sits on the console, peering ahead, co-piloting for me. He barks at cyclists and looks lovingly at dogs being walked. He often lays in the backseat, until the turn indicator clicks and the car slows. He jumps onto the console with a look that tells us he knows this is his street.

At home, Bailey's No. 1 job is sitting at the front door alerting Anne and me to every bicyclist, delivery truck and pedestrian that passes his kingdom. He races from the front door to the back door waiting to be let out and looks for the oil man or anybody who might be near his turf.

Over the years, visits to the vet were ordinary until three weeks ago. We noticed Bailey was drinking more frequently, going outside more often and seemed to have lost weight. The vet, in Mattiuck, after an examination and also checking Bailey's blood sugar, said, "We have a diabetic dog." Anne looked at me and I looked at her, both with anxious eyes. We knew Bailey needed us now more than ever.

The routine of caring for a diabetic dog is becoming more normal. Anne and I still have hesitations about the injection of insulin. We often adjust our schedule to fit his needs. It seems Bailey knows we are helping him. Even before we approach him with the insulin he sits up, looks at us, and refuses the treat we offer him. After he gets his insulin, he devours the treat and relaxes back onto his dog bed.

The treatment seems to be taking effect. Bailey is more youthful now, and more alert than before we began the treatment. The insulin has also helped to maintain his weight. We will continue helping Bailey to be healthy, watching his diet, giving him insulin and taking him for frequent checkups.

Even though Bailey has been with me a lot longer than Pogo, both were with me at crucial times; both friends. When I was sick, Pogo stayed by my side. Bailey is sick now, and I will stay by his side.

Good friends are hard to come by.

Joel Reitman,

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