Wilma was not supposed to be my dog.  She wasn't really.  My friends Dawn and John Poyner found her at a yard sale.  Truly.  She was running around some random neighborhood after a week of brutal thunderstorms.  She was wet, scared, muddy and lost.  They knew, because of a coworker, that I had a schnauzer and thought maybe I would want another.  In fact, when I got the call and was asked, "Would you want another schnauzer?" my exact reply was, "If you had asked me at 8 o'clock this morning, I would have said 'No,' but it's four in the afternoon, so why not?"  So, I went to Pet Food Center, where they were giving her a bath, to pick up my new dog.  I walked in and she wanted absolutely nothing to do with me.  But I took her home anyway.  She didn't know it, but she needed me.

Wilma's first night in the house was a rough one.  When I introduced her to Mavis, my miniature schnauzer, they had a WWE Smackdown in the living room.  By that time, Mavis was older and had completely lost the use of her back legs.  Wilma didn't care that Mavis wore a diaper and scooted to move.  She didn't like her and she was ready to fight.  And, for Mavis, the feeling was mutual and she let Wilma have it.  It took a couple of days for those two to realize they were stuck together.  And it took Wilma even longer to accept that I was her new dad.

See, I didn't really have intentions of keeping Wilma.  She was expertly groomed and beautiful.

I knew she belonged to someone else.  I just didn't know who they were.  I combed the missing pets section of the newspaper.  I called every veterinarian in town.  I watched Cable 8 for weeks to see if anyone was missing this standard schnauzer who constantly sat in the window wishing she was somewhere else.  I never found them.  And I am so glad.

It didn't take long for me to realize how Wilma had gotten lost from her original owners.  She was a runner.  She hated birds, squirrels and rabbits and, anytime she saw one, it was on.  She was like Usain Bolt with rabies.  Seriously!  LOL!  The dog didn't have rabies, of course, but she would foam at the mouth and grumble anytime she saw vermin.  In fact, that's how I nearly lost her.  She broke loose from her lead one night and chased some random animal into the darkness at full speed.  I couldn't find her.  I was hollering her name, but she wasn't responding.  I finally got in my Blazer and started driving and, eventually, I somehow . . . somehow . . . found her.  She was sitting at a bus stop on Frederica Street.  Just sitting there.  Like she had someplace to go.  Somewhere else she'd rather be.  But again, she was forced to come home with me.  And that's where she finally stayed.

Wilma was a hot mess of a dog.  She barked at everything.  Misbehaved constantly.  Never sat down unless it was in front of a window so she could terrorize birds.

I literally used to introduce her to people as my crack dog.  One time we were visiting my mom's and Wilma took off for a flock of birds and plowed through my mother's screen door.  Ripped the whole screen off.  The whole thing.  She absolutely wore me out, but she was so independent, so funny, and so full of personality.  I always said, "Wilma's her own dog."  She didn't need attention.  If I tried to love on her and pet her, she'd get tired it of real quick and go to the complete opposite side of the room and plop down in the floor.

And then one day Wilma changed.  And she changed the instant that Mavis died.  See, Mavis had fallen very ill and I had to have her euthanized.  I felt I owed it Wilma to show her her friend before I buried her.  See, they had actually become close (despite the odds).  And Mavis protected Wilma.  Oprah the Cat used to hiss at Wilma and try to thump her in the head.  Mavis would instantly scoot to her rescue.  In many ways, Mavis adopted Wilma like I had.  She knew she needed us too.

But the day that Mavis passed was the day that Wilma really changed and accepted her place in our house.  I remember sitting in the floor with Mavis in my arms.  She was lifeless and Wilma knew it.  She sniffed her and the reality registered quickly.  Her friend was gone and Wilma suddenly, instinctively knew that she was going to have to pull herself together.  See, now, it was me that needed her.  She calmed down.  She decided that my lap was a pretty neat place to sit sometimes.  And she decided to officially become my dog.

The family got bigger.  Dolly came along a few months later.  Wilma wanted to kick her ass too and tried to when they met.  But Dolly came to us from an abusive puppy mill situation and she needed us.  Wilma knew it.  Then Ellie came along last year.  She needed us too and Wilma just grumbled and shrugged and went with it.

And then one day, about a month ago, I let all three of them outside.  Wilma took off running across the deck.  She apparently had seen a rabbit or a bird and was ready to throw it down.  But she collapsed.  Passed right out.  Without warning.  See, we knew Wilma had a heart murmur and it was getting worse.  What we didn't know was how much fluid her lungs were housing and how diminished her breathing was actually getting.  She was always a grumbler, but the grumbling was caused less by defiance and irritation and more from a failing heart.

In an effort to right the ship, we got Wilma on a battery of medications to save her.  Only they didn't.  They couldn't.  And for three weeks, I watched my Wilma quit eating, lose over seven pounds, and start to show the same signs Mavis did when it was her time to go.

Remember, Wilma barked at everything.  I mean, EVERYTHING!  She could hear my truck from the intersection by my house and would start barking as soon as she heard my truck door close.  Her bark got louder as I walked up the steps to the deck, around to the back door with my keys jingling in hand.  She would bark until I opened the door and she got to jump up, put her paws on my thighs and have me rub her head and give her a big hug.

But on this day, she didn't do it.  I walked in, but she didn't bark.  She was lying there on her bed beside the door like always.  But she was different.  She didn't have the energy to get up and greet me.  She didn't have the energy to welcome home her dad and get her hug.  She managed just enough energy to look at me.  She looked at me square in the face.  I could tell she was glad I was home, but she didn't have the strength to show me.  But she had that look I had seen before.  The look that she belonged somewhere else.

So, the day after Sweatin' for St. Jude, I took Wilma to see my friend Dr. Laura and we let Wilma go.  As hard and as painful as it is, you just always know when it's time.  Kevin couldn't stay in the room.  See, he and Wilma had developed a late night ritual.  She would sit in his lap for hours after I went to bed.  He called her "Miss Wilma" and he couldn't bear to see Miss Wilma go.

But I had to.  I held her in my arms eleven years ago at Pet Food Center when it didn't feel like she belonged in them.  And I most certainly was going to hold her in my arms on the day she belonged there most.  And, with one hand on her rib cage and the other on her head, I felt my Wilma take her final breath.

See, she was my dog after all.  And I miss my dog.  There's a hole in this house and a bigger one in my heart.  I have all of her medicine sitting on the kitchen counter because I can't talk myself into putting it away.  Her bed is still sitting beside the back door because I still expect to see her on it.  I mean, I know she's gone . . . but I am still looking for her.  On her pillow by the door.  In the armchair in my office.  In the backyard chasing birds.  And every single bus stop I see.