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Pet Ownership: "Lizzie"

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There is an old and wise saying: The best things in life are free. Nothing epitomized that better than my dog, Lizzie. She cost nothing, but she was priceless. She came into our lives in 1995, when my younger daughter, Lauren, who was then 12, brought home a little black and white puppy that a friend's neighbor had given to her. The woman told Lauren that if we didn't want the dog, she would take her back. Otherwise, she was ours.

Even though I love dogs, I was against the idea because we lived in a condo. Besides, the dog would have to be walked through rain, sleet, snow and gloom of night. Guess who would end up doing it. Approximately five seconds after I saw the pup, I fell in love with her. We fed her, took her to the vet for an exam, and adopted her. Two weeks later, the woman called to say she wanted the dog back. Lauren was in tears. I got on the phone. Words were exchanged. Threats were made. A custody battle ensued.

Finally, in an effort to be fair, and mature, and reasonable, I told the woman I had veto power.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"If you don't let us keep the dog," I replied very calmly, "I am going to call my Uncle Vito."

And that is how Lizzie became a cherished member of our family. Nobody knew what breed Lizzie was -- the vet wasn't sure and the dog wasn't telling -- but we thought she was a mix of Lab, border collie and terrier, with perhaps a little Italian from her adoptive mommy and daddy's sides. What was clear, however, was that Lizzie had a prodigious appetite for lint, grass, acorns, cat treats -- everything but dog food. She ended up on a special diet consisting almost exclusively of boiled chicken.

She loved her snacks, of course, which is why she grew into a full-figured gal. Eventually, we moved from the condo to a house with a big backyard where she could run and play, though I still took her for walks. She quickly became the mayor of our neighborhood, greeting people with big, slobbering kisses. She was, in fact, the kissingest dog I ever knew, even winning the Pooch Who Can Smooch contest at Puttin' on the Dog, the annual fundraiser for Adopt-a-Dog in Greenwich, Conn.

Lizzie, whose tail was always wagging, was both a canine alarm system (she barked at leaves that blew past the front door) and the burglar's helper: If anyone ever broke into our house, she would either drown him in kisses or help him carry out all our valuables. She was the sweetest creature God ever made. She also was half of an inseparable team whose two goals in life were to love each other and have fun. As the other half of that team, I can say we accomplished both in Lizzie & Daddy's Excellent Adventures, which were documented in numerous columns that ran in newspapers across the country and around the world. Lizzie also is in my new book, Leave It to Boomer. She's even on YouTube. Lizzie became a global celebrity, but she never let fame go to her pretty head.

There was the time I had to brush her teeth. (Her breath sometimes smelled like a bean supper with the windows closed.) And the time, after reading about Sonya Fitzpatrick, TV's "Pet Psychic," I tried to determine if Lizzie had extrasensory powers. (My wife thought I was "The Pet Psycho.") And the time Lizzie actually beat me in a blackjack tournament. (I'm not playing with a full deck.) And the time I took her to New York City to meet Lassie. (The canine superstars got along famously.)

Needless to say, Lizzie was smart. I would have to spell out certain words, such as "car," "walk" and "play," because if I was talking to somebody else and Lizzie was within earshot, pronouncing them would set her off in a frenzy of excitement. And she was tough. She twice tore an ACL, and both times, without surgery, she was back in playing shape in no time. Not like these rich, pampered professional athletes. Wimps.

Even when she died recently, she showed a special grace. But what Lizzie did better than anything was give unconditional love to Lauren; to my older daughter, Katie; to my wife, Sue, also known as Mommy; and especially to Daddy. Yes, it's true that the best things in life are free. Even if Lizzie had cost a fortune, she would have been worth it. She was the absolute best.

Stamford Advocate columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of "Leave It to Boomer." More info at www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. E-mail: JerryZ111@optonline.net.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima