ALL of us have experienced a bond with an animal, from that special old horse that babysat us as we learned to ride to that particularly cranky barn cat that had just a whisper more personality than the rest.
Often, these "pets" go far beyond that label. They become our companions, our assistants, our protectors and, dare I say?, often our friends and members of our family.
For almost 17 years, I was lucky enough to have such a pet. My dad brought Nikki home to me when I was in high school. She was a fluffy, black and white border collie and a whole heap of energy. From the instant she was placed in my arms, I knew we were going to create a mountain of trouble together.
When Nikki was a puppy, I tried to take her with me everywhere. I socialized her by taking her to soccer practices, 4-H meetings and cattle drives. She responded by shadowing my every move and becoming my best friend.
Nikki knew her job. She was a guard dog, a cow dog and a companion. Whether I needed help getting a cow in or needed a furry shoulder to cry on when a boyfriend broke up with me, I could always count on her.
I returned the favor by playing countless hours of fetch with her and hiding her in my house during lightning and thunderstorms.
I could trust Nikki to gently herd a flock of chickens into their pen without harming a feather or to direct an angry bull into the correct pasture.
For every adventure, every cow, every job, she was there. I never had to ask her to go with me. In fact, when Nikki was left at home, it was an epic heartbreak for her.
When the old girl started to fail and it was not possible for her to go to work every day, it was agony for both of us.
She spent her whole life caring for me, protecting me and working with me, and gradually, she had to stop. Despite my yearning, there is no stopping time or curing old age.
Nikki dedicated her life to bettering mine. She was a part of my life for so many years that I took her sweet and supportive presence for granted.
When I realized that Nikki's time on this ranch was ending, I did my best to repay her loyalty and love. I spent as much time with her as I could. I made sure she was included in jobs she could handle and that she got special treats and food.
When the inevitable time came, when her quality of life was no longer good quality, my family made the necessary choice to give her dignity in death.
Being with my friend when she left us was an incredibly difficult act for me, but one I owed her.
Nikki made so many of my life's journeys bearable. I knew that being with her on her last journey would be the best way to repay her love. Nikki gave selflessly. She was an exceptional pet, friend and family member.
*Megan Brown is a blogger and sixth-generation rancher who raises Black Angus cattle in northern California. From 4-H as a child to FFA as a teen to receiving her bachelor's degree in agricultural business from California State University-Chico, agriculture has been Brown's lifelong passion. Read more on her website at www.thebeefjar.com, or contact her at [email protected]