09/28/2012 03:25 pm ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

Lessons I've Learned From my Shih Tzu

As I sit here about to type this post, I can feel the hot breath on my leg of a companion who has been with me on a daily basis and has sat through EVERY article I have ever written since March 1999. She has weathered the births of both of my kids, has laid next to me on mornings when getting out of bed felt impossible, and whenever the opportunity presents itself, she licks my face and tries to get in the nook of my arm or leg, just to be as close to me as she possibly can. The "she" I'm referring to is my nine-and-a-half pound, 13-year-old Shih Tzu named Mellie (yes after myself) and she is as much a part of the fabric of my life as anything and anyone else.

Of course as she's been entering the golden twilight phase of her life, also known as old age, she's become increasingly more dependent on me. While she's always had poor sight, now she is virtually blind and requires several ointments a day to keep her eyes from drying up. Always a fussy eater, I now have to microwave her food and literally hand feed it into her mouth, piece-by-piece. I talk to her a lot; I try and coax her to eat her food, I take her out to do her business and clap with excitement when she finally goes -- it's almost like she has reverted back to the puppy phase again -- and once again is dependent on me.

Her life, and especially her old age, feels so parallel to that of my father who passed a little over a year ago. As his illness progressed, he required so much more help, and just like Mellie, he was a tough one; fiercely independent and adamant about doing whatever he could on his own. Did I mention that Mellie, who has problems jumping, will attempt a jump from the floor to the couch at least ten times until she finally makes it? Like my dad, she's got this spunky quality about her -- and of course, although she has slowed down considerably, there are times when she will summon up that puppy exuberance and well in those moments she wins my heart all over again.

Sure, there are some who think I have gone absolutely mad. In the past couple of years I've organized our lives around this little nine pounder -- I can't leave her in the care of anyone other than my husband -- and even he has problems feeding her. So yes, it's true, I *might have* given up a few trips to exotic locales recently because I couldn't find suitable accommodations for my Mellie. But the way I see it, she is my priority. I feel as strongly responsible and in love with her as I do my two-legged, fairly hairless kids. I made a vow when I got her 13 years ago that I'd protect her and love her. And sure, I don't relish hand feeding her and not being able to jet to Paris, but by the same token, these are just small sacrifices compared to the unconditional love she has given me all these years -- all the while never asking for anything in return other than just a warm body to snuggle up to.

Some people view my devotion to her as slightly insane. They wonder how I could be so utterly connected to an animal. But the thing is, when I look at Mellie all I see is love. I see her spirit and it is so very reminiscent of the way I felt about my dad. Sure, towards the end of his life his body may have betrayed him, but his personality and the very essence of who he was was still utterly intact. I see my Mellie in the same way; yes she needs a lot more care now, but her spirit and that love, it's all still so very present.

I hope in some small way my kids are gleaning some lessons about life, love and responsibility through the relationship and commitment we have with our Mellie. I hope they learn that all life deserves to be honored and cherished. I also know my time with Mellie is limited -- and so each day I spend with her I remind myself is a gift -- and of course her love is a gift that continually gives, without any conditions.