Zeke was a goofy creature, often chasing me playfully and biting at my ankles, barking when he missed. However, his life wasn't all fun and games. Zeke had a monumental responsibility, which was to keep a young girl who craved adventure and the outdoors out of harm's way. Day after day, I constantly felt him watching me, but not so intensely that I felt unsettled. The feeling of him looking after me was almost as tangible and comfortable as wearing a fuzzy scarf around my neck. I didn't make the task of keeping me safe easy for him. He followed me like a shadow as I did my daily chores, protecting me from being kicked by horses or pecked to death by chickens.

He would also follow me into the golden fields and winding woods of my family's farm. As an only child with over a hundred acres of land to explore, I channeled my imagination, packed my backpack full of water, snacks, a book, and sunscreen, and set out on expeditions with my four-legged friend. Zeke ensured I never lost my footing on a cliff, fell in a creek, or got bitten by any venomous critters native to my little town in Texas.

In the evenings, his five minutes of persistent half-barking and half-howling announced that my father was home from work. It also signaled that he was taking a break from me until bedtime. Every night, he curled up next to me and my countless stuffed animals on my twin-sized mattress. He made me feel safe from the monsters that shared the space beneath my bed with a pile of sliced cheese wrappers. He stayed cuddled next to me until morning, and then we started our routine all over again.

That was our life, until one night my dad was a little too quiet at dinner. I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering him, but I thought I might be in trouble for talking too much at school again or getting a bad grade. When there was no more food to distract him, my father finally said, “I got a new job. We’re going to be moving to a different town.” Whatever reaction crossed my face, it provoked a pitiful frown from my father as he continued. “Where we’ll be moving, we can’t bring Zeke with us.”’

Zeke followed me to my thinking spot on The Hill, a hill high enough that the expanse of land owned by my family could be seen from the top. Sitting at the base of a very old tree, I kept my eyes on the evanescent sunset that was casting purple shadows on the land below, until my little heart couldn’t ward off the pain anymore. The warm, saturated colors of the sky blurred into one golden vision as I began to sob uncontrollably.

Zeke set his head in my lap and I ran my fingers through his fur, but it did little to comfort me. He was just a glaring reminder that our time together wasn’t going to last. When I had no tears left to cry and my vision focused, I looked down into Zeke’s eyes, icy blue and speckled with rich, brown flecks. I set my head on top of his and hugged him as hard as I could until twilight.

The weeks passed and the dreaded day finally came to say goodbye. My dad had made arrangements for our neighbor to take care of Zeke after we were to abandon him like he meant nothing, like he hadn’t been my best friend my entire life. Our parting was indescribably painful and I felt lost and joyless without him for months. Years later, we received a phone call from our neighbor. He told us that every day during the first few months after we moved, Zeke would walk the few hundred yards back to our house and lie on the porch, waiting for us to come back home. He continued to do this every now and then over the years, until the day he died of old age.