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The Love Between Families and their Pets

No way was Becki Williams getting another dog. Losing Gwennie, a 7-year-old Basenji mix, to cancer last summer was too painful.

"I had gotten so attached to her," says Becki, 50, of Montrose, Mich. "I loved this dog ... She was kind and gentle and a good companion."

Indeed, loving a pet is "one of the most profound human experiences," says Dr. Michael Stern, a psychologist and author of Loving and Losing a Pet. "The relationship between people and animals is usually one of love, attachment, and loyalty."

A 2004 survey by the American Animal Hospital Association bears that out. Among those surveyed:

  • 82 percent think of their pet more than once while they are away during the day.
  • 53 percent spend more on their pets now than they did three years ago.
  • If they were deserted on an island and could choose only one companion, 50 percent would pick a dog or cat rather than a human.

So, when Becki went online to find a place to donate Gwennie's unused dog food, she discovered, a website devoted to finding homes for homeless pets.

Unexpectedly, she found herself perusing photos of dogs.

That's how she found Jazzi, a 6-year-old, 70-pound Lab- Shepherd-Rottweiller mix.

"I didn't want a dog," Becki says, "but I just kept looking at her." After a week of repeatedly returning to the website, Becki called and found out that the dog would be euthanized shortly.

"I called at 9 a.m.," Becki recalls, "and she was scheduled to be put down at 11."

Welcoming Jazzi into their family has been a joy. "Wherever I go, she goes," Becki says. "She's big and gentle and so well-mannered."

"She's Becki's dog," agrees her husband, Rick. "This dog lives to see her every day. She has moved right into the family."

If Becki does leave the house, her first order of business upon returning is Jazzi's "cuddle" time. "I have to sit on the couch with her and let her tell me how much she missed me," she says.

Jazzi also accompanies them on weekend retreats to their cottage on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where tollbooth operators at the Mackinac Island Bridge are familiar with the big dog with the soulful eyes.

"They always give her a

Though Jazzi came to them starved for attention - of which she gets plenty, now - she gives much more than she receives.

"I just can't imagine how she can love me so much," Becki says. "She thinks I'm the best thing since doggie treats."

 Not turning her back on Jazzi taught her an important lesson. "If you've got a heart big enough for animals, you need to keep it filled with animals," she says. "When Jazzi's gone, you'd better believe I'll have another one."

By Donna Alvis-Banks

Photography by Lisa DeJong