By My Side


Kaylee Rodriquez

Cheech poses in front of a patch of flowers. Kaylee has owned Cheech for nine years.

They say dog is a man’s best friend. Well, I say that whoever “they” is could not be more wrong. To me, dogs are much more than that; they are family. If you do not see your four-legged friend that way, then you have never truly owned a dog.

I still remember the day crystal clear. I came home from another exciting day of second grade, and I am summoned to the backyard by my father. There he was; his name was Cheech. He was a boxer that sat about three feet tall, two years old, a beautiful shade of caramel with a black face and a tongue naturally sticking out of his mouth. The eight year old me saw a pretty brown doggy who seemed a little scared. Little did she know how important, how oh so special this dog would be to her. My dad had gotten him from a relative who had rescued him. His complete backstory is no more than a mystery. However, it is his future from that day forward that is truly important.

Years go by and suddenly that little second grade girl was not so little anymore. I was about halfway through my seventh grade year when my life changed forever. “Divorce” was no longer “just a word” to me anymore. It brought a form of sadness that would haunt me to this day. But I will never forget the time I stayed home from school because my emotions were just too out of control to handle anymore. That was the day I started walking. I would walk for hours in the woods behind my house to clear my mind and isolate myself from the world. Well, not the ENTIRE world; by my side every single time I stepped into those trees was Cheech. Just the two of us nearly every day for an entire year. I think part of him was sad, too, when sound of my dad’s truck and the familiar smell of a construction site no longer came around at 5:30 in the evening every day to give him a pat on the head. We had an unspoken bond that I think got the both of us through that troubling time.

Then came a day I most definitely will never forget. Tears stream down my face as I write this sentence alone, in fear of the memory of what I am about to reveal. It was supposed to be a normal evening. That was until that pitch black Wednesday night turned into the night I almost lost my best friend forever. We thought we had just ran over one of my brother’s skateboards as we pulled into the driveway after church. As he went to retrieve it, I heard a scream that will never leave my ears. Oh how I wished it were just a skateboard. After a lot of tears and frantic phone calls to my uncle and my father who did not even live with us anymore, we were able to jack up the car so we could determine whether or not we would have to start digging in the backyard. That is when the unthinkable occurred, and Cheech crawled out and walked away as if nothing happened. He only suffered a few burns and fractures and had to live in my mom’s bathroom under constant care for a month. That night taught not only myself, but my whole family not to take anything for granted. I do not think a day has passed since the accident that I did not give him a loving pat on the head when I walk up to my front porch.

Years of breakups, family drama and never-ending stress were going by with Cheech never failing to rest his head on my knee and give me a slobbery kiss when I needed one. The average life expectancy of a boxer is nine years. Cheech turns eleven this year and is “as strong as ever” according to his vet. We will talk about his inevitable passing every once and awhile which is usually followed by tears and the dropping of the conversation. I honestly do not know what I will do when that day comes. I just tell myself he will live forever. Until that day comes, I will always make time to hug his neck, feed him his favorite food (baked chicken) and tell him how good of a boy he is.

To the loyal companion who has been with me through the toughest times in my life, for half of my life, I thank you.

Studies have shown that dogs can actually contribute to the wellbeing of a person. According to Vanderbilt University, dogs can decrease levels of human loneliness and give humans a sense of purpose as they care for their animal companions. A therapy or “comfort” dog is trained and registered for this purpose. According to the Animal Welfare Information Center of the USDA, specially trained animal companions help with daily activities and assist people with challenges to make their way in the world. There are also service dogs to help people with disabilities such as blindness, diabetes, anxiety and PTSD. Studies by Harvard University and Kansas State show dog interaction with humans can help combat challenges associated with some form of heart disease and autism.

Dogs serve an important purpose in the lives of us humans. From being there for support to us in times in need to just hanging out and playing fetch, you can probably see how they are much more than just a “pet.” They are family.